City Freezes Arroyo Seco Neighborhood Council Funds

Decision was based on allegations that President Martha Benedict's signature was forged on financial documents.

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Benedict said it was possible that funds already committed to community projects may also be rescinded.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.

Click here to see Patch's previous stories on the ASNC audit.

"I am deeply concerned that taxpayer money has been spent without responsible oversight," Benedict said.

Joe Walker January 20, 2012 at 12:04 AM
Shocked, I am shocked, to see funny business involved in the otherwise untarnished Neighborhood Council program. Along those lines, I will be forming an "Adjacent to Garvanza" Neighborhood Council this week. It comprises the unrepresented and marginalized people who live in the sliver of land not claimed by either community. It is at the end of South Ave 63 where the old stone bench is. As soon as the City allocates us/me the $50,000, I will have a big party and go live in Europe for awhile.
Nimby pimp January 20, 2012 at 12:29 AM
Long Live the new "Adjacent to Garvanza" principality! Go forth and save the souls of the kittles and doggies all over Europe!
Rob Schraff January 20, 2012 at 01:21 AM
Viva A to the G!! I understand puppies and kitties in Venice and along the Croatian Riviera suffer particularly horribly, Joe, and need our help. Or maybe it was possible earthquake victims in the Greek Isles, I forget. You could be the big man somewhere for sure. I'd love to support your good works by doing the website and PR blog, and testifying before BONC. (For free, to start, and I also might have to visit you in Europe to coordinate.) We could call them "All Things Adjacent to Garvanza." We also need to get an "Adjacent to Garvanza" "monument sign" up right away. I understand we can get arts funding for this. Also when was the bench put up? We should develop an entire history for Adjacent to Garvanza as soon as possible. Finally, we need to get rid of the homeless people in Adjacent to Garvanza, of course, because they are a desecration of whomever put up or is honored by the bench. Humor aside - what's gonna happen to this guy, now that he has been more or less officially accused of forgery and more.
Harvey January 20, 2012 at 03:03 PM
Joe Walker January 23, 2012 at 05:17 PM
I have retained former Councilmembers Richard Alatorre and Arthur K. Snyder to lobby their former colleagues on the City Council to put through our new neighborhood council. Rob, you will be our first president as I need to be in the background and prefer to have access to the funds and make you the fall guy when it all comes crashing down. Art and Richard need $10,000 retainers first. Would a yard sale raise the money we need?


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