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Prosecutor rejects Calif. AG's parks fund report

SACRAMENTO, Calif. (AP) -- Sacramento County's prosecutor has rejected a report from the state attorney general on $20 million hidden by state parks officials and said Thursday she won't consider pressing charges against anyone.

The attorney general had forwarded the report for possible prosecution, but District Attorney Jan Scully said in a letter Thursday that investigations involving state officials have historically been handled by the attorney general for at least the last three decades.

The attorney general found that senior officials at the Department of Parks and Recreation helped keep millions of dollars secret from state finance officials for more than a decade, even as up to 70 parks were threatened with closure last year because of budget cuts.

Scully said it would be difficult to prove criminal wrongdoing, however, as the funds were disclosed to the state controller, no one profited, and the money was never spent.

“Both the reason and the basis for referral to our office is unclear. There is no indication who your office considers to be suspects, and if so, what crime they may have committed,” said the three-page letter signed by Scully and Assistant District Attorney Albert Locher.

In a letter of response, Senior Assistant Attorney General Michael Farrell said the matter was forwarded to the district attorney out of “an abundance of caution” and that Sacramento's district attorney had a right to make its own determination about criminal charges.

“Apparently a review of that same information has not prompted a conclusion that there is a need for your office, in its independent law enforcement role, to launch a criminal investigation,” Farrell wrote. “That parallels this office's decision not to conduct a criminal investigation.”

Richard Stapler, spokesman for the California Natural Resources Agency that oversees the parks department, said he hadn't seen the letter and couldn't comment.

Though several top parks officials, including Director Ruth Coleman, resigned or were dismissed, the attorney general's report found no employees who stole or wrongly spent any of the money. It did find that senior officials deliberately decided not to report the additional funds to the state Department of Finance, which helps the governor craft write the state budget.

Sacramento County's prosecutors returned the file to the attorney general's office.

“If your office conducts a criminal investigation and then determines that it appears a crime has been committed ... our office will then consider whether it is proper to file the charges,” they wrote.

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