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Culprit in California Park Scandal Fined $7,000

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February 18, 2013 by   Leave a Comment

The central figure in one of the financial scandals that engulfed the California state parks department last year has agreed to pay a $7,000 civil penalty.

Manuel Thomas Lopez, 45, of Granite Bay, Calif., was deputy director of administrative services at the California Department of Parks and Recreation in 2011 when he authorized an illegal vacation buyout program for employees at the department’s headquarters in Sacramento, The Sacramento Bee reported.

The buyout, first exposed by The Sacramento Bee in July, cost the state more than $285,000 at the same time officials were slashing programs amid a budget crisis. A total of 59 parks employees benefited, including Lopez, who received the largest payout, totaling $28,646.

The state Fair Political Practices Commission undertook an enforcement action against Lopez for violating the Political Reform Act. The act forbids a public official from using his or her position for personal financial benefit.

In a settlement to be finalized at the commission’s Feb. 28 meeting, Lopez admits to two violations of the act – for receiving two vacation buyout payments in 2011 – and agrees to pay a $7,000 fine. That is less than the $10,000 maximum penalty, a commission staff report says, because Lopez cooperated with the investigation.

Lopez did not respond to a request for comment. He resigned from the department in May, just days before state officials planned to fire him.

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