Thursday, June 14, 2012
Court Again Tosses Officials’ False Accounting Convictions
By a MetNews Staff Writer
The Fourth District Court of Appeal yesterday reversed, for the second time, 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.
The appellate court threw out the convictions in 2009. But prosecutors sought review, which the Supreme Court granted pending its decision in a case involving the auditor-controller of Sutter County, who was charged under the same statute.
That case was decided in August of last year, and a month later the high court sent the case of Aldana and Matney back to the Court of Appeal for reconsideration.
Matney and Aldana each received three years of probation when they were sentenced in 2007 under Penal Code Sec. 424(a)(3), which prohibits those “charged with the receipt, aafekeeping, 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.
When the case came back to the Court of Appeal, the attorney general conceded that Stark v. Superior Court (2011) 52 Cal.4th 368 did not conflict with the panel’s earlier conclusion that Aldana did not commit a crime because there was no evidence he had control of public funds or 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.
As for Matney, prosecutors argued that the conviction should be reinstated based on the conclusion in Stark that Sec. 424(a)(3) can be violated simply by knowingly keeping a false account. But Matney’s case, Fybel reasoned, turns not only on the question of knowledge, but of materiality.
“The evidence in this case shows the timesheets, as a whole, were not materially false,” he explained. “Aldana’s timesheets, which were admitted in evidence at trial, show that, over two-week periods, Aldana performed 80 hours of work. Though the hours claimed on any individual day might not have been accurate, there was no evidence that Aldana did not provide at least 80 hours of work…during any of those two‑week periods. “
The jurist continued:
“A conviction for authorizing a timesheet that is technically false, although the falsity is not material and does not negatively affect the public purse, would not further the statute’s purpose and intention. “
The case is People v. Aldana, G040320.
Copyright 2012, Metropolitan News Company