September 23, 2010 4:57 PM
Brooke Edwards

VICTORVILLE • The same firm that’s handled Victorville’s audits for four of the last five years is now under scrutiny itself for financial reports Mayer Hoffman McCann prepared for the embattled City of Bell, according to officials with the State Controller’s office.

State Controller John Chiang on Thursday released the first of three audits focusing on Bell’s mismanaged finances, focused largely on actions taken by Robert Rizzo, former CAO for Bell and Hesperia’s original city manager. The report found Bell’s internal controls were “virtually non-existent,” resulting in the city making inappropriate payroll, illegally raising taxes, mismanaging bond funds and entering into questionable contracts and land purchases.

“Our audit found the city had almost no accounting controls — no checks or balances — and the General Fund was run like a petty cash drawer,” Chiang said in a statement.

Mayer Hoffman McCann was retained in November to audit Bell’s finances. Now Garin Casaleggio, spokesman for the Controller’s office, said financial reports prepared by the firm are the subject of a separate audit, due out by the end of October.

“It’s hard to believe a CPA firm could miss the abuses we found,” Casaleggio said by phone Thursday. “And we found them rather quickly.”

A call to Mayer Hoffman McCann wasn’t immediately returned Thursday afternoon.

Victorville rehired Mayer Hoffman, which had audited the city’s financial records from the 2005-06 fiscal year, in May 2009 to complete an audit that was already four months overdue.

The move came in the wake of a delayed and highly critical review of Victorville’s 2007 financial statements by auditors Caporicci & Larson. That firm declined to even issue an opinion on the city’s finances, stating Victorville had “not maintained adequate internal control and accounting records.”

Newly rehired Mayer Hoffman McCann gave the city an unqualified or “clean” opinion for the 2007-08 fiscal year, putting a couple hundred million dollars worth of assets that were stripped away by Caporicci & Larson back on city books.

The firm did express doubts about whether Victorville could continue to stay afloat, in a caution repeated on the city’s 2008-09 audit.

Mayer Hoffman McCann is still at work on Victorville’s 2009-10 review, due out in January.

City spokeswoman Yvonne Hester said Thursday that Victorville had no comment on the situation, or on Mayer Hoffman McCann’s performance.

If the Controller’s office finds evidence of deficiencies in Mayer Hoffman’s work relative to the City of Bell, Casaleggio they could turn that information over to the California Board of Accountancy for possible disciplinary action against the firm.

To subscribe to the Daily Press in print or online, call (760) 241-7755, 1-800-553-2006 or click here.

Brooke Edwards may be reached at (760) 955-5358 or at