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Former Calif. Parks Official Says Boss Knew Of $53 Million

A former state parks official says he repeatedly told his superiors about more than $53 million hidden in two accounts that could have been used to help avoid the threat of closing 70 state parks, a newspaper reported Thursday.

Manuel Lopez, former deputy director of administrative services for the Department of Parks and Recreation, told The Sacramento Bee that he informed agency Director Ruth Coleman about a $20 million surplus in the Parks and Recreation Fund "at least five times over approximately a five-year span."

A separate off-highway vehicle fund held another $33.5 million more than had been reported to the state Department of Finance.

Coleman resigned Friday. She accepted overall responsibility but said in her resignation letter that she had been unaware of the surplus. She told the newspaper that she doesn't recall being briefed. Had she known, she said would have sought to use the money to help keep parks open.

Nonprofit groups and local governments helped raise money and assumed responsibility to keep the 70 state parks open past a July 1 closure deadline.

The attorney general and state finance officials are investigating the scandal. State lawmakers also are promising oversight hearings and plan to seek an independent audit of the department. The state Finance Department also is reviewing all the state's 560 special funds to make sure the actual fund balances match what has been reported to the administration and the state controller.

State officials said Friday that the department had maintained the unreported money in its accounts for at least 12 years, including the entire time Coleman was director. She served under three governors but said in her resignation that she was "personally appalled" to learn of the hidden money.

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