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Register details DA’s purchases from contested account

Delaine Fragnoli
Managing Editor
12/15/2010

Exactly how did Plumas County District Attorney Jeff Cunan spend the funds at the heart of the county’s recent lawsuit against him?

Under the California Public Records Act, Feather Publishing obtained a copy of the check register for the contested account, which details, check-by-check, just how the money was used.

Plumas County’s suit against Cunan alleges he did not follow proper procedure with funds from the bad check diversion program.

Expenditures from contested bank account

2003
Printing                             $47.05
Office equipment              $200.79
Office seminar                  $200.00

 

2004
Brown estate - lunch           $24.00
Brown estate - lunch           $32.00
Brown estate - lunch           $32.00
Brown estate - lunch           $30.00
Brown estate - lunch           $17.21
Office equipment              $262.65
Muster - 20-Mile House1 $225.00
Muster - QNF                    $30.88
Brown estate - lunch           $16.62
2005
Online newspaper                $24.99
Law library key                   $50.00
Evidence book                    $87.95
Retirement badge               $147.00
VCR/DVD                        $452.64
Office hats                        $135.14
Muster - QNF                     $27.86
Muster - Café Le Coq        $127.57
2006
Community Supper           $162.66
Blank DVDs/batteries          $60.63
Office hats                        $169.32
Training                              $40.00
Museum/women’s history     $39.00
Dell computers                $2,049.50
Canvas bags                       $100.00
Training/Greenhorn Ranch   $180.00
Bad check restitution             $42.50
2007
Community Supper             $206.27
Bad check restitution        $3,025.00
Bad check restitution             $91.35
Petty cash                            $50.00
Training/Greenhorn Ranch   $275.00
2008
Unified Family Court lunch    $64.87
Community Supper             $283.02
QHS Sober Grad                 $300.00
Mini-storage unit                 $154.00
Paralegal training at UNR  $1,895.00
Dummy head for trial            $32.65
Auction item for conference2 $95.42
Expert witness fee                $197.11
DVD player                           $67.56
Muster - QNF                        $75.13
Mini-storage unit                    $53.00
Muster - La Sierra Lanes       $221.50
2009
Refreshments/trial witnesses     $17.00
Refreshments/trial witnesses     $35.00
Community Supper                $225.32
Ethics course                         $195.00
PHS Sober Grad                    $100.00
QHS Sober Grad                    $100.00
Office refrigerator removal        $75.00
Forest Stationers3 $1,441.87
State bar/law clerk fee              $55.00
Models for trial                        $85.94
Bullet Tech                             $60.00
Conference supplies                 $42.39
Lost power cord                      $97.43
Re-key house locks                  $70.00
2010
Muster - Greenhorn Ranch      $244.00
Community Supper                 $259.98
Notes:
1Musters were office meetings or staff training
2Check register says, “bling … bling”
3Register notes four invoice numbers but not what was purchased; Cunan thought it was office furniture.
The lawsuit contends that the funds sat in a bank account, first at Placer Savings, then at Plumas Bank, when they should have been deposited into the county treasury.
County Administrative Officer Jack Ingstad has said Cunan had “no authority” to make expenditures with those funds and the Board of Supervisors would never have approved many of the purchases.
Cunan counters that the money was used for district attorney services in a way that saved taxpayers thousands of dollars.
The register shows Cunan spent $14,771.55 between 2003 and May 2010, when he closed the account and turned over the balance of $19,690.92 to the county treasury.
The register documents that Cunan spent the funds on a variety of miscellaneous items.
The single largest check was for $3,025 to Graeagle Meadows for bad check restitution. Cunan said the golf course and a number of other merchants were victims of bounced checks when the check writer went bankrupt.
The second largest expenditure was $2,049.50 for two Dell computers in 2006. Cunan said he saved money and got better computers by purchasing them quickly and directly.
He also paid $1,895 in 2008, for a paralegal training course at University of Nevada–Reno for one of his employees who, he said, was doing paralegal work but did not really have the necessary training.
The only other check for more than $1,000 was a 2009 payment to Forest Stationers for $1,441.87. The register does not note what the payment was for, but does include four invoice numbers.
Cunan, who said he no longer had a copy of the register because county officials had taken it, could not remember what the payment was for, but speculated it might have been for office furniture.
The register shows seven payments for “musters” and several more for “office training.” Cunan said the “musters” were all-day staff trainings at local establishments. Venues included 20-Mile House, Café Le Coq, Greenhorn Ranch and La Sierra Lanes.
Sometimes Cunan would bring in outside presenters; other times staff members would share their areas of expertise with the rest of the staff.
Cunan said he saved thousands of dollars by keeping staff training in the county, and the effort helped local businesses.
Beginning in 2006, Cunan sponsored a Quincy Community Supper annually for between $162.66 and $283.02. He justified the expenditures as public relations efforts since “law enforcement had a bad name at the time.”
He defended contributions to several local Sober Grad events as “crime prevention” that was “particularly important given the county’s lack of alcohol and drug services.”
Cunan also spent a total of $304.46 on hats and $100 on canvas bags for his office. He described the hats as baseball caps with the DA insignia for staff to wear in the field.
Perhaps the most ironic entry is a $195 payment for an ethics course.
Cunan continues to contend there was no mishandling of money. He points to an attorney general’s opinion that the Board of Supervisors has no authority to dictate to a district attorney or sheriff how to spend his funds.
The 2006 opinion says: "In sum, the distinction to be drawn is between the power of a board of supervisors to appropriate county funds and the power of a sheriff or district attorney to manage the expenditure of the funds so appropriated.”
Ingstad says that’s true: Cunan has discretion — only after the supervisors have appropriated the funds.
Cunan also argues the bad check funds, by law, must go to the district attorney.
Ingstad said even if the funds are ultimately destined to go to the DA, they must still pass through the county treasury first.
Ingstad also pointed out there are no receipts for the purchases from the contested account.
Beyond the appropriateness of any particular purchase are the larger issues of accountability and oversight said Ingstad. The potential for abuse was there because the deposits and expenditures to the account existed outside of county appropriations and auditing procedures.

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