San Diego city official took sports tickets, other gifts for ‘favorable treatment’ for vendors

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The City of San Diego seal visible at City Hall.

SAN DIEGO — A San Diego city employee received more than $3,000 in gifts and benefits including airline tickets and golf outings in exchange for favorable treatment in awarding millions of dollars in contracts, a new report from the City Auditor’s Office found.

The report released Wednesday summarizes a city investigation launched last year into an unnamed employee which “potentially resulted in costing San Diego taxpayers millions,” the 21-page report shows. The employee, who still works at City Hall, reportedly accepted two tickets to a Cirque du Soleil show in Las Vegas, a paid trip to an unspecified San Francisco sporting event and free contracting work performed at their residence, among other benefits.

In a news release Wednesday, City Councilman Scott Sherman, who chairs the Audit Committee, said that while the detailed report remains confidential, “the information made available of those involved is absolutely unacceptable and probably criminal.”

“It is extremely important that the city employee and the two private vendors implicated in defrauding taxpayers be held accountable,” Sherman said.

According to the City Auditor’s Office, the city first was made aware of the allegations in 2015 after receiving a fraud hotline call. That call alleged the unnamed city employee was “receiving undisclosed gifts from contractors in return for seeking favorable treatment on city contracts.”

Because the complaint included “potential criminal activities of corruption,” the City Auditor said its office forwarded the case along to the FBI, which uncovered emails from the employee discussing gifts and activities with two vendors. The federal case was dropped without charges filed, according to a report on the incident by the San Diego Union-Tribune.

On Wednesday, the Audit Committee unanimously approved the City Auditor’s recommendation for dealing with the incident. That recommendation includes conducting an independent investigation into the matter and taking “appropriate action with respect to the city.” It also calls for “permanent disbarment for both vendors for “lack of business integrity.”

The recommendation has been forward to City Council for review.

“I urge city staff to act quickly and send a clear message that this type of behavior will not be accepted in the City of San Diego,” Sherman said. “The Audit Committee will be reviewing progress on this important matter.”

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