LOS ANGELES (CBSLA.com) — It looks like a scene from a local sports bar: groups of men watching the World Cup on TV, cheering with every play on the big screen.
But CBS2 investigative reporter David Goldstein reports undercover cameras found some of these men could be scoring your taxpayer dollars during working hours, sometimes for hours at a time, in the restaurant at Caltrans headquarters in downtown Los Angeles.
The restaurant is privately owned, catering not only to Caltrans employees but also to the Los Angeles Department of Transportation, which is in the building at 100 South Main St. It is also open to the public.
They recently put out a flyer telling “everyone to enjoy watching your favorite World Cup soccer games” — and as Goldstein reports, hidden cameras show many did.
In fact, Goldstein’s cameras caught dozens of people watching games during normal business hours, all while possibly earning your taxpayer money.
It wasn’t just the USA games, where even Mayor Eric Garcetti played hookey from work; crowds were also seen watching games featuring Cameroon, Germany, Iran and Belgium, among others, Goldstein learned.
Many spectators came with their Caltrans badges clipped to their waists, and while some stayed just for lunch around noon, others took time out of their workday to watch the 9 a.m. game and the noon game, a doubleheader on the taxpayer time.
Camera crews spotted one man — Farid Rekabi — for three straight days. Rekabi, a Caltrans electrical engineer who made nearly $94,000 last year, was first spotted June 13 watching the 9 a.m. Mexico vs. Cameroon game for almost an hour.
The next Monday, cameras caught Rekabi in the restaurant watching games for more than two hours, as well as the next day for another two hours, according to Goldstein.
On July 1, an undercover camera caught Rekabi in the restaurant watching the Argentina-Switzerland match with at least 17 others for 45 minutes of the 9 a.m. game, until Goldstein pulled his own version of a red card.
“Mr. Rekabi, we’ve seen you here for three straight days for hours at a time watching the games,” Goldstein said.
“Yes, yes, yes,” Rekabi replied.
“Is that a good use of taxpayer money?” asked Goldstein.
“Yes, yes, yes,” Rekabi said.
When Rekabi was pressed as to why he was watching the game on state time, he had no response.
Caltrans officials launched an immediate investigation after they were shown the videotape, but said some or maybe all of the employees could have been on time off and came downstairs to watch soccer.
“Can you really sit there and look me in the eye and say that most of these people had leave time?” Goldstein asked Lauren Wonder, a Caltrans spokeswoman.
“Again, I don’t really know and that’s the honest truth,” Wonder said.
A Caltrans official later told Goldstein that Rekabi had no leave time during the days he was seen watching the World Cup, leaving his time paid for by taxpayers.