Former California parks official says boss knew of hidden $53 million

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."

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