Wednesday, December 6, 2023

Mendocino County’s Auditor Criminally Charged With Unlawful Misappropriation of Public Funds

Lady Justice mural in the Mendocino County courthouse [Picture by Matt LaFever]

In a sharp escalation of a running political battle between two elected Mendocino County officials, a felony criminal charge of misappropriation of public funds was filed Friday against Auditor Chamise Cubbison by District Attorney David Eyster.

Eyster’s filing of criminal charges against Cubbison also names Paula June Kennedy, the county’s former payroll manager who the DA alleges was the recipient of $68,106 in allegedly unauthorized pay.

The district attorney in a short two-page complaint offers the briefest of explanations behind his decision to charge Cubbison and Kennedy. Eyster contended that the two veteran county employees “knowingly, unlawfully, and serially” misappropriated public funds that were paid out to “defendant Kennedy” and were not authorized by law or by a majority of the sitting Board of Supervisors.

Cubbison’s attorney Chris Andrian of Santa Rosa immediately dismissed Eyster’s contentions against his client late Friday afternoon.

“I have reviewed all the evidence in this case, and I have found nothing to indicate Chamise engaged in any criminal conduct. Among other things there is no assertion by the prosecution Chamise received any personal benefit, or that any of the public funds found their way into her pockets,” said Andrian.

Andrian said on the contrary he believes that “When all the evidence is presented in open court, it will more than vindicate Chamise and will show that she is a loyal, dedicated, and competent public servant.”

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Cubbison is believed to have relied on an agreement reached by retiring Auditor Lloyd Weer and her co-defendant before she took over as head of the office for not contesting the payments to Kennedy.

Weer could not be reached Friday for comment on his role in a pay deal that led to a criminal complaint.

DA Eyster, his chief Assistant DA Dale Trigg, nor the office’s chief investigator Andrew Alvarado responded to a written request for elaboration on the misappropriation of public funds allegation. Eyster for months now has refused to answer local media inquiries about actions he takes, or the reasons why.

Kennedy, who is known as ‘PJ’, lives near Elk on the Mendocino Coast. She too could not be reached for comment on the criminal accusation she now faces. Kennedy was placed on administrative leave by Cubbison after the pay dispute unfolded, and she eventually was terminated a year later. Kennedy’s pay pact for extra work was originally reached with retiring Weer during the Covid pandemic.

Attorney Andrian said the facts will show that Kennedy performed the work she was paid for no matter the method.

“The county got the benefit, employees were paid, and more importantly, not one dime went into the pocket of Chamise. There is no criminal conduct on her part here,” said Andrian.

Andrian declined to weigh in on how an ongoing dispute between the DA and Auditor’s Office under Weer, one that escalated when the Board of Supervisors forced consolidation of the Auditor/Controller and Treasurer/Tax Collector offices, might factor in the DA’s action. Eyster backed the controversial consolidation and launched his criminal investigation after county supervisors learned of the extra pay to Kennedy.

Cubbison supporters contend that the DA is waging a vendetta against her because she, and the Auditor before her, have questioned staff travel expenses and his use of asset forfeiture funds from drug-related cases.

Their dispute blew up publicly in September 2021 when retiring Auditor Weer recommended that the Board of Supervisors appoint Cubbison, his top assistant, to fill the 16 months left in his term.

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Eyster in an unprecedented move appeared at a board meeting where Cubbison’s appointment was to be considered and voiced strident opposition.

The DA publicly argued Cubbison was not the “right person” to fill the Auditor’s position. At that meeting, he distributed two 14-page documents, mostly copies of internal emails that outlined technical aspects of expense reimbursements that Eyster claimed showed the auditor was wrong and that he was right regarding spending practices.

Cubbison at that stormy session stood her ground, declaring that “the role in the auditor-controller’s office is not always popular.” She also said she would not “be intimidated” into authorizing what she felt were improper payments.

Three months later, with Eyster’s encouragement but over the opposition of Cubbison and other experienced county officials, the Board of Supervisors voted in late December 2021 to consolidate the formerly independent elected offices of auditor-controller and treasurer-tax collector, eliminating one elected county position. Cubbison subsequently ran for election and was elected to lead the combined offices.

Some board members, urged on by Eyster, favor creating a new county Department of Finance to oversee the functions of the combined county offices.

Since the board’s forced consolidation, the combined offices have struggled with staff shortages, an exodus of experienced employes, and new computer systems that have delayed accurate financial reporting and aggravated uncertainty about the county’s true finances.

Cubbison’s office is nearly caught up with two long overdue fiscal reports, but it is still dealing with a state audit launched in early September because of supervisors’ complaints they could not get updated financial reports.

The DA’s new criminal filing tops several months of chaos surrounding the combined offices, and the county’s financial status, and seems likely to add to the uncertainty about the county’s current financial state.

Cubbison and Kennedy are to be arraigned Tuesday in Mendocino County Superior Court on the felony charges Eyster filed against them.

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  1. “Cubbison supporters contend that the DA is waging a vendetta against her because she, and the Auditor before her, have questioned staff travel expenses and his use of asset forfeiture funds from drug-related cases.”…Ahhhh it’s always been a favorite way to grab “extra” money by law enforcement agencies! Stealing money from people under the guise of criminal asset forfeiture !

  2. Unfortunately this type of thing is chasing everyone away, from being in political or upper management, in county or city positions. Anyone that has gone through computer consolidations and department restructuring, at previous or past work, knows there is chaos and errors. I’m not taking either side of this new situation. Innocent until proven guilty. But I hope citizens remember that if more energy went into helping fellow co workers, employees, solve problems, then perpetuating constant accusations, the county would have had those financial reports, a long time ago. If a person is constantly defending themselves, in a position that took 2 jobs, combined into 1. It makes me question, is it even possible, to do this new job, that was created? Did the county create it’s own problem? Being part of a huge experiment, with decisions made by others, that are constantly judging, the outcome, has to be very challenging.

    • Agreed. Sounds familiar! Isn’t this so very similar to our federal government. Guess it trickles down. Good for the goose…good for the gander.

      We’re watching Mr. DA and Board of Supervisors; very closely. Prove it or get out!!!!

  3. I sincerely hope this trend will continue and there will be additional investigations into what appears to be a culture of fiscal mismanagement and possible fraud in multiple county departments. People who refuse to go along with the status quo are fired and replaced with new employees who don’t understand what’s going on. Our community deserves better.

    • Our beautiful county has a very small population when compared with most other counties in California. This leads the taxpayers here to wonder why Mendocino County statistically has higher than average negative incidences when it comes to the collection and spending of monies. This is not only government departments but also the nonprofit agencies. Thank you BoS for questioning the problem and the DA’s office for addressing it. Please keep in mind that the buck doesn’t stop here. Greed is never satisfied and runs rampant within the government and government funded agencies here. The businesses and people who are not government funded are overtaxed and underpaid which does not bode well for the county as a whole. You have many residents here saying, “Its about time!”
      Thank you.

    • Vindication!!! The prior “elected” auditor was as dirty. Now all you folks know why the BOS wanted to make this an appointed office. Finally the axe is coming down.

  4. Good Lord. And why have several long time DA employees left his office over the past several months? This is really grasping at straws, the vendetta is real and this is assanine! I hope the ladies file defamation of character lawsuits against the DA ASAP. What a major JERK.

  5. Just reading this article, as an outside /inside observer , it looks like the DA’s got their paws caught in the proverbial DRUG cookie Jar.(travel/ his use of asset forfeiture funds from drug-related cases.) So that NEVER HAPPENS in Mendo , or Santa Rosa or Eureka or or or . Ester appears, in my opinion just by reading this , to be covering his 🐾’s . How sad and pathetic is that.

    • What is the deal with all the pot funds that went to county departments to pay for overtime .. qu
      Question ?
      What is the totally haul of forfeiture funds from past years and who got what?

  6. County cutivates a nepotistic culture. Not surprized. Eyster should be cognizant that more prying eyes are likely to find more financial discrepancy.

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