Investigation Uncovers City Employees Driving On Your Dime

LOS ANGELES (CBS) — While you spend nearly $5 a gallon at the pump on your own car, a CBS2 News investigation has uncovered some public employees taking a free ride at your expense.

For the past four months our undercover cameras have focused on some of the thousands of taxpayer-funded cars that we that found on the streets.

You have probably seen them yourself with a city, county or state seal, and wondered whether they were on official business or something else — or if they are even necessary?

In one instance we caught a guy getting a ride to work in a city car and you are paying for it. In another women go to lunch with their car and gas paid for by taxpayers.

The City of Los Angles has nearly 2,100 passenger vehicles. They cost more than $51 million with an additional $3.5 million just to operate and maintain last year.

Some cars are permanently assigned to city council members and various city departments. Others are checked out for daily use through the city motor-pool, where employees with permission can temporarily use a car to conduct city business.

Many of the cars are white hybrids like one that we found on the streets. The only problems were that the man driving it way not a city employee and he was not on city business.

Behind the wheel was Raul Gonzalez and the passenger was his wife Hilda Garcia.

She works in the mayor’s office as a program manager in the gang reduction unit. In March we followed them the 12 miles from their home in Highland Park to Gonzalez’s job at a school in the Wilshire District, where he got out and went to work — and you paid for it.

In fact last year the city spent $660,000 of your money on gas for its passenger cars.

Garcia used some of that gas on another day when we caught her dropping her husband off at work. This time she was driving, but again using a city car.

According to the L.A. City Municipal Code, it is unlawful to operate these vehicles for any purpose other than for official business and the policy states that only city employees are authorized to drive city owned vehicles.
But when I spoke with Garcia, she couldn’t recall the incident.

David Goldstein: “He drove the car and you were in the passenger seat and he drove to the school.”

Hilda Garcia: “I don’t remember that. I don’t remember that.”

David Goldstein: “We have it on videotape. Was that for city business?

Hilda Garcia: “Well I would love to see the videotape.”

The footage can be viewed in the adjoining video. There is no denying it, but she did again…

“I would never let anybody drive the city vehicle, that’s not authorized,” Garcia said.

…And again. “I’ve never had anyone drive the city car other than myself.”

According to the motor pool logs we obtained, Garcia uses the city car over and over. She checked one out 85 times last year, sometimes for days at a time for a total of 181 days. This year we videotaped the car parked outside her house overnight and on weekends.

But logs show that Garcia is not the only city employee who uses a pool vehicle like a personal rent a car. Dozens checked out cars for days, weeks or months, even though policy states that “vehicles checked out from the motor pool must be returned on the same day.”

Even then there could be abuses. We followed city employees in a motor pool car roughly 15 miles from Downtown L.A. to Rosemead. They went to a restaurant where they sat and had lunch.

“The taxpayers are paying for your transportation for a personal lunch. Is that right?” I asked.

They didn’t have anything to say.

But they were not the only city employees we found using a city car to go to lunch.

City Controller Wendy Gruel has audited vehicle usage. Her report last year found inadequate oversight.

In her report Gruel recommended eliminating 400 vehicles and using mileage reimbursements similar to the private sector to conservatively save two million dollars a year.

Mayor Antonio Villaraigosa said he tried to cut some of the city fleet a few years ago but the council resisted. However, he defends the cars saying sometimes they might be cheaper than reimbursing employees for mileage.

“I agree these cars need to be used for an official purpose, they can’t be misused,” Villaraigosa said.

After we showed city officials what we uncovered, they said they would tighten safeguards to make sure city cars and gas are used for city business. Not personal use.

More from David Goldstein
  • Investigation Uncovers City Employees Driving On Your Dime | Los Angeles for Me

    […] While you spend nearly $5 a gallon at the pumps on your own car, a CBS2 News investigation has uncovered some public employees taking a free ride at your expense. More from:… […]

  • Luis

    Byron, you figured it all out, eh? Case closed.

    • Ron

      Luis, nice try but we know that you are just trying to protect your mom & dad(in this story).

      Obviously Mayor V., they CAN and WILL be abused, because she works for you. And what about all the free tickets you took, to many events(Laker games, etc.)? You set a GREAT example, didn’t you? Oh, but you finally got caught.

      It amazes me, how these politicians think we are so stupid and that we will believe everything they tell us.

      • Save USA

        Most taxpayers would disagree with you !! You don’t filter corruption & say this is not worth printing. I am sure there MAY be many hard working, honest government workers, but we taxpayers are concerned about the CORRUPT ones that steal OUR money.
        This is not PETTY, if it is any stealing of the taxpayers money. I doubt that you would allow someone to steal hundreds of dollars from your pocket and say no problem, simply because it wasn’t in the thousands.”


        California is in a 20+ billion dollar deficit. We spend $10 billion a year as a state on illegal immigrants. A few dollars at the pump, looks petty to me. FAIL

        Yes, my money is being stolen, and then given to illegal immigrants who don’t contribute to our economy. Just a comparison, they receive all kinds of hand outs from our government that we all pay for. So stop bashing this lady for a few bucks at the pump and focus on our real problems. As for corruption i agree, the City of Bell is a good example, that is worth tackling. I admire your take on government corruption I just wish you would point your voice in the right direction.

      • Ron

        Save USA,

        I do AGREE with you on our government waste, for illegal immigrant support. And it is HUGE, much more substantial than Hildagate. But I still want Hildagate examples exposed.


  • Michael J. McDermott

    You are not the only one amazed. I’ve been amazed at the local governmental spinelessness almost every day of the 20 years that I’ve lived here in L.A.

    Fortunately, I come from a city (thank God not Lost Angeles) where if a free lunch (or free ride) such as this one had ever been made public, a tremendous horde of “p*ssed off” tax payers would be at the doors to city hall demanding accountability and eventual resignations. That would be Philadelphia. Read the papers there and see.

  • Kevin

    heck I see the motor pool cars in Lancaster and Palmdale driving around. I pay for my gas, why not them. if they have abused the system they should be fired and made to repay for the use of the car

  • Boone

    Not surprising at all, I even saw a government car from our neighboring states roaming around California, from Utah, Nevada to Illinois. Not sure what they’re doing here.

  • ZX

    As a county employee
    I see this all the time
    Even if employees use their own vehicle
    they go to long luncheons, funerals etc

    Glendale recently fired 3 police officers for
    driving their city vehicle to Las Vegas

    • Charlie

      With permission from the top, I used a coubty vehicle to take a dying 35 year old mom home to die with her husband and kids. I GET IT! I used my own money to fuel up the vehicle and I have picture to prove it. Go to DiscussFreely dot com to see picture and story. Incredible cover ups from the near top!!!

  • Ben boorman

    Byron: you lost all credibility when you brought race into this. I’m sure us white folk never do that, never never never…

  • johnsmithee

    While I agree with the content and tone of the article, does anyone he realize that Hilde Garcia was carpooling with her husband, thereby getting a car OFF the streets of LA for a day. While her methods are certainly suspect, her action (had she chosen to claim she was ridesharing/carpooling) may be commendable. Anything to get a few cars off the streets of LA.

  • quadguy

    Nothing new. I don’t know why people are so surprised by this. And its not just LA doing this. All cities do. Buena Park is another. And the fired their city manager, let him keep his car and allowed him to still go into the yard and get free gas! Honest to God story. Its ridiculous but they can get away with it until big gov. Does something. They won’t though

  • Rizzo

    Rizzos are everywhere.

  • JP818

    John Smithee- it doesn’t matter if they were ‘carpooling’ or not, that’s not the point of the story. If they wanted to carpool, great, but they should do it in THEIR car, not have us paying for it. It’s not commendable at all, when they’re wasting taxpayer money. We all have moral choices to make, everyday, and some ignore what’s right for what’s easy. THAT is the point.

  • TT

    Im glad to see that someone has brought this to the publics attention – maybe the mayor will have some pull with the council that is rejecting his inquiries now and make them accountable for their behavior….

  • John Lee Marin

    @johnsmithee.. then why did Hilda Garcia deny the fact that her husband was driving the City vehicle? Cllearly, she was lying. I am so glad she got fired, I am ashamed of the CIty practices that have gone on even with the clear instructions that prevent abuses like this. Like the report saya, it is mostly the Mayor’s staff and Upper Lever employees who get the car privelieges and abuse them. We, the lower level employees, have to catch the trains, buses or drive to get to work, We do not even get free parking in City-owne d paring faciilities. Hard as it is to believe, most of us CIty employees have the hardworking and honest ethics that our mayor and other corrupt officials will never have… and they can not take that away from us.

  • Jethrie Smith

    Your next investigation should include the Los Angeles Unified School District.

  • George Keeping

    Di anyone Look into David Goldstein(‘s Bad habit’s of $5.0 for this and a $10.00 for a 50ty while you shot the video. Who really care’s that some public employee is using tax payer’s money? After all the THIEVES are in Washington, DC; they are using TRILLIONS of our TAX money. The only reason you have not showed that film on U-2?, is maybe there is more money in porn/or blackmail which is a good 3yr’s to 8yrs worth in FEDERAL JAIL…….

    • Josh Butts

      You must be one of the government employees driving around wasting our taxpayer money.

  • Nemesis

    Mayor Villarogoisa is a hypocrite! Years ago when he was having an affair with Mirthala how do you think he was transported over to Studio City after hours? Of course with his city paid vehicle (for official business) and his security detail (more out of pocket money)! But then again, “The affair in the city takes precedence over the affairs of the city”. And also would not the fine(s) from the Ethics Committee also prove that the mayor was using his city paid transportation for private use? After all Governor Brown walks and drives his own vehicle, why can’t the mayor catch the bus from the Getty House (city paid housing for the mayor) to city hall? Oh wait, was not the mayor also having Mirthala over to the Getty House? Now the taxpayers were also financing his affair…..get a room with your own personal money! It starts from the top!

  • AcmeComppany

    Hilda Garcia is an accomplished liar. She is the poster child for the expression, “Butter wouldn’t melt in her mouth.” Are there any awards for Best Liar in Los Angeles yet?

  • Regina

    You hit the nail on the head! It’s getting worse and it’s spreading from city job to city job. A couple of months ago it was DWP employees hanging out at strip clubs and drinking on company time and then driving company vehicles. I see why everyone with city jobs are always complaining about who’s going to pay for what, police protection, funerals, new development, etc! They sure don’t want to do it because they want to use the money for themselves. They said the one girl that allowed her husband to drive the vehicle was fired. What about the other group of girls that drove 40 miles out of the city just to have lunch at a Mexican Restaurant. They need to go as well!

  • Sistagirl Young

    Great reporting. A four month investigation into the thousands of cars using tax-payer money. What happened to the rest of them. If the powers-that-be don’t know what is going on–then maybe they shouldn’t be in power. The few (in this case,thousands)who have no regard for breaking the law;make it hard for the many who respect and obey the law. Somebody once said, that’s the way of the world. I’m inclined to agree.

  • HooDatIS?

    the more we pay the more they play on our dime
    i cant stand loosers
    visit my blog

  • m sedano

    the boring report on city car abuse turns my stomach at kcbs’ unprofessionalism. ambush journalism should be limited to inept news staffs lacking skills to perform serious investigative work. but then, ambush journalism appears to be your stock in trade.

    singling out one person by name indicates the poor research skills of your staff as a whole. then, gloating about one woman losing her livelihood owing in part to this story marks a nadir in your work. the public deserves an explanation of this dogpile on a single named malefactor.

  • peter

    It was a happy ending to the story guys….the major fired Hilda Garcia. aka: the fat idiot who didn’t know about what was going on and wanted to see the video…great choice of words. She have been smart and not even said anything.

  • Jonathan

    I can’t believe you got a person fired for something so petty. While their are parolee and people on probation living in neighborhoods, gang members and criminals selling drugs, all of them collecting welfare. that should be the first step on our city tax payers money. not hard working gang reduction city employees. I’m quite sure city employees uses the city vehicles for personal business. and i am quirt sure that is some shady stuff going on at kcal9. wasting kcal9’s money. but it is minor. so is this. please focus on the big issues next time so i can have some respect for this program.

    • Gidzmo

      Jonathan, the point of the story is that the cars (and gas) are being used for personal business–but we’re paying for it. Gas is stil over $4.00/gallon. It’s hard enough to pay for my own gas, I don’t want to be having to pay for some city employee to go to lunch, too. Minor? I scarcely think so.

  • cc

    Great report and very pleased to know Hilda Garcia got fired..this will send a message to all city employees if you abuse the system you will loose your job i’m just angry they did not do this earlier fire all those other employees as well who got caught driving around to.

  • Ron

    Where does it say that Hilda Garcia was FIRED? Did I overlook that part of the article? If you know, please tell me.

    • Mary

      It was a follow-up that I saw on the news at noon…they tacked that statement on to the end of the story. And I say, good riddance.

      • Ron

        Thanks Mary, for the update. Now let’s see if David G. can find more dirt.

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