Facing allegations that President Martha Benedict's signature was forged on official financial documents, the city of Los Angeles has frozen the 's funding.
In a letter sent by the Department of Neighborhood Empowerment (DONE) on Wednesday, Jan. 18, General Manager BongHwan Kim wrote that the decision had been made "based on the fact that financial documents from the fiscal year 2010-2011 were submitted using a board member's signature without authorization, and without boad approval."
DONE began auditing the neighborhood council in October in response to an independent review of "purchase card expenditures" and "questions received from the board" which indicated that "multiple transaction [were] conducted without the approval of the board."
Benedict said that the use of her signature on reconciliation reports for the last two quarters of the 2010-2011 fiscal year was not authorized by her.
"I had never seen this document before October 20, 2011 and was surprised to see my signature on each page," Benedict said, referring the neighborhood council's fourth quarter reconciliation report. "I did not authorize the use of my signature on this document and did not know it existed."
In December, former neighborhood council treasurer Mark Legassie said Benedict's signature was placed on the reconciliation reports with permission, through the use of a software program.
"I have never maliciously or intentionally used the accuser's electronic signature without their permission or for personal gain," Legassie said. "The signature was probably created using either Adobe Illustrator or Photoshop and provided to me in .EPS format, a standard graphics file format for exchanging images and drawings. I was provided the signature with full consent of that person to speed up delivery of the reconciliation reports to DONE."
In a letter to DONE, Legassie said that the neighborhood council "admitted
to using the electronic as opposed to manual signatures for this case and are hiding nothing."
Projects Could be Stalled
Benedict said it was possible that funds already committed to community projects may also be rescinded.
"Yes, it is possible the projects that have been approved for funding in recent months may be affected. This is up to the Department of Neighborhood Empowerment," Benedict wrote in an e-mail to Patch.
Benedict said DONE would be asked to clarify which projects might have their funds taken back during the upcoming meeting on the neighborhood council, to be held on Monday, Jan. 23 at 7 p.m. at on North Figueroa Street.
Treasurer Denies Validity of Audit
Since the initiation of the audit, Legassie has disputed the validity of DONE's inquiry.
Legassie told Patch that board member allegations of him buying items without approval were unfounded, and that all of his expenses were legal under the treasurer's authority to make day to day expenditures.
Benedict and current Treasurer Judy Knapton, however, said that Legassie's purchases--which included more than $1,500 for keychains and notebooks promoting L.A. Survival, a neighborhood council sponsored disaster training program--should not be considered routine expenditures.
"I am deeply concerned that taxpayer money has been spent without responsible oversight," Benedict said.