Former California parks official says boss knew of hidden $53 million

SACRAMENTO — A former state parks official says he repeatedly told his superiors about more than $53 million hidden in two accounts that could have been used to help avoid the threat of closing 70 state parks, a newspaper reported Thursday.

Manuel Lopez, former deputy director of administrative services for the Department of Parks and Recreation, told The Sacramento Bee that he informed agency Director Ruth Coleman about a $20 million surplus in the Parks and Recreation Fund "at least five times over approximately a five-year span."

A separate off-highway vehicle fund held another $33.5 million more than had been reported to the state Department of Finance.

Coleman resigned Friday. She accepted overall responsibility but said in her resignation letter that she had been unaware of the surplus. She told the newspaper that she doesn't recall being briefed. Had she known, she said would have sought to use the money to help keep parks open.

Nonprofit groups and local governments helped raise money and assumed responsibility to keep the 70 state parks open past a July 1 closure deadline.

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