An appeals court this week rejected a bid from a former city employee and a contractor convicted in a multimillion-dollar embezzlement scheme targeting Pasadena utility funds to have their convictions overturned.
Danny Wooten, 57, who was responsible for implementing the city’s project to move utilities underground, was convicted in late 2018 of 53 felony counts including embezzlement, misappropriation of public funds and conflict of interest. He was subsequently sentenced to 14 years in state prison and ordered to pay back $3.6 million in restitution.
Accomplice Tyrone Collins, 61, who was the owner of contractor Collins Electric, was convicted of 20 counts of embezzlement and misappropriation of funds. He was sentenced to seven years in state prison and ordered to repay $900,000 in restitution.
Wooten and Collins had filed an appeal seeking to have their convictions overturned on various grounds.
But a three-judge panel from California’s Second Appellate District issued a ruling Tuesday rejecting the arguments.
The court did find, however, that both men were entitled to additional credit for time already served prior to sentencing, according to the ruling. Wooten was granted 339 days of “presentence custody credits,” while Collins received 278 days of credit.
Among the contentions of the convicts, “Collins contends we should reverse his convictions of public officer crimes as a matter of law because he is not within the class of persons subject to [the law] and the evidence did not support those convictions,” according to the ruling.
Wooten and Collins also argued they should have been convicted of a single felony count, rather than multiple counts, “because their criminal conduct qualified as continuing offenses or because the offenses stemmed from the same intention, general impulse, and plan and thus they merged into a single crime.”
Both convicts also appealed their convictions on the grounds that charges of both embezzlement and public office crimes was duplicative and that the trial court erred in not dismissing all but one public offense charge.
The judges dismissed all the arguments, finding them invalid or inapplicable in this case, with the exception of the demand for additional credit for times served in custody prior to sentencing.
While authorities initially alleged the scheme cost the city more than $6 million, the amount proven in court amounted to about $4.6 million. The theft began in 2003 and was discovered through an audit of the city’s Underground Utility Program in 2014, the judges noted in their ruling.
“Specifically, Wooten submitted hundreds of fraudulent invoices to the City on behalf of Collins Electric for electrical work for the UUP,” according to the document. “The fake invoices submitted for Collins Electric included: invoices with a property address where the work permit was issued to a different company; invoices for work not completed on the properties until a decade later; invoices for non-existent addresses; multiple invoices for the same property address; and invoices for properties outside the project boundaries.
Wooten would create fake invoices for Collins Electric, including obtaining or forging signatures of his supervisors, according to the judges. “He then delivered the checks to Collins, who, in turn, deposited them into his bank account. Shortly after that, Collins would give Wooten a ‘kickback’ payment in the form of a check or bank-to-bank transfer.”
Pasadena issued 270 checks to Collins Electric between 2003 and 2014, officials said.
“A search of Collins’s house and truck unearthed ten cashier checks that Collins had made payable to Wooten in amounts between $20,000 and $30,000,” the ruling stated.
Insurance providers ultimately reimbursed the city for $5.4 million of the missing funds.