The California Department of Forestry and Fire Protection hid $3.6 million rather than depositing it into the state’s cash-strapped general fund as required, reports the Los Angeles Times.
For seven years, Cal Fire placed the money with the nonprofit California District Attorneys Assn., paying the group to hold it. The department used the cash for equipment purchases and training.
The practice ended last year amid questions about whether the fund was legal.
The money came from legal settlements. Cal Fire’s own regulations state that the proceeds of such settlements go to the state’s general fund.
After questions from The Times last week, Cal Fire director, Ken Pimlott, notified the state Natural Resources Agency and state Department of Finance about the fund. The Department of Finance is planning an investigation.
The investigation follows revelations that the state Department of Parks and Recreation hid $20 million as parks were being closed because of budget cuts. In the wake of the parks scandal, the Department of Finance looked for secret funds in other areas but did not find Cal
Fire’s account with the prosecutors’ association, a spokesman said.
Auditors found more than $200 million that agencies had squirreled away as lawmakers cut the state budget.
The Cal Fire fund is the latest discovery of money hidden by California agencies and raises questions of whether there are others that, like this one, were entirely off the state books.
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