Santa Barbara County’s forensic audit of the defunct Lompoc Housing & Community Development Corporation could lead to a criminal investigation, according to the District Attorney’s Office.
Lompoc City Councilwoman Cecilia Martner and former Mayor Joyce Howerton asked the office to form a criminal grand jury to address LHCDC in a July 9 letter, and Chief Deputy District Attorney Jerry Lulejian said his office will wait for the audit’s results before deciding whether to start a criminal investigation against the organization or its managers.
“We have been monitoring this situation for some time now and are glad to see that the county has begun a thorough forensic audit of LHCDC’s spending of government funds,” he wrote in a response letter sent to Martner and Howerton. “The reason we have not officially begun a criminal investigation is that a forensic audit is necessary to demonstrate exactly how government money was spent. Clearly, we will need to know how government money was spent in order to determine if any mismanagement of government funds was criminal in nature or the product of non-criminal negligence.”
With the LHCDC’s dissolution and last-minute shelter closures, the Lompoc community scrambled to reopen both the Marks House and Bridgehouse shelters. The county accepted the deed-in-lieu of foreclosure option for Bridgehouse, a 50-bed facility, and signed a contract with Good Samaritan Shelter to operate it until a permanent solution can be found.
The county Board of Supervisors ordered Auditor-Controller Bob Geis’ office to audit the LHCDC and track county funding to ensure it was spent appropriately and legally. The audit could take up to a year, and the agency hasn’t produced any financial statements since 2006, Geis has said.
Though the LHCDC apparently has no employees and all of its records are in storage, the group has obtained legal counsel, and county officials say they have experienced some resistance with obtaining records.
The organization has a long history of noncompliance and warning letters, and a county Grand Jury report in June called out the county and Lompoc’s Redevelopment Agency for failing to properly monitor the millions of dollars of loans given to the LHCDC.
“If attention had been paid and LHCDC had been forced to better manage its affairs in a timely fashion, low-income renters in Lompoc would have been much better served, and taxpayers would have been saved millions,” the report concludes.