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Report: Funds misused by state employees in Fresno and elsewhere

SACRAMENTO, Calif. (AP) — A California State University, Fresno employee was paid an estimated $22,000 for time he was playing online games and watching YouTube videos at work, according to a state auditor's report released Thursday.

The case was one of 10 highlighted in the report on investigations into improper activities by state employees during the second half of last year. The state employees, who were investigated after whistleblower tips, cost the state nearly $40,000 through misuse of state resources, improper payments and other issues, according to the report.

The report also identified instances where state employees improperly disclosed confidential information and kept an "indefensible" do-not-hire list.

Investigators found the Fresno State employee used his work computer to visit nearly 50,000 web pages related to online videos and games over the course of a year. The state auditor's report estimated he may have spent 85 hours a month — about half of a typical 160-hour work month — visiting these sites.

The employee told a Fresno State investigator that he watched YouTube videos and played online games during "downtime" or after he finished assigned tasks early.

The university recommended the employee's supervisor give the employee more work, tell him to limit his Internet use and supervise him more closely. The university did not recommend firing the employee, according to the report.

Deborah Adishian-Astone, the school's vice president for administration, said the university does not comment on personnel decisions but said in some instances where an employee misused substantial work time "such conduct could result in findings of suspension or termination of employment."

"Recommendations as a result of investigations are handled on a case-by-case basis," Adishian-Astone said in a statement. "The University is taking this matter very seriously and is working to immediately implement the recommendations with the employee and employee's supervisor."

In another case, two tax technicians at the State Board of Equalization improperly referred people to a retired agency employee for private tax preparation services. They also gave confidential information such as Social Security numbers and personal phone numbers to that retired employee and others, according to the report.

Both technicians have since left the agency.

The report also detailed a case in which a Department of Health Care Services division chief kept a "do-not-hire" list that did not clearly identify why people were placed on the list. The list included 27 names when the auditor's office obtained a copy in May 2016.

California forbids state agencies from hiring based on discriminatory criteria including political affiliation, religion or age.

The state auditor's office could not determine whether the office illegally discriminated against candidates because the managers who maintained and used the list did not give investigators consistent explanations for why people were placed on the list.

In response, the agency stopped using the list and trained managers in equal employment opportunity rules, according to the report.

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