News

Children's Theatre costume-sales probe ends

But rest of financial-irregularities investigation still continues, Police Chief Lynne Johnson reports

The costumes-sales aspect of the Children's Theatre financial-irregularities investigation will not result in any charges being filed against anyone, Police Chief Lynne Johnson confirmed to the Weekly Monday.

The rest of the investigation is continuing and involves all three suspended staff members, "but at various levels depending on our information," she said in an e-mail exchange.

"Yes, I will confirm that," Johnson wrote in response to a question if she could confirm "that you aren't planning to recommend charging anyone for the costume portion of the case?"

"Surplus" costumes for years have been sold in an annual fundraising drive for the Friends of the Children's Theatre nonprofit organization, with proceeds going back to theater-related operations or equipment. The Friends group had hired its own attorney due to concerns about possible prosecution.

The primary criminal investigation is going to continue for at least a few more days, Johnson said Monday.

Johnson said she believes she will know by Wednesday whether she plans to announce something this week, 15 weeks after the temporary closure of the theater and 10 months into the probe of potential financial wrongdoing by the theater's top staff members.

The Weekly reported Friday that Johnson was expected to announce early this week that the investigation was being curtailed or dropped, following reports from unnamed sources that criminal charges would not be filed against the suspended staff members: theater Director Pat Briggs, Costume Supervisor Alison Williams or Program Assistant Rich Curtis.

But on Thursday Johnson flatly denied that the Santa Clara County District Attorney's office has decided not to prosecute the case and said her department had not yet formally presented its case.

On Monday, Johnson said she did not have any new information relating to the delay of the announcement about the case's future.

"We're still wrapping up some loose ends," she said.

She said she hopes to make an announcement this week.

"I still don't know yet. It's possible, but I'm not positive. There's just a lot of different things to consider," Johnson said Monday.

Briggs, Williams and Curtis have been on paid, administrative leave since Jan. 24. Even if the police announce the conclusion of all or part of the criminal case, the three employees still face potential penalties from a separate, administrative investigation overseen by City Manager Frank Benest.

The police are investigating theater employees' practice of depositing city money into their personal accounts, using that money to purchase traveler's checks and then recompensating themselves using the traveler's checks for official purchases, among other financial irregularities uncovered at the theater.

If Johnson does submit a criminal case, and it is pursued by the District Attorney's office, the employees could be charged with either misappropriation of public funds or embezzlement.

Misappropriation is the "unauthorized use of public money by a public official. There is no specific intent to steal or deprive," according to Deputy District Attorney Steve Lowney, with the office's Government Integrity Unit. He has been discussing the Children's Theatre case with the police since November.

Embezzlement involves "the specific intent to deprive the public entity of the money," Lowney wrote in an e-mail.

Embezzlement has a maximum sentence of three years in prison per count charged and misappropriation of public funds has a maximum sentence of four years in prison per count, according to District Attorney's spokeswoman Amy Cornell.

Related material:

ARCHIVE: Children's Theatre investigation

Comments

 +   Like this comment
Posted by Justice is coming
a resident of Another Palo Alto neighborhood
on May 13, 2008 at 9:57 pm

Kudo's Weekly for being right on top of this!

As you said last week, there would be an announcement, and here's part of it and 1/2 of the police investigation is down the tubes.

And Chief Johnson is back-pedaling on the rest.....

My only hope is that this doesn't become a "Mike Nifong" thing once everything is out in the open. Nifong only lost his law license and got a day in jail for trying to ruin the lives of 3 people for his personal political/agenda based actions.

As far as I'm concerned anyone who acts with malice under color of authority should be held to 10 times the standard of the common populace

Nifong wanted life for the people he illegitimately persecuted for personal gain. After the truth was revealed, and in rational world, he would be facing death.

When all is said and done, lets hope Palo Alto can do better than North Carolina.





 +   Like this comment
Posted by Ed
a resident of Downtown North
on May 14, 2008 at 3:20 am

[Post removed by Palo Alto Online staff.]


 +   Like this comment
Posted by Martha
a resident of Duveneck/St. Francis
on May 14, 2008 at 8:07 am

I hope they won't even pusue the misdemeanor case because the travelers' checks did NOT belong to the city. the City did not run its accounts properly. They have had this problem with the Junior Museum and other Community Services areas. If they pursue this they will look even more ridiculous than they already do.


 +   Like this comment
Posted by pat
a resident of Midtown
on May 14, 2008 at 3:13 pm

Martha: Please elaborate on the problem with the Junior Museum and other Community Services. Are you saying that those organizations also have accounting issues similar to the Children's Theater?

What do you mean that "the traverers' checks did NOT belong to the City."?


 +   Like this comment
Posted by Tim #2
a resident of Crescent Park
on May 14, 2008 at 9:17 pm

Parents gave "X" amount of money for the trip. The money was given to the City in exchange for traveler's checks. City out of the picture - and not out one cent. Receipts were given. I'm a parent and we all knew how it worked. Did the City even ASK?!!!


 +   Like this comment
Posted by Sean Mahoney
a resident of another community
on May 15, 2008 at 4:55 am

At least this is the first step. Now the police and county attorney have the much more important step of dropping these trumped up criminal claims. The costume sale investigation was ridiculous from the beginning. The Theatre has hundreds of excess costumes each year and rather than pay for disposal or storage, the City allows the Theatre to sell the costumes and for the money to go to the non-profit organization that directly benefits the Theatre. There is nothing even remotely fishy about that.

Lets go PAPD, move on to investigating the real crimes that occur in the city and get off of witch hunts of dedicated city employees.


 +   Like this comment
Posted by Diane
a resident of another community
on May 15, 2008 at 7:17 am

The way the Police Department and Lynn Johnson handled this whole situation has been deplorable from the beginning. Whats it is looking like Frank said GO GET THEM, without first sitting down and talking and if he or or police had concerns or questions, why didn't they communicate their concerns without just jumping to up surd conclusions? All of their questions could have answered without A)closing the Theatre, B) suspending the employees, and C) without spending "Tens of thousands" of dollars on a witch hunt of an investigation,. Now the lives and reputations of the employees have been permanently damaged, The police Department and Frank are now so desperate to find something, so as not to appear as foolish as they have been. Whats more the City has lost credibility, I certainly would not want to work or live in a place that treated dedicated employees in such a manner.


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