Pacheco and Zellerbach

 

10:16 PM PST on Tuesday, March 1, 2011

By RICHARD K. De ATLEY
The Press-Enterprise

Former Riverside County District Attorney Rod Pacheco knew his office faced a multi-million-dollar shortfall, misled county supervisors about it, and increased costs by $4.9 million with unchecked spending, his successor said Tuesday.

Now Paul Zellerbach said he is looking at a $5.9 million shortfall that he hopes to reduce a bit more before going to supervisors to ask for reserve money to fill in the gap.

Zellerbach said cuts he made in managers since he took office in January, and elimination of the Pacheco-created executive division, has trimmed $1.77 million from the office budget, although the effect of those actions will not be immediate.

He said he did manage in two months to lower the deficit from a previous projection of $6.3 million.

Zellerbach said he paid out $600,000 in severances to departing managers, “pursuant to contracts with the county that I had no control over.”

The office’s efforts to cut costs are ongoing, he said.

Zellerbach said the deficit is Pacheco’s legacy. “These are problems and issues I inherited when I took over the office,” he told supervisors.

Supervisor Bob Buster said Pacheco had engaged in “an orgy of unrestrained spending… and the money was going to paper over lack of adequate management.”

Many of Pacheco’s expenditures took place after Zellerbach defeated him for re-election in June.

Zellerbach said there were 104 promotions and new hires in 2010 costing the office $1.8 million. Fifty of those were after the June 8 election. Zellerbach said some personnel were promoted two or three times between June and December.

He said Pacheco also made a blanket OK for the discretionary portion of vacation-time payouts to deputy district attorneys in July. The total cost to the office was $1.5 million.

Pacheco, a private attorney in the white-collar crime division in the Los Angeles offices of SNR Denton, did not return a phone call seeking comment.

Zellerbach said an April 14 document shows Pacheco expected a deficit “from the beginning.” His office submitted to supervisors a budget of $62.2 million while his office maintained a working budget of $68.7 million.

Pacheco had claimed in November his office would show a $2.1 million shortfall.

“They knew then that even with that submitted budget, that they were going to be at least $6.5 million over budget by the end of the fiscal year. That concerns me,” Zellerbach said.

Supervisor John Tavaglione said Pacheco had tried to “hoodwink” the board with the budget figures his office presented, and called him “unethical, with a lack of integrity.”

He told Zellerbach while the board has little leeway to counter executive actions by constitutionally elected officials, “If we face another like your predecessor, my intent is to hit them in the budget, hit them in the pocketbook.”

In August, Zellerbach sent supervisors a letter suggesting imposing a hiring moratorium on Pacheco’s office. It was turned down.

Zellerbach said Pacheco left $500,000 on the table by not adequately staffing grant-funded positions, and instead made a tumultuous reassignment of 12 investigators and technicians into grant-funded positions a month before he left office.

He said one budget device used for this fiscal year was to lowball overtime at $540,000 when the office historically has had closer to $800,000 to $900,000 a year. He said the projection for overtime this year is $979,604 — a realistic figure, but now well over the budgeted amount.

Zellerbach also said the office’s costs to defend itself in grievance and personnel lawsuits against it soared after Pacheco was sworn in. It was $690 in 2005-06, and is projected to reach $340,000 by the end of this fiscal year.

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