A former Pasadena public works employee was charged Tuesday in a scheme to embezzle more than $6 million from the city and direct some of it to a church where he is pastor.
Danny Wooten, 51, and two friends were arrested as part of a 60-count felony complaint charging him with embezzlement, conflict of interest and public officer crimes dating back a decade, Los Angeles County prosecutors said. Wooten could face up to 28 years in prison if convicted.
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Wooten was a management analyst in charge of a program to bury the city's utility lines and used false invoices to steal more than $6 million, prosecutors said.
The program, funded through a tax on utility bills, can only be used to move overhead power lines, cable, phone or other utilities underground.
"Clearly, Mr. Wooten, according the arrest and the allegations, chose to take another course," said William Boyer, a spokesman for the suburb of about 140,000 people that is best known as the home of the Rose Parade and Rose Bowl.
Wooten set up bank accounts and directed some of the money to two churches he was affiliated with, including New Covenant Christian Fellowship Center in Pomona, where he is pastor. Several phone messages left there were not immediately returned.
A woman who identified herself as Wooten's wife declined to comment when The Associated Press reached her by phone at home.
Wooten directed more than $2 million to Tyrone Collins, a co-defendant who owns an Altadena electrical company, prosecutors said. Collins, 55, faces up to 18 years in prison if convicted of all charges.
Collins' wife, Vanitta, said her husband had never been in trouble in their 31 years of marriage and had worked on and off for the city of Pasadena for about 10 years to relocate electrical lines underground. She said he spoke occasionally with Wooten, but said she never met him and had no inkling of any criminal behavior.
"I figured everything was honest and forthright. I didn't ever see this coming," she said. "I can't eat, I can't think straight. I just can't believe this is happening."
A third person charged in the scheme, Melody Jenkins, 46, a temporary Pasadena city employee, allegedly got more than $40,000 in stolen money, prosecutors said. Efforts to reach her were unsuccessful.
The scheme was discovered after a City Council committee began asking questions about fund expenditures and staff found irregularities, Boyer said. Prosecutors were called after an audit was conducted.
Four other Pasadena employees were placed on paid leave while the city investigates whether they were connected to the scheme.
Wooten, who earned about $100,000 a year, was fired in July for an unrelated personnel matter that Boyer was not authorized to disclose.