Los Angeles County Dist. Atty. Steve Cooley has opened a preliminary inquiry into allegations of irregularities in the Los Angeles Community College District's choice of a watchdog for its troubled $5.7-billion construction program.
Deputy Dist. Atty. Max Huntsman said Monday that his office's public integrity division is examining why the college district hired a newly formed company, Policy Masters Inc., as inspector general over higher-ranked candidates. The company's founder, Christine E. Marez, had no background in independent audits and investigations.
State Controller John Chiang, in an August audit, said the district broke its own bidding rules in hiring Marez last year and called for an independent investigation into possible malfeasance. The district's board of trustees rejected a criminal investigation and instead brought in City Controller Wendy Greuel to review the hiring.
The district attorney's office decided to conduct its own inquiry in response to a request from a citizen group, the Van de Kamps Coalition.
State auditors found that an initial selection committee scored Marez's proposal second to last among 11 submitted for the inspector general's position. She was hired after a second selection committee recommended her firm as "far and away the best" applicant.
Marez said Tuesday that she looked forward to assisting both the district attorney's inquiry and Greuel's and hopes to "set the record straight." She also defended her company, saying, "We have all the right skills and commitment, and we're running an exceptional office here."
From 1998 to 2003, Marez worked for a construction management firm owned by Art Gastelum. He is a leading campaign donor and fundraiser for the elected college district trustees and a major contractor on the construction program.
District Chancellor Daniel LaVista said in a statement, "We will fully cooperate with the D.A. and remain confident that the office will conclude that the selection of Policy Masters Inc. was fully justified and compliant with all applicable laws."
A Times series on the construction program, published earlier this year, reported that the district had squandered tens of millions of taxpayer dollars, largely through poor planning and shoddy workmanship.
LOS ANGELES TIMES