Criminal Charges Unlikely In 29 Palms Cemetery District Probe

(July 13)  TWENTYNINE PALMS—An inquiry into the operations and accounting practices of the Twentynine Palms Public Cemetery District by the district attorney’s public integrity unit and the county grand jury has not turned up any grounds for a criminal prosecution, the Sentinel has learned. Nevertheless, pronounced shortcomings in bookkeeping and recordkeeping, as well as failures to make timely reporting of transactions have been discovered. Documentation of revenues and expenditures as well as governing board actions has also fallen below governmental standards, the investigation determined.
In carrying out a routine five-year review of operations in various governmental entities in and around Twentynine Palms, the San Bernardino County Local Agency Formation Commission discovered some accounting irregularities within the Twentynine Palms Public Cemetery District and forwarded that information to the district attorney’s public integrity unit and the grand jury.
On May 7, 2012, Local Agency Formation Commission (LAFCO) executive officer Kathleen Rollings-McDonald, assistant executive officer Samuel Martinez and project manager Michael Tuerpe delivered a report relating to the various agencies serving Twentynine Palms and the surrounding area. In carrying out that portion of the review pertaining to the cemetery district, Rollings-McDonald, Martinez and Tuerpe were unable to find any district records updated since the 2008-09 fiscal year. Their report states that the district did not complete audits in a statutory time frame and prepared its budgets without auditing or verifying the numbers utilized.
According to LAFCO, the most recent budget information provided to state and county controllers had not been adopted by the district board at a noticed public hearing. These shortcomings qualify as “a prime indicator of governance challenges,” according to Rollings-McDonald, Martinez and Tuerpe.
At the district’s June 28 meeting, the cemetery district’s trustees gave indication that they were seeking to extrapolate from existing ledgers and account data available to them the district’s precise fiscal circumstance, including deposits into district accounts and expenditures therefrom. With one vacancy on the board and April Gibson on vacation, a quorum of Betty Laferriere, Sandra Gray and Les Snodgrass sought to make and record better documentation of the district’s current fiscal operations than has been carried out in the past. It was duly noted that a recent account statement from Wells Fargo bank, into which the district’s operating funds are deposited and from which its operational capital is disbursed, was unavailable. The board moved to make a timely retrieval of that information.
May expenditures of $16,582.05 were approved against income of $24,831.39 for the same time period, consisting of sales and other revenues. It was noted that the missing account information may cause a future adjustment of the May expenditure total.
According to documentation available, the endowment care fund, which included the money available in the Wells Fargo account, stands at $351,865.93. The district has also registered a pre-need trust fund total of $217,955.95.
The board examined but ultimately tabled until a later date approval of an operating budget for 2012-13 that had identical $222,948 revenue and expenditure projections.
Trustees indicated that the district is actively seeking to procure an auditor to meet LAFCO’s demand that the district redress its failure to complete previous audits in the yearly statutory time frame. The board directed district secretary Casey Dobler to send out bid solicitation letters to auditing firms.
Dobler’s action in presenting an employee salary schedule to the board in 2009 briefly came under scrutiny. That salary schedule was approved July 1, 2009, giving Dobler, the caretaker and assistant caretaker

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