SACRAMENTO — A former state parks official said he repeatedly told his superiors about more than $53 million hidden in two accounts that could have been used to help California avoid the threat of closing 70 state parks, a newspaper reported Thursday.
Manuel Lopez, former deputy director of administrative services for the Department of Parks and Recreation, said he informed agency Director Ruth Coleman about a $20 million surplus in the Parks and Recreation Fund at least five times over a span of about five years, The Sacramento Bee reported.
A separate off-highway vehicle fund held another $33.5 million more than had been reported to the state Department of Finance.
Coleman resigned Friday over the situation and accepted overall responsibility but said in a telephone interview Thursday that she had been unaware of the surplus.
"I don't recall being briefed orally or in writing regarding unreported surplus funds," she told The Associated Press. "Had I been aware of these resources, I would have sought to deploy them to keep parks open."
Lopez did not return repeated telephone messages left Thursday by The Associated Press. Sacramento attorney Marc A. Caraska, who is representing Lopez in a personal bankruptcy case, also did not return repeated messages.
Nonprofit groups and local governments helped raise money and in some cases assumed responsibility to keep the 70 state parks operating past a July 1 closure deadline.
The attorney general and state finance officials are investigating the scandal. The attorney general's office set up a tip line and email address Thursday for anyone with information that would help the investigation: 916-324-7561, or ParksInvestigation(at)doj.ca.gov.
State lawmakers also are promising oversight hearings and plan to seek an independent audit of the department. The state Finance Department also is reviewing all the state's 560 special funds to make sure the actual fund balances match what has been reported to the administration and the state controller.