Wednesday, June 10, 2009
C.A. Tosses Hospital Officials’ False Accounting Convictions
By KENNETH OFGANG, Staff Writer
The Fourth District Court of Appeal has reversed the convictions of two former Riverside County Regional Medical Center officials on charges of falsely accounting for public monies.
Justice Richard Fybel, writing for Div. Three, said there was insufficient evidence that Daniel Aldana, the former chief of pediatrics at the Moreno Valley hospital, had control of public funds or personally falsified his time records, or that Donna Matney, the former hospital administrator, acted negligently or with criminal intent by preparing erroneous time records for Aldana.
Matney and Aldana each received three years of probation when they were sentenced in 2007. They had been previously convicted of violating Penal Code Sec. 424(a)(3), which prohibits those “charged with the receipt, safekeeping, transfer, or disbursement of public moneys” from keeping false accounts or making false entries in accounts.
The same jury found both defendants not guilty of grand theft and altering public records, and found Aldana not guilty of misappropriation of public funds. Jurors deadlocked as to whether Matney was guilty of misappropriation, and that charge was dismissed.
Matney acknowledged preparing and signing time records for Aldana showing that he was at work at times when he was not, including when he actually was at his wedding or on vacation. But she contended, and the prosecution did not dispute, that Aldana had actually worked far more hours than his time records showed.
Aldana began working with the county hospital in August 1999 under a contract with the Riverside Pediatric Medical Group and was hired in December 2000 as a temporary employee doing administrative consulting in addition to his regular medical duties. The criminal charges involved only the administrative work.
General Intent Crime
Fybel, writing for the Court of Appeal, rejected the defense contention that false accounting is a specific intent crime, and said the jury was properly instructed that a general intent by a person who has control of public funds to falsely account for those funds is sufficient for a conviction.
The justice agreed with Aldana, however, that the evidence did not show that he had control of public funds or that he falsified financial records.
“The parties have cited no case, and we have found none, creating criminal liability under section 424(a)(3), for a public employee who simply signs a timesheet or receives a paycheck, when that employee has no control over the disbursement of the money,” Fybel wrote. “If the mere act of a public employee signing or submitting his or her own timesheet for approval were sufficient to create criminal liability under section 424(a)(3), the phrase ‘charged with’ in the statute would be devoid of any meaning.”
He distinguished People v. Groat (1993) 19 Cal.App.4th 1228, which upheld the conviction of a defendant who prepared and signed her own timecards, which did not require any other signature for her to be paid. In this case, Fybel wrote, the evidence showed that Aldana could not authorize his own pay and that the time timesheets were prepared by Matney.
Besides, the justice said, the evidence showed that Aldana signed the timesheets in blank, relying on Matney to fill in the details. “Under these circumstances, it would not be possible for Aldana to knowingly make a false entry on his timesheet, because he did not make any entry on his timesheet,” Fybel wrote.
Evidence ‘Conspicuously Missing’
As for Matney, he went on to say, evidence of criminal intent “conspicuously missing.” If Matney believed she was underreporting, not over-reporting, Aldana’s hours—as the evidence suggested—“she could not have guilty knowledge vis-à-vis the inaccurate timesheets.”
In the absence of guilty knowledge, or of proof that Matney “knew her inaccurate recording of Aldana’s time was without authority of law, or that she was criminally negligent in not knowing such actions were without authority of law,” the justice said, the conviction could not stand.
The case is People v. Aldana, 09 S.O.S. 3523.
Copyright 2009, Metropolitan News Company