By John Phillips, RIVERSIDE PRESS-ENTERPRISE
September 11, 2019
I hope you’re sitting down, because I just heard about a scheme to rip off California taxpayers using the railroad … and it’s worse than the bullet train!
According to excellent investigative reporting from Politico’s Carla Marinucci and Angela Hart, California Insurance Commissioner Ricardo Lara has been busted charging taxpayers the rent for his second home — and even had the audacity to categorize it as “railroad fare” on state forms.
I guess you could call this The Sacramento Gravy Train.
Politico found that Lara’s monthly reimbursements for “lodging” and “rental” costs ranged from $1,925 to $3,270 between January and June. Additionally, billings classified as “railroad fare” between $570 and $700 per month were listed on the form.
Lara spokesman Michael Soller told Politico that those claims actually refer to “lodging” but were entered as “railroad fare” because “our accounting department didn’t have a field to enter the lodging reimbursement for this purpose.”
At $700 a month for “railroad fare,” I assume they have a pretty amazing dining car.
Indeed, Ricardo Lara has only been working on the railroad all the livelong day, in theory — alas, mostly to line his own pockets.
Apparently, the fact that there was no box on the reimbursement form for “rent” didn’t set off alarm bells anywhere in the California Department of Insurance.
“Department staff determined he could apply this lodging reimbursement to his rental rather than hotel bills,” spokesman Soller told Politico.
I’m surprised the organ player doesn’t break into “Crazy Train” whenever Lara is spotted at Dodger Stadium.
Insurance watchdogs have been less than impressed with Lara’s stunt. In fact, I hear that even Flo from the Progressive commercials shakes her head whenever the subject comes up.
Consumer Watchdog President Jamie Court and litigation director Jerry Flanagan recently asked state prosecutors to investigate the matter. In their letter, they said, “The reason no field exists for this type of ‘lodging reimbursement’ is because the state law prohibits the Insurance Commissioner from being reimbursed for the cost of his permanent housing and does not provide for a per diem, which is the reimbursement Commissioner Lara appears to have collected from the state.”
They went on to say that, “California Insurance Commissioner Ricardo Lara appears to have committed crimes punishable by up to four years in prison by using public funds for his personal benefit and fraudulently representing expenses for his second home in Sacramento as a legitimate public expense.”
The state Department of Human Resources manual is very clear that executive branch employees traveling on the state’s dime are required to stay at “commercial lodging establishments” such as hotels, motels, or Airbnbs.
If Lara’s creative accounting is deemed a crime, he could end up in a different sort of taxpayer-funded housing: state prison.
Prior to being elected insurance commissioner, Ricardo Lara represented portions of Los Angeles County in both the state Assembly and state Senate. The California Constitution requires legislators to be residents of the district they represent, and are given a per diem for days they’re in Sacramento when the legislature is in session.
However, statewide constitutional officers are only required to be residents of the state of California, meaning they can live anywhere in the state they want.
If Ricardo Lara believes his job requires him to spend most of his time in Sacramento, then he should reserve a U-Haul and move there.
While Lara may prefer that taxpayers foot the bill for his Sacramento pad, it’s not permitted by law. So it’s time for him to familiarize himself with Orbitz.
Besides, Tom Bodett left the light on for him.
Maybe I’m just old fashioned, but I miss the good old days when it was the insurance companies that were screwing the taxpayers.
John Phillips can be heard weekdays from 6 a.m. to 10 a.m. on “The Morning Drive with John Phillips and Jillian Barberie” on KABC/AM 790.