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California Parole Board Lax In Contracting For Foreign Language Interpreters

The watchdog California Office of Inspector General (OIG), when investigating the case of a foreign language interpreter who bilked the Board of Prison Terms (BPT) out of $11,862 in false claims, found the BPT's contracting and accountability procedures for such services woefully inadequate.

Between August, 2000 and June, 2003, Estella Gaines submitted 261 false claims allegedly for interpretation services at parole revocation hearings at R.J. Donovan Correctional Facility. The OIG found that Gaines had inflated travel expenses and the hours worked, and often double-billed. She pled guilty to violation of Penal Code § 487 (grand theft), and was sentenced to a 120 day suspended jail term, probation and an order for full restitution.

Worried how this crime could even occur, the OIG investigated BPT contracting practices for its interpreters. In fiscal year 2003-04, the OIG noted that interpreters were required in 911 of the 49,000 parole hearings (5,000 for lifers and 44,000 for parole violators), incurring $360,000 in billed costs among the 57 interpreters so employed.

After investigating parole records for R.J. Donovan as well as for the nearby Chula Vista Parole Revocation Unit, the OIG found first that the BPT's contracts did not specify in writing the terms and conditions of the services to be provided.

Second, it found that invoices were paid without verification that the services had been provided. The bills were automatically paid so long as they included a signature, address or Social Security number of the contract employee. Third, the OIG found that the BPT did not keep copies of approved invoices or other records that would permit detection of fraudulent claims, in spite of the use of a computer spread sheet which could have provided the needed screening.

Fourth, the OIG noted that there was no time limit for submission of interpreters' invoices. This exacerbated the problem, permitting Ms. Gaines' eight-month-old duplicate invoices to easily escape scrutiny.
Accordingly, the OIG recommended a set of corrective actions to address the deficiencies, which the BPT agreed to put into place within 45 days. See: Special Review of the Board of Prison Terms Interpretive Services Procedures, OIG, March, 2005.

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