An investigation by the San Diego City Auditor’s office revealed that city employees were caught using disabled parking placards illegally and the employees lied to cover it up.
Two Public Utilities Department employees were found to be parking in Disabled Parking spaces using placards not issued to them.
The city auditor discovered the issue after receiving an anonymous tip a few months ago, which led to the department opening an investigation.
The auditor asked the Public Utilities Department to take a look into the problem and the city agency initially told auditors they found no wrongdoing.
But City Auditor Edwardo Luna told NBC 7 he wasn't satisfied and had more questions.
"As a result of that, we launched our own investigation into the matter," Luna said.
The auditor’s office asked for help from the California Department of Motor Vehicles and the San Diego Police Department’s Parking Enforcement Division.
"By checking the Department of Motor Vehicles’ records, [they showed] that the employees were using Placards that were the names of other people that were not city employees," says Luna.
What they found in their investigation, Luna said, was misinformation provided by the employees in question.
"The two city employees had provided false and misleading documentation and information to that department and also to our office."
The city auditor also conducted a sweep of the public utilities parking lot where the incidents happened and found two additional violations.
In 2015, NBC 7 Investigates conducted a six-month undercover investigation into the abuse of placards for free parking. The team found drivers illegally using the placards.
Some were city and county employees wrongly using placards which belonged to relatives.
After the investigation aired, the San Diego City Council approved a new law increasing the penalty for people caught abusing handicap placards. The new fine is $740, up from $452.50. The city council also approved another ordinance cracking down on handicap placard abuse. This new law classifies placard abuse as a parking violation, instead of a criminal misdemeanor.
In response to the city auditor's investigation, a city spokesperson said the city agreed to all three recommendations made by the city auditor, relative to this investigation.
In a statement to NBC 7, the city wrote:
The City has agreed to all three recommendations made by the City Auditor relative to this investigation. The target implementation date for recommendations 1 and 2 is June 30, 2018. The target implementation date for recommendation 3 is June 30, 2019.
1. Conduct an independent Fact-Finding investigation to determine whether the two identified employees violated City policies, and take the appropriate corrective actions.
2. Coordinate the installation of appropriate signage and striping at the identified City facility to ensure that Disabled Person Placard violations are enforceable.
3. Determine the need and implementation of a formal policy regarding the use of Disabled Persons' parking spaces at City facilities.
The Public Utilities Department is also going to determine if the site requires more Disabled Parking Spaces.