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Theater investigation focused on 'skimming'

Original post made on Jun 3, 2008

A 120-page report released Monday traces the Palo Alto Police Department's 11-month investigation into suspected embezzlement at the Children's Theatre, revealing new details and Sgt. Michael Yore's conclusions about the case.
"This is primarily a case of 'skimming' over prolonged periods of time," Yore wrote.

Read the full story here Web Link posted Tuesday, June 3, 2008, 3:02 AM

Comments (70)

Posted by Bye Bye Briggs, a resident of Another Palo Alto neighborhood
on Jun 3, 2008 at 6:33 am

Looks like Briggs was not the angel her supporters would like to paint her as and that Morton's involvement goes even deeper than thought. No wonder he was so vocal in opposing the investigation.


Posted by Blah Blah Blah, a resident of Meadow Park
on Jun 3, 2008 at 6:39 am

Becky, this story was pretty poorly written. The Daily's coverage was much better today.


Posted by common sense, a resident of Midtown
on Jun 3, 2008 at 6:51 am

What a mess. Then when Klein decided to have a discussion at the council meeting Web Link . Watch the archives to see the actual discussion.


Posted by Not sympathetic, a resident of Another Palo Alto neighborhood
on Jun 3, 2008 at 7:27 am

If this sort of "skimming" went on at the PACT, it makes me wonder how lax other City Departments are in managing their finances. No wonder the Palo Alto City budget is such a mess.


Posted by Tim, a resident of Crescent Park
on Jun 3, 2008 at 7:28 am

Read the Daily story. They need to be fired!


Posted by Sean, a resident of another community
on Jun 3, 2008 at 7:31 am

The problem is that Detective Yore documents his opinions and what he says is hard evidence which the Weekly and Daily now regurgitate but the fact of the matter is that the police department didn't actually have enough evidence to make a case. If Det. Yore's data was solid then that wouldn't have been the case. I think the city needs the council to hire this outside auditor to review the police investigation so we can really see how the case was built and how much weight this report should really be given. Right now the fact is that the county didn't think it should be given enough weight that anyone should be charged with the crimes Det. Yore seems so sure of.


Posted by Another Sceptic/Septic, a resident of Downtown North
on Jun 3, 2008 at 7:31 am

Surprise, Surprise ans Surprise. Nice group of Friends, wish I had some like these; to embezzle from and then defend me so vigorously.


Posted by Bye Bye Briggs, a resident of Another Palo Alto neighborhood
on Jun 3, 2008 at 7:34 am

Interesting story in the Dialy News about the issue. As a side to that, the Daily Post reports today that at last night's council meeting, 31 supporters slammed the city and stated that all of Briggs' malfeasance should be ignored.
CLearly for some people Briggs and Co can do no wrong


Posted by Skeptic/Septic, a resident of Downtown North
on Jun 3, 2008 at 7:40 am

With Friends like those above mentioned, who needs enemies. KEEP YOUR FRIENDS CLOSE TO YOU AND YOUR ENEMIES EVEN CLOSER.


Posted by Boo Hoo, a resident of Fairmeadow
on Jun 3, 2008 at 7:49 am

I wouldn't want to speak ill of the dead, but the dead keep speakin; way to go Joe. Facts speak louder than words my mama always told me. [Portion removed by Palo Alto Online staff].


Posted by Bye Bye Briggs, a resident of Another Palo Alto neighborhood
on Jun 3, 2008 at 7:57 am

First of all the council has issues of it's own with this case. It looks like Councilman Morton is involved in it a lot deeper than anyone imagined and it also looks like Councilman Klein may also be involved.(for those of you following the story, take note of who were the two council membres who were most vocal in disparaging this investigation?)
Can anyone say loose ethics and conflict of interest?


Posted by common sense, a resident of Midtown
on Jun 3, 2008 at 8:20 am

Sean, let's focus on the what's raised in the investigation:

- double & triple reimbursement of the same receipts
- cash advances that were never returned
- costume sales whose proceeds were to go back to the city

This not only reflects on the CT management, but on the Friends organization, and the city's administrative staff that should be verifying all of this. In most companies, a finance staff would require submission of expense reports, cross check receipts, etc.

In this case there is the city which should be doing this, and the Friends organization should have a person or consultant doing the same for the funds that they disburse. How can something like this slip by two separate accountants?


Posted by Fired, a resident of Barron Park
on Jun 3, 2008 at 8:30 am

Fired. Next?


Posted by Bye Bye Briggs, a resident of Another Palo Alto neighborhood
on Jun 3, 2008 at 8:54 am

Common sense--You say "How can something like this slip by two separate accountants?"
Many reasons:

1) You have a "beloved" institution whose supporters think that the rules do not apply to said institution

2) You have a "Friends" organization who believes the above and aids abets these problems

3) you have two local politicians, one who is one of the accountants, running interference by denigrating the investigation and the police

4) You have the "ruler" of said institution, who has been at the helm for too long, and projects the myth that she is irreplaceable, apparently lying to the police and skimming money from the till.

4) you have shoddy accounting practiced by the city


Posted by CLEAN THIS UP NOW, a resident of Another Palo Alto neighborhood
on Jun 3, 2008 at 9:03 am

Skimming isn't that what the MOB does to cheat businesses and casinos?

Were is the FBI and RICO statutes?

"Racketeering activity" generally means (1) any act or threat involving, among other things, gambling, which is a felony under state law, or (2) an act which is indictable under certain provisions of Title 18, such as the Wire Act, the Travel Act, the Interstate Transportation of Wagering Paraphernalia Act, and the Illegal Gambling Business Act.

"Enterprise" is defined to include "any individual, partnership, corporation, association, or other legal entity, and union or group of individuals associated in fact although not a legal entity."

"Pattern of racketeering activity" "requires at least two acts of racketeering activity, one of which occurred after the effective date of this chapter and the last of which occurred within ten years (excluding any period of imprisonment) after the commission of a prior act of racketeering activity."

"Unlawful debt" generally means a debt that is incurred or contracted in a gambling activity or business in violation of federal, state or local law or is unenforceable, in whole or part, due to usury laws. Congress clearly intended that evidence proving the collection of an unlawful debt would substitute for a showing that two or more predicate offenses were engaged in forming a pattern of racketeering activity.

Perhaps the IRS can get to the bottom of all this unearned income.





Posted by Gabe, a resident of Greenmeadow
on Jun 3, 2008 at 9:07 am

The real scandal is that PACT's operational budget is funded by taxpayer dollars, to the tune of about $1 million/year. This needs to end...NOW!!!


Posted by Parent, a resident of Another Palo Alto neighborhood
on Jun 3, 2008 at 9:29 am

Where are the supporters of PACT now?


Posted by Bye Bye Briggs, a resident of Another Palo Alto neighborhood
on Jun 3, 2008 at 9:41 am

They were out in force last night at the City Council meeting. Check out today's Daily Post for the story. Apparently 31 of them presented a unified front, in which they called Briggs and Curtis the good guys, while the PAPD and city hall managers are the bad guys, according to the story. I also wonder what they will have to say now that briggs, litfin et al have been exposed


Posted by Michael, a resident of Midtown
on Jun 3, 2008 at 10:13 am

So how many other people that Bye Bye Briggs is actually Sgt Yore?

Upset that all his rush to judgment, his own overtime hours, and a year spent on this case resulted in absolutely nothing filed - now he resorts to publishing a report that is unsubstantiated.

In addition, the people accused here are still not able to talk or defend themselves, not in a court of law or the court of public opinion. There are two sides to every story - unfortunately the other side is being forced with a gag order to keep silent.

When all is said and done - the people accused of wrongdoing will be able to sue the city and collect damages, because of the way this was handled and because of the way that the city, especially the police department, keeps accusing them and saying things that they will never be able to prove in court.


Posted by Joe, a resident of Greenmeadow
on Jun 3, 2008 at 10:14 am

> 31 supporters slammed the city and stated
> that all of Briggs' malfeasance should be ignored.

While 31 supporters might qualify as a mob in a small town, there are 60,000 people who live in Palo Alto. While people like Morton and Klein on the City Council, this small group might seem like "all of the important people in town"--but to the rest of us, they are looking more and more like people who would not recognize a crime if they saw it happening before their very eyes.

Time to shut down this operation. If the Council doesn't do it--then maybe it's time for a Recall of Morton and Klein.


Posted by A PACT supporter, a resident of Duveneck/St. Francis
on Jun 3, 2008 at 10:17 am

Remember Yore's the guy that bungled the criminal investiagtion that is now costing the city hundreds of thousands of dollars in wrongful prosecution. PACT supporters are still here waiting for the City to give Pat her fair opportunity to be heard...


Posted by Bye Bye Briggs, a resident of Another Palo Alto neighborhood
on Jun 3, 2008 at 10:28 am

Michael--I see the smear campaign continues unabated.
Sgt. Yore did not "publish" the report. He wrote the report. the weekly got a hold of it when it became legally available and wrote a story about it.
You can read Jay Thorwaldesen's take on the report at this site:
Web Link

Are you sure the gag order is still in effect for the PACt employees or are they not talking under advise of their own attorneys.

As usual, the facts have nothing to do with what your reality regarding the PACT saints, Michael.

BTW, I am not Sgt. Yore.


Posted by Get the Facts, a resident of Barron Park
on Jun 3, 2008 at 10:37 am

As usual, your facts come from a newspaper instead of reality. There were 21, NOT 31. Try speaking from first hand experience, instead of blindly repeating what you read.


Posted by Michael, a resident of Midtown
on Jun 3, 2008 at 10:47 am

Well glad to hear you're not Sgt. Yore.
Gag order still in effect.
Think how you would feel if the police department were free to write anything they wanted and you couldn't defend yourself.


Posted by Bye Bye Briggs, a resident of Another Palo Alto neighborhood
on Jun 3, 2008 at 10:53 am

Get the Facts--I like to think of the newspapers getting things right most of the time--occasionally they do not--this may be one such case. However since you do not dispute the other items presented in the newspaper story, I assume than 21 people and not 31 presented a unified front, in which they called Briggs and Curtis the good guys, while the PAPD and city hall managers are the bad guys.

Michael--The police did not "write anything they wanted"--Yore wrote a report on his investigation with his conclusions--as is done in millions of reports written every year by police, private citizens companies etc.
You make it sound (as part of your smear campaign against anyone question the PACT saints) as if all of his report is one big fantasy.
The PACT staff will have their day--at their hearing and in court if they choose to file suit. But remember in both cases they will be expected to tell the truth. we will see how far they want to go.


Posted by anonymous, a resident of Duveneck/St. Francis
on Jun 3, 2008 at 10:56 am

What IS clear is it's time to separate PACT from Palo Alto taxpayer money. Let PACT operate however they want to, but not on my tax money. This has been outrageous!


Posted by Get the Facts, a resident of Adobe-Meadows
on Jun 3, 2008 at 11:22 am

Here's another fact. Yore's report claims that Williams, Litfin and Curtis refused to talk to him. That's clearly at odds with Johnson's statement that Litfin came into the police station to talk to them but they sent him home. What other errors does this document contain? Funny how the police can't get their story straight.


Posted by Jay Thorwaldson, editor emeritus
on Jun 3, 2008 at 11:23 am

Jay Thorwaldson is a registered user.

Hi -

A couple of fact-straighteners: The police summary report was obtained by Public Records Act requests filed by the Weekly and the Palo Alto Daily News separately. Sgt. Yore did not make it available.

Steve Lowney of the district attorney's office explicitly stated that he felt the investigation was warranted, but that it was simply too complex and had too many holes in it to proceed to court with a prosecution.

There has certainly been a lot of jumping to conclusions on all sides in this tragic and divisive case. In my blog I've tried to create a reasonably cohesive narrative of this truly bizarre situation.

The comment that not everything in newspapers is accurate is itself accurate. In this case, "facts" seem to evolve and change in odd ways as new information is released (or extracted). We will continue to try our best to report this continuing story accurately and fairly.

I also fail to see the effectiveness of drumbeat repetitive comments about firing people (be it Briggs or Johnson or Yore or Curtis or Benest or everyone in an "Off with their heads!" purge of City Hall) or separating the theater from the city budget.

On the latter point of splitting off the theater, former Arts & Culture Director Leon Kaplan presents some history on that issue in a Guest Opinion in Wednesday's Weekly. There is seldom anything new under the Palo Alto sun.

-jay


Posted by pat, a resident of Midtown
on Jun 3, 2008 at 11:26 am

In his blog, Jay Thorwaldson says "things got curiouser and curiouser" in the investigation and that "Yore jumps to conclusions from time to time."

Maybe so, but there are also plenty of hard facts in Yore's report. At this point, everyone involved – Briggs, the "Friends," city staff and some council members – is looking suspiciouser and suspiciouser.

I can understand why the DA's office might be fed up with all this, but residents deserve closure – and accountability!


Posted by Anonymous blogger, a resident of The Greenhouse
on Jun 3, 2008 at 11:29 am

Jay--you state:

"I also fail to see the effectiveness of drumbeat repetitive comments about firing people (be it Briggs or Johnson or Yore or Curtis or Benest or everyone in an "Off with their heads!" purge of City Hall) or separating the theater from the city budget."

Regardless of whether these comments will be "effective" or not, this is a forum to express opinions and as long as they are expressed in a civil manner, I see no reason for you to try to discourage them.

Some people that the staff has gone too far and need to be let go, some people feel the staff has been wronged and should be exonerated and re-instated.
Some people are upset over the fact that the city has spent over $1 million a year on the theatre and feel that it should be continued a a private entity. Others want to see the city continue to subsidize the theatre.

All of the above opinions are being expressed by people on these threads. I suggest that you spend your time making sure that your paper has the facts correct rather than trying to discourage the expression of opinions by residents of the city



Posted by Sorry Jay, a resident of Charleston Gardens
on Jun 3, 2008 at 11:44 am

Jay, sorry our drumbeat repetitive comments aren't up to your standards. We are just plain folks out here. We'll try to have more interesting comments in the future, or just keep quiet and let you important people tell us what to think.


Posted by Suzan B. Stewart, a resident of Community Center
on Jun 3, 2008 at 12:36 pm

This is again another reiteration of the police interpretation of matters they didn't understand. What this story should do is to note that the police wouldn't question the Friends' treasurer if she had the Friends lawyer with her..Remember that the Friends only had to obtain a lawyer when the police suddenly decided maybe the Friends were alsop guilty of something and sealed the Friends' storage lockers! Even in Palo alto people have Constitutional rights, and though police might find it inconvenient to question people with lawyers present, that is not only a protection of rights, but assures that information obtained may be properly used. I believe that the police were under some obligation to look at all sides of any issues they encountered without leaping to judgement. What this reveals is the mindset of Officer Yore from the outset. "I've made up my mind, don't confuse me with the facts!"
All of these questionable "findings" could have been cleared up by talking to Pat and Michael and the Friends' treasurers, present and past. The Friends financial records are thorough; there was NEVER a question of the theatre staff's improperly using any funds. Last night at the Council meeting not only did Friends' Treasurers talk about the careful records in connection with all Friends projects, including trips, but also a person who worked in the Office told the Council that sometimes receipts were submitted to the City more than once when the city lost them! The incredible imagination of Officer Yore, envisioning this hard working staff's using any funds for exotic trips, indicates that he really belongs in Hollywood working on scripts for "Cold Case" where his interesting theories cannot hurt real people. It is outrageous to see this again in the press just before Pat Briggs and Rich Curtis are to face administrative hearings on the accusations stemming from this wild investigation. I hope the public will recognize that the theatre staff has not been able to talk to the press to refute these allegations and will keep in mind that the criminal investigation is supposedly over, though the police don't seem to want to let it go.


Posted by curiouser and curiouser, a resident of South of Midtown
on Jun 3, 2008 at 12:37 pm

Morton is the accountant for the Friends of the Childrens Theater and he didn't discover the double billings? And he has been calling for an end to the investigation?
This gets curiouser and curiouser.
Looking forward to his resignation from the council.


Posted by TL, a resident of Midtown
on Jun 3, 2008 at 1:45 pm

As a tax payer in Palo Alto, I say let make Sergeant Mike Yore our next City Manager. He is the only City employee who seems to be capable of looking after our money.


Posted by narnia, a resident of Midtown
on Jun 3, 2008 at 2:11 pm

The criminal investigation may not be over. Only the State of California criminal investigation is over because " there wasn't enough evidence to support charges of embezzlement against Briggs and that the statute of limitations restricted his (Deputy District Attorney Steve Lowney) ability to prove funds had been misappropriated" .
The DA explanations hardly absolve PACT management. I very much hope that Briggs is not foolish enough (throughout her post-criminal investigation conduct) to invite scrutiny from other agencies ....
She is lucky if she is allowed to resign without further ado.
I also hope that the absurd fervor and faith of her supporters doesn't end up putting Briggs in a worst situation than she is now. I fear that's where it's headed.


Posted by narnia, a resident of Midtown
on Jun 3, 2008 at 2:24 pm

Suzan Stewart,

Is as you say "there was NEVER a question of the theatre staff's improperly using any funds"
how do you explain the thousands of dollars in travel checks flying around (in Briggs house too)?

That's not improper use of funds?
The travel checks had been payed for and hadn't been used but expenses were claimed. Why was Briggs hoarding them and keeping some at home? For what purpose was Briggs retaining the checks (cashable forever)? And why did she not report the stolen checks?
That's not improper use of funds?

How you consider this proper is beyond me as it is beyond my understanding to make children work so that Friends of PACT could cash in on their work...

I suggest opinions of what is proper use of funds needs to be revised, preferably with a modicum of respect both for the law and the Palo alto taxpayers.


Posted by Paul Wanless, a resident of another community
on Jun 3, 2008 at 3:10 pm

I refuse to unconditionally believe the word of one or two newspaper articles that display nothing more than select excerpts from a single investigational document. The PACT staff has a right to make counterstatements to these publications, and so far have not been allowed that basic constitutional right to be heard.

Until I hear their side of the story as well as that of the police, I'm still firmly on the side of the PACT staff, because right now I see absolutely nothing but oppression happening here.

As someone who audits medical device companies for a living, I find time and again when I find things wrong that it is the SYSTEMS that are at fault, not the individuals, and I also believe that's exactly what was wrong here...shoddy system procedures that would be impossible for ANYONE to follow correctly and have perfect records.

Ok, so the city wants to fire someone. Everyone wants a scapegoat. Fine, that of course is there prerogative. But that's not going to fix the underlying SYSTEM problems.

What I really want to know is, what procedural changes will the city make to be sure that accounting records like this are not a problem in the future? Replacing the individuals at their jobs won't help the underlying problems, and if they just ignore the fact that the systems themselves were at fault and do nothing to change them, they'll just discover the same problems in subsequent investigations.

I wonder how many financial audits in other city departments uncovered similar problems and were just plain ignored, or, in fact, if they are even audited at all.

PACT staff, you are innocent until you are proven guilty. You have nothing to defend yourselves against. You deserve the right to speak.


Posted by narnia, a resident of Midtown
on Jun 3, 2008 at 4:13 pm

It seems that there is some confusion between what you call " that basic constitutional right to be heard" and anarchy.
I have not heard of such right but (maybe your Constitution is different from mine), I am under the impression that there are protocols to be followed (even in a meeting) to be heard.

Briggs has already been heard in the criminal investigation-and according to the report she contradicted herself. . There will be a proper time and place to be heard. I for one, wait most eagerly the words of Pat Briggs and hope the questioning will be thorough, expeditious and without a shadow of conflict of interest. Briggs will be asked, I am sure, to respond for her actions as a manager. Other investigations will focus on other problems and managers.
If the city didn't follow proper procedures that doesn't free Briggs from her fiduciary obligations or its consequences.


Posted by Kenneth, a resident of South of Midtown
on Jun 3, 2008 at 4:18 pm

Paul Wanless,

The SYSTEM failure in this case is the model itself, namely taxpayer support of the operations budget of PACT. We pay one million dollars each year to fund the operations of this youth activity, and the participants don't even pay a participation fee. Other youth activities pay for their own operational budgets. It is time for PACT and the City to grow up, and form a private board to run PACT. None of this stuff would have happened, if PACT was run by a private volunteer board.


Posted by Jay Thorwaldson, editor emeritus
on Jun 3, 2008 at 4:26 pm

Jay Thorwaldson is a registered user.

A couple of additional points of clarification:

1) Anyone who wants to see the scope of our coverage over the past months may check the archives at Web Link . We reported extensively on the burglary starting March 7 when there was a link to this U-Haul van and the traveler's checks arrests in San Carlos. We also have quoted the attorneys for Briggs and Litfin in several articles, representing their clients' views and positions.

2) Despite a widespread belief (included in past stories, alas), there is NO GAG ORDER on anyone in terms of talking to the media, according to Assistant City Attorney Don Larkin. We have double checked him on that point and will be including it in a story.
Those on administrative leave are restricted from talking to each other. Not sure where this initial report of the media gag order came from -- possibly from Michael Litfin in an interview Jan. 24.
There is extreme caution on the part of attorneys for those under administrative review and facing termination.

-jay




Posted by Byron Street, a resident of Old Palo Alto
on Jun 3, 2008 at 4:39 pm

Hey doesn't EVERYONE have twelve banks accounts?


Posted by Parent, a resident of Another Palo Alto neighborhood
on Jun 3, 2008 at 4:47 pm

I do really have sympathy for PACT families. It is always hard when someone you put your trust in fully appears to have let you down and in many ways you refuse to believe and accept it and assume that there must be a mistake.

In this particular case, there seems to have been a long history of bad management. I am not sure if this has been deliberate or just disorganization which has been going on for so long that the initial reasons have become habit rather than anything else. When someone has been in the same job for so long, it is understandable that something that may have been said 20 years ago in one unofficial conversation, became practice over the years which was never checked or altered.

The real problem should be that PACT was never managed properly. Of course the work of the theatre, the performing arts aspect, was carried out beautifully and the productions and the children all benefited. What obviously never happened though was the business side being managed. Historically this may have started with the City or PACT, but because it was such a "wonderful program" it was never thought prudent to worry about how the everyday business management was carried out.

So what we need to put right now is to make sure that the right type of people are running this show, both in PACT and the City. With any non-profit there are more liberties taken by staff than there would in a profitable business. These liberties may just be in bookkeeping procedures, checking up on procedures or just laziness in time management. When it comes to the fact that this non-profit was actually financed by local taxpayers, then the local taxpayers have a right to accountability to their money. Taxpayers have little say in what they pay in taxes, but that should not mean that they can't have some accountability as to where the money was spent and whether it was wasted or misappropriated.

So when it comes down to it, we are all losers. PACT families have been let down by those they trusted (and to be fair most people do have their failings and can be found to have faults somewhere along the line). PACT staff have been found out for their sloppy management skills and perhaps self serving bookkeeping. The City has been found out that there is at least one area of its domain where they have not been checking to see that all is in order. And lastly, PA taxpayers have discovered that there has been a money pit which has taken more than it should and indeed has taken money that the average taxpayer was not aware of. This last area is where the whole City has lost out because we are not even sure if this is the only one.

Therefore, we need to see more transparency in City government and accountability by City officials and City Council. We need to make sure that this state of affairs does not continue, will not happen in the future and that there is no other situation out there that we are not aware of.

I thank the local media and the local police for doing their job. I know that there are some embarrassed faces, and also some hurt pride, but this should be a time for a clean sweep and a fresh start.


Posted by pat, a resident of Midtown
on Jun 3, 2008 at 5:15 pm

We have heard many times how much children learned from Pat Briggs and how important PACT was in their lives.

In today's Daily Post, Sonya Raymakers, a PACT alumni, "told Council that Briggs is a director and shouldn't be held accountable for sloppy bookkeeping procedures." Trudy Reinhardt, whose son was in PACT, "told council that Brigg's dedication to the children is what matters and the business of keeping the books is the responsibility of managers."

If these are the lessons in responsibity and personal accountability that kids (and parents) get through their involvement in PACT, then it should definitely be shut down.


Posted by peter, a resident of Palo Alto Hills
on Jun 3, 2008 at 5:25 pm

Read the full report of the police investigation on the City's web site. Go to Police and it should be listed on the first page. It is very long, but if you want the facts, read it.

Still many people offering opinion and wishful thinking for facts. I appreciate Jay's efforts to present the information known.

The results of the thorough investigation were presented in the report and only stumbles once or twice when Yore offered what Jay called speculation. I hope this goes to trial so that Yore can defend himself against baseless charges.


Posted by Tom, a resident of Downtown North
on Jun 3, 2008 at 7:36 pm

> Steve Lowney of the district attorney's office explicitly stated
> that he felt the investigation was warranted, but that it was simply
> too complex and had too many holes in it to proceed to
> court with a prosecution.

The girl who was sexually assaulted by baseball players was written off by the DA's office because "alcohol" was involved--"too complicated to try".

Now, this mess--and the same lame whimper from these people in the DA's office--"too complicated".

Seems that all you have to do to "get away with it" is to depend on the DA's office to become confused at a little complexity. Seems the DA's office has become judge and jury without any accountability.

What a sorry mess ..


Posted by anyone want toast?, a resident of Ventura
on Jun 3, 2008 at 9:12 pm

[Post removed by Palo Alto Online staff.]


Posted by concerned citizen, a resident of Duveneck/St. Francis
on Jun 3, 2008 at 10:50 pm

consdering that almost everyone posing has no real idea of what is really going on, it would be wise to be better informed before snapping to judgement. i pity anyone who only knows what they have read in the newspapers...tsk tsk. the facts will come out eventually.


Posted by Wilson K, a resident of Midtown
on Jun 3, 2008 at 11:24 pm

If I buy cheese at the supermarket and it smells really bad, I either take it back for a refund or throw it out. I don't waste time or a bunch of money on thorough scientific testing before I make a decision.

Theater management smells really bad. It's time to do the same thing here.


Posted by Fowl Play, a resident of Greenmeadow
on Jun 4, 2008 at 12:52 am

Thanks to the Internet, you no longer need to depend upon newspaper reporters or bloggers to do your thinking for you. Source documents are available to study. This enables you to decide for yourself how timely and credible you feel the investigation to date has been, then what your next steps should be.

Children's Theater Palo Alto Police Report dated May 15, 2008, Case #07-4606, Embezzlement
Web Link

In cases like this, an old axiom has served me well, "If it waddles like a duck, and it quacks like a duck, it's a duck."


Posted by anon., a resident of Another Palo Alto neighborhood
on Jun 4, 2008 at 2:51 am

I think the acct (Morton) and the mayor needs to be investigated. why was there no annual audit by an outside accounting firm?? Even I know that every business/agency needs an external audit. Its unacceptable that Morton didn't do this AND was trying to kill the investigation. If this isn't conflict of interest I don't know what is. He should be off the city council!!!!


Posted by Allen, a resident of Fairmeadow
on Jun 4, 2008 at 7:38 am

> Yore writes that he was unable to interview Morton,
> the accountant for the Friends, due to both Morton's and
> his own scheduling conflicts.

How many months has this investigation been going on?
Morton is a City Council Member--one would think that a City Council Member would want to help the police anyway he could. But not this guy! If Morton can't find time to help the police, then that should set the example for us all.

It's astounding that he hasn't recused himself from this--but that would be the ethical thing to do. With "leaders" like Morton, can this town get any sicker?


Posted by Pot Bellied Fu Manchu, a resident of Ventura
on Jun 4, 2008 at 7:54 am

Thanks to Fowl Play for posting the web link to the actual Investigation Report.

Just looking at the potential choices listed on the Suspect Description Form makes me scared straight:
Punk hair style, toupee, lisp, stutter, fu manchu facial hair, pot belly, rotten teeth, acne complexion, body odor (...with the Candlestick in the Library)

But seriously, it is helpful to read the report w/o the additional media filter.
Thanks!


Posted by Curiouser, a resident of Ventura
on Jun 4, 2008 at 8:21 am

According to Sgt. Yore's report: "Briggs and Litfin arranged annual PA Children's Theatre vacation trips... to Atlanta ... for SELECT members of the PA Children's Theatre cast and staff"

WHO decides which kids get to go?
What percent of cast get to go?
Who is paying for these trips?
Looks like CPA was!

PA WEEKLY STAFF- please look into this!


Posted by Friend, a resident of Stanford
on Jun 4, 2008 at 9:30 am

The Atlanta trips weren't "vacation" trips. The PACT was invited to bring shows to the theatre festival there. Kids from around the country are invited. It was an honor for PACT. It's similar to a winning high school debate team going to the finals in Ohio.


Posted by Devon, a resident of another community
on Jun 4, 2008 at 9:31 am

This is just my two cents.

Although I don't know fellow poster Paul Wanless, I find every statement he made to be wholly accurate.

I too have conducted a number of audits into various companies and have often found that the single worst component in the various paradigms I've investigated to have been of a procedural nature.

In making a cursory look at all that has happened here with the Children's Theatre, it appears that neither Briggs
nor Litfin have showed intent to embezzle.

To the contrary, both have exemplified behavior that comes off as
the opposite of a smoking gun.

However, it has come out that some receipts were submitted for reimbursement three separate times. But in my professional opinion,
to me, this is clearly not the work of a thief--it is instead the m.o for someone who is rushing through paperwork.

Actual embezzlers have far more precise ways of handling their financial affairs.

It has come out that Pat Briggs has contradicted herself.

In my experience, embezzlers never contradict themselves. They have a straight story and they stick with it. What Briggs has indicated to me through his contradictory statements is that she lacks perfect recall.

She said that she didn't have checks at her house and then they found some there. That finding is also inconsistent with someone who conspires to steal, as an embezzler would have gotten rid of evidence the second the investigation was underway.

I have read second-hand testimony as to the dedication and you might say, the "artistic mentality" of both Briggs and Litfin and it seems apparent that they may have both tried to actively spend as little amount of time as possible on accounting.

That's too bad, but that is what artists and creative types often do--especially when the financial expectations on them are completely geared toward staying under budget (as opposed to those financial paradigms where expecutives are expected to maximize profits; a scenario that requires a far higher impetus on internal controls.)

Investigators such as Detective Yore have or are determining a dollar amount that the various accounting breakdowns and oversights may have accumulated up to at a cost to taxpayers.

Although the dollar amount now looks pretty juicy, two grains of salt should be taken when considering this.

One) It's a dollar amount that is relatively small against what the entire operating budget of the theatre has been over the past seven
or eight years. It's actually in the realm of what any accountant would call petty cash and I think that if we are all honest, we must speculate that this dollar amount caused by oveersight isn't even close to what the investigation itself has cost you taxpayers.

Now, of course, I'm of the discipline that every penny needs to be accounted for, but I am also prudent enough to know that you just DON"T EVER spend five figures of anyone's money trying to track down
what happened to four figures that are missing.

Two) Litfin and Briggs seem to have essentially been running a de-facto petty cash operation out of their offices,
homes and personal bank accounts.

Tsk. Tsk.

It is sloppy to do so, BUT I have been told on numerous occasions by managers that this guerilla method can also be extremely proactive in helping run overall operations, especially when having to deal with a bureaucracy.

It always looks terribly inappropriate to commingle private and personal funds (and sometimes IS), but to b honest, I myself have used personal money to spend on my business' needs and then later reimbursed myself for it. My bad, sure, but it is consistent behavior with executives (Litfin and Briggs?) who place their company before themselves.

I can see how many taxpayers will reach an unbending conclusion
that theft with malicious intent has occurred here, but I would point out that thieves don't keep traveller's checks lying around in places for months on end and then forget about them. To the contrary, true thieves dump them as soon as possible.

I applaud the vigilance of the community who feels that all city employees should be held perfectly accountable, but clearly in the case of Michael Litfin,(someone who's m.o. closely resembles that of
Pat Briggs to the point they seem like the same entity) we should
take into account the final action Litfin made as it goes greatly to determining his intent.

With it, he cemented a reputation as dedicated public servant
who left his estate to the very institution he has been
accused during the final weeks of his life of having siphoned
cash from.

You all will be lucky to find a successor who shares that same level of selfless commitment toward building up the infrastructure of your community and of its children.

The question the community now needs to ask is what they will be expecting from all future directors of the children's theatre in terms of accounting responsibilities and in how the City can simplify the process.

Will you expect that the successors manage the business affairs of the theatre with the same 99% accoutability ratio that Briggs and Litfin orchestrated over the last eight years of their tenure, or will you require them to handle things with 100% accuracy?

I apologize to the people who staunchly advocate for Pat and Michael by insinuating that they mismanaged 1% of the budget handed to them and I duly point out the possibility that this amount conceivably could have been more than made up by the financial gift that Michael Litfin left behind.

















Posted by Parent, a resident of Another Palo Alto neighborhood
on Jun 4, 2008 at 9:41 am

Friend

I am not sure of your definition of honor. At the very least this trip was a working vacation. The invitation may have been made to PACT, but how many children's theatres around the country would have been able to afford a trip to Atlanta to put on a play. Yes, I know that there are fundraising machines, but I wonder if the invitation had more to do with the knowledge that this PACT was able to finance a trip than the honor in asking to be able to perform.

To say that it was like a school debate team or a school sport team getting through to championship status through their hard work, their beating the opposition in the opening rounds, and their winning streak, is hardly the same as a local theatre for kids getting a perk because of the invitation of someone somewhere to let them perform their play in some far off place in the country.

Many of us would love to have the opportunity to see our kids put on a play in Atlanta, or anywhere else. I would love to see my kids play their own sport in a countrywide championship representing Palo Alto because they are the best of not only the town, but the county, the state, honor it would be. But to say that these busmen's vacations are in the same vein is not on.


Posted by Parent, a resident of Another Palo Alto neighborhood
on Jun 4, 2008 at 9:52 am

Devon

What you say may be true about the style of management going on at PACT. The fact that the bookkeeping was sloppy, careless and not enough time put in to keeping records because the Directors were too busy doing artistic stuff to be bothered with paperwork, is not an excuse. I realise that there probably was no intent to deliberately embezzle, but that does not alter the fact that the theatre was run dishonestly be people who were salaried to run this establishment.

If I pay someone to run my business, be it artistic, non-profit, or anything else, I expect them to run the business. I expect certain standards. You may think that the City employed these directors, but the city is the people who reside here and pay taxes. That means me. Therefore, I expect the people running my business to be accountable in all aspects of running the business and if they are found to be doing a poor job, at the very least they should be fired and at the very worse, to be taken to court for the record.

I don't doubt the motives behind the miscreants. What I do doubt is the ability of those supporters to realise that this is not the way to run the show.


Posted by narnia, a resident of Midtown
on Jun 4, 2008 at 10:33 am

"It always looks terribly inappropriate to commingle private and personal funds (and sometimes IS), but to b honest, I myself have used personal money to spend on my business' needs and then later reimbursed myself for it. My bad, sure, but it is consistent behavior with executives (Litfin and Briggs?) who place their company before themselves."
says Devon.
I have never known any reputable executives (including the ones in my family) that do this. Corporate abuse and accounting fraud do exist. Some bad apples do and what's the result?
Dennis Koslowski and Leona Helmsley did it- Leona got 3 years in prison, Koslowski was sentenced to up 25 years in prison (minimum 81/2).

I suggest that you get your ethics in shape and I hope you never audit any company I am associated with. I also hope you don't have an encounter with the fiscal services.... They (ISR and Franchise tax board will not be sympathetic) Reimbursing yourself is akin to having the fox guarding the henhouse.
You have gone from absurd excuse to absurd excuse from the Briggs supporters. But I think Devon's is perhaps the most interesting. It must be right because he does it.


Posted by Bye Bye Briggs, a resident of Another Palo Alto neighborhood
on Jun 4, 2008 at 10:43 am

Today' PA Daily has an article about Community response to the report:

Web Link


Typical circling-of-the-wagons by PACT supporters.
One of the better parts of the story:

"I know it seems strange that Pat would have a lot of traveler's checks, but Pat hoards things," Stewart said. "She has invitations (going) 20 years back."

Stewart said Briggs was not intentionally lying when she told investigators there were no traveler's checks at her home, though they later found $1,910 worth of checks there.

"If there was something in her house, she wasn't lying to the police - she just didn't know," Stewart said. "


So it was okay for Pat to keep the travelers checks because she "hoards things" and she did not lie about travel checks in her home--she just did not know about them!!!

The excuses made for the behavior of the PACT staff, especially Pat, is bordering on the ridiculous--she didn;t know, she hoards, everyone does it, I do it , they were busy, and on and on and on.
I am still waiting for the supporters to explain her twelve bank accounts
It is clear to many of us that the shine has come off from Pat's armor and the tarnish is there for all to see. The question is when will reality set in for the friends of PACT.


Another part of the story:

"Paula Collins, president of the Friends, said in a statement that her group requested, but is still waiting for a copy of the police report."

Someone should tell Paula the report is available online.


Posted by anonymous, a resident of Duveneck/St. Francis
on Jun 4, 2008 at 10:56 am

PACT's system (?) of management is a heckuva mess. That much is clear. And now, I suppose, more city staff time (taxpayer $) will be needed to try to straighten it out??! Problems have been discovered than go far beyond a one-off mistake or oversight. PACT's protected status is a mystery to me. I am concerned about the actions/involvement/statements of certain city council members who may have conflicts of interest. Join the real world of nonprofits out there and stand on your own merits/own finances like all the others.


Posted by Fishy out of the water?, a resident of Duveneck/St. Francis
on Jun 4, 2008 at 12:18 pm

What's troubling from the start of this story is why so many traveler's checks would be left lying around, and why the staff kept requesting more money from parents and the city when they had a surplus from previous trips. It was blamed on general disorganization - " oh, well, they're creative types". And now this one - "Briggs hoards things." I still don't buy it.

Now we learn that the city destroys records after 7 years, and that Briggs was aware of that policy. What I'd like to know is if any traveler's checks were found that predate 2001? They don't appear on the list (Web Link page 50) -- is it because none were found, or were these not part of the investigation? If none were found it seems suspiciously coincidental, given the 7 year record destruction policy. Does Briggs only hoard things that are less than 7 years old?

This whole thing smells like a scheme that's been planned and going on for more years than any PACT friend would care to acknowledge.


Posted by 'bout them controls, a resident of Community Center
on Jun 4, 2008 at 12:23 pm

Devon, you have got to be joking? If you have actually audited companies as you say you did, then you have an incredibly lax attitude to control. The procedures described in this report aren't just bad, they are appalling. As an auditor, you stand there and say "it's not that bad"? Remind me to hire you when I want to get an audit passed with no questions asked!

Get real, there's more than one sacking offense in that report even if the actions weren't criminal.

Oh, and your last paragraph was singularly distasteful.


Posted by George, a resident of Downtown North
on Jun 4, 2008 at 5:33 pm

> In my experience, embezzlers never contradict themselves.
> They have a straight story and they stick with it. What Briggs
> has indicated to me through his contradictory statements is
> that she lacks perfect recall.

And what experience might that be? There is nothing in you rambling approach to this matter that indicates that you have actually been involved with (and in what capacity) any embezzlers at all.

So .. how many embezzlers have you actually met, and had occasion to actually investigate?


Posted by CSI, a resident of Crescent Park
on Jun 4, 2008 at 7:10 pm

According to the article in the Daily, "She [Lynn Johnson ] also said Simitian's staff told Yore the checks were found inside a book, within a box of books in Litfin's living room.

Somebody didn't want those checks to be discovered. You don't accidentally "misplace" travelers' checks in a book inside a box of books. That was deliberate, intentional, and knowing, concealment.


Posted by Forest Gump, a resident of Old Palo Alto
on Jun 5, 2008 at 6:56 am

That was deliberate, intentional, and knowing, concealment.

Yup - this the truth.

- In the words of Forest Gump. Stupid is as Stupid does.

Fire them all and prosecute them as an example to the children to not commit crime.

Doing less is telling children it is ok to steal. You liberals are always saying this and that is for the children, Now is your moment to prove you can do the right thing and you should do what is right for the children - prosecute all these people including the guilty at the Friends of the Childrens Theater.


Posted by CPA, a resident of College Terrace
on Jun 5, 2008 at 11:55 am

1% over 7 years we have a real crime here. If you audited every deparatment including the police department would you find abuses? The first question I would ask is who set this systesm up paying PACT employees in cash? Are we sending a boy to do a man's job? Employees of PACT could not be interviewed because they exercised their 6th amendment right?

If the police are accused of anything do they have the police union attorneys there im a nano second for free as well as the city attorney and the chief? Can you even subpoena a personnel file of a police officer? It is not liberal to exercise your constitutional rights! If you fail to exercise your rights then you give them up. The inference is it seems is if you have an attorney then you are guilty! Would you allow yourself to be interviewed by any police officer without counsel present in the midst of this witch hunt? Does it matter now whether you are innocent or guilty?

I like double standards.


Posted by salem, a resident of Community Center
on Jun 5, 2008 at 12:42 pm

Witch hunt? Who's politicizing this now? And since when did skimming 1% of your budget become a city perk?


Posted by PACT Alum, a resident of College Terrace
on Jun 5, 2008 at 2:34 pm

I wonder how many of the posters before mine have actually been involved with the Palo Alto Children's Theater? I spent most of my childhood and many of my teenage years there and so did my brother. Pat, Michael, Rich and Alison were there for all these years and I am not excusing any crimes they may or may not have committed but to say because of these things that are unproven they should be immediately fired is something that will take away a sense of community for the children of the city of Palo Alto.


Posted by Bye Bye Briggs, a resident of Another Palo Alto neighborhood
on Jun 5, 2008 at 2:54 pm

PACT Alum is another in the long line of people who believe the myth that Pat Briggs has created--she is indispensable to PACT.
Once again we have a misstatement of what is going on--the PACT is not being immediately fired--one member has been re-instated--two others have been recommended for termination based in part on the police report (which does not paint a very flattering of picture of the staff and in some respects suggests that they were nothing better than common thieves).
Pat and Rich will get a fair hearing and will be able to present their case. And who knows--two of city council members are strong supporters so they may be able to pressure the city into keeping them (of course, the report does not paint a very rosy picture of their actions either and makes me wonder if they are as ethically challenged as the staff they are so vocally defending).
The PACT will survive without Pat, Michael and Richard.


Posted by lazlo toth, a resident of Old Palo Alto
on Jun 6, 2008 at 6:18 pm

60,000 lawyers in Palo Alto but no conviction. Shut and close case by reading all of your accounts. Even the team of crack Palo Alto Police Dept detectives(ha ha ) couldn't convince the soft district attorney. Surely there has to be a conspiracy! Maybe it's time to get back to your pathetic lives and turn off your laptops. Lets hear from the real expert Diana Diamond and her continuous rant about how she can make the city better.It would seem even she could come up with some new material after five years. Maybe not:(


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