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City Council to Review Civil Case Against Former Employee, Already Convicted in $6.4 Million Embezzlement

Published on Friday, July 19, 2019 | 5:50 am
Pasadena City Manager Michael Beck announces the embezzlement at a hastily-called press conference at Pasadena City Hall in December, 2014.

Ahead of an August court-set status conference, a Los Angeles County Superior Court judge has instructed City officials to detail damages the City believes it can collect from Danny Ray Wooten, who was sentenced to 14 years in prison for embezzling millions of dollars from the City.

Wooten and his wife Laventa will be battling the City without high-priced attorney Christopher Darden, one of the prosecutors in the famed OJ Simpson trial of the century murder case. Darden represented Wooten in his criminal case, but according to court documents Darden wants to withdraw from the case he received several bad checks from Wooten.

“I received checks that were returned insufficient funds,” Darden wrote to the court. “Mrs. Wooten has ignored prior correspondence from Council but has appeared in this court and attempted to represent herself. There is a large outstanding balance with my office.”

Danny Ray Wooten

Wooten’s wife Laventa denied all wrongdoing in court papers filed last December.

“I have no knowledge of any unlawful activities in this case,” she wrote.

Wooten was ordered to pay the City $3,695,891 in restitution and an accomplice Tyrone Collins a local contractor, who was sentenced to 11 years, was ordered to pay $900,000, according to a statement issued by the Los Angeles District Attorney’s Office.

Tyrone Collins, a local contractor, was sentenced to 14 years in prison for his part in the ongoing theft of just less than $4.6 million over nearly 11 years.

The City Council will discuss the City’s civil case against the pair in closed session at Monday’s meeting.

“Ten days prior to the August 7, 2019 Further Status Conference, Plaintiff’s Council shall file with the court a status report concerning the damages that plaintiffs believe they can recover from defendants Danny Wooten and Tyrone Collin that are in addition to the restitution order entered in the criminal case,” court papers detail.

Last November, a jury found Wooten guilty of 53 counts that included embezzlement and misappropriation of public funds. Collins was convicted of 20 counts of those and other related crimes.

Despite an announcement in late December 2014 that $6.4 million was missing from City coffers, prosecutors could only connect just under $4.6 million to the theft.

Wooten worked in the Public Works Department, which was in charge of placing underground all of the City’s utility lines. Between 2004 and 2014, Wooten created false invoices for the project. The theft was made possible in part due to errors made by City employees who signed off on invoices and gave them back to Wooten to turn in instead of doing it themselves.

After getting the appropriate signatures, Wooten would then add extra numbers to the invoices.

Wooten, also a minister, created fake bank accounts for two churches, but he was the only person on those accounts, according to Deputy District Attorney Bjorn Dodd, who prosecuted the case.

Dodd said Wooten funneled some of the stolen funds to Collins, owner of Collins Electric in Altadena. Charges were dropped due to insufficient evidence against Melody Jenkins, who at one point faced one count of embezzlement in the scheme.

Local residents were preparing for Tournament of Roses festivities in 2014 when City officials suddenly called a press conference, without giving information on the topic that would be discussed.

City Manager revealed the embezzlement and its large size amount at that press conference.

Angry residents demanded change at City Hall after the embezzlement was exposed.

Responding, Beck fired Finance Director Andrew Green and Public Works Director Siobahn Foster in the wake of the scandal. However, many local residents blamed Beck and called for his removal.

Beck left the City for a job at UCLA in 2016.

In the end, City insurers restored $5.4 million, $1 million less than a City audit revealed was missing.

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