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Palo Verde Valley Blythe/Quartzsite Times | Blythe, California and Quartzsite, Arizona

home : latest news : regional April 16, 2014

4/30/2013 10:32:00 AM
Williams gets four years
Lathan Williams
Lathan Williams

Marty Bachman

BLYTHE - Former Palo Verde Cemetery manager Lathan Duane Williams was sentenced to four years in prison on April 19 at the Larson Justice Center in Indio.

Williams pled guilty on March 15, to one count of embezzlement by a public official and admitted to the enhancement of taking in excess of $200,000.

Williams was arrested by members of the DA's Bureau of Investigations on the afternoon of March 10, 2011. He was charged with the embezzlement of more than $250,000 from the Cemetery District, four counts of embezzlement by a public officer, four counts of misuse of public funds and one count of forgery of a DMV title.

Williams faced up to eight years, eight months in prison.

The investigation by the DA's Office into Williams' criminal activity began in November 2008 following an audit of the cemetery district by the Riverside County Auditor-Controller's Office.

District Attorney investigators alleged that as part of his job, Williams would receive payments from cemetery district customers for plots and/or burial services. The criminal investigation revealed that, from 2003 through 2008, Williams took about $189,000 in cash from district customers.

Williams also wrote district checks to himself for fraudulent unused sick time, vacation time, and/or compensatory leave time. The county audit showed that Williams received payouts in 2007 for 21 weeks vacation, seven weeks sick leave, and three weeks comp time. In 2008, he cashed out 10 weeks of vacation, three weeks comp time and one week of sick leave. The investigation by the DA's Office showed cash-out amounts Williams received over a three-year period to be in excess of $50,000.

Further investigation revealed that Williams had district invoices for vehicle maintenance of nearly $12,000, while the board only approved a $75 per month allocation for vehicle maintenance. Other questionable expenditures by Williams totaling more than $40,000 were paid for through district checks including credit card purchases and a cell phone used by his wife.

In early 2008, with the Cemetery District drowning in debt, Williams tried to convince voters to pass a $100 per parcel tax, generating $1.2 million a year for the district and promising free burials to every man, woman and child within the district. The measure was defeated by 86 percent of the electorate.

In 2009, a grand jury report stated that prior to September 2008, Palo Verde Cemetery District trustees were negligent in their oversight of the financial affairs of the district and failed to demand financial accountability from Williams when they signed blank checks and permitted improper expenditures of district funds. Board members at that time were Henry Rinaldi, Ramona Douglas and Dave Stone, all of whom were removed from the board by Riverside County District 4 Supervisor Roy Wilsom, after the parcel tax measure failed and the District slipped toward insolvency.

Wilson appointed Doris Morgan, Max Schoenrock and Beatrice Piñon to the board and within weeks of their arrival, Williams told them the district was broke. The county performed an audit of the cemetery district and the new board turned it over to the District Attorney's office for possible criminal investigation. Williams was removed as the cemetery's manager and the cemetery staff was laid off, leaving the groundskeeping and other duties to volunteers.

The grand jury found that Williams failed in his basic management responsibilities to the district by making questionable expenditures for personal use from district funds; improperly borrowing funds from the district endowment fund to finance operating expenses; using poor record keeping practices and ignoring recommendations from the outside auditor.

"Over several years the district faced a shortage of revenue to meet increasing operating costs," the report stated. "In an effort to correct this deficit, the board of trustees and general manager borrowed more than $253,000 from the endowment fund principal. This was a violation of California Health and Safety Code Section 9065(e), which states: 'The board of trustees shall not spend the principal of the endowment care fund.' The fund is nearly depleted. The fund establishes in perpetuity the care and maintenance of the cemetery."

The report also found that Williams failed to increase revenue or reduce operating costs over a six-year period, thus leaving the district in a vulnerable financial position.

In November 2008, the Cemetery District Board voted to turn over a confidential county audit of the Cemetery District to the District Attorney's office for a criminal investigation, which led to the charges against Williams.

Reader Comments

Posted: Wednesday, June 19, 2013
Article comment by: Got toBtrue

If Mr. Williams got four years, then what happened to justice for the college, city, and school district embesslement?

Posted: Sunday, May 5, 2013
Article comment by: Blythe's Entertainer U2CanBEEEEEEEEEEEEEEEEEE

When will the Times do a Front Page Article on the impact and repercussions (Both short term and long term) that Inmate Willaims commission of the embezzlement beef has had on the Cemetary and the residents of Blythe as well as what is going to be done to get the cematry back to business as usual? Will there be a conclusion to this story, or will it stop woth a Felony conviction?

Posted: Saturday, May 4, 2013
Article comment by: Blythe's Entertainer U2CanBEEEEEEEEEEEEEEEEE

In case anyone wants to visit INMATE. Willaims, Lathan Duane, CDCR # AP1154

Posted: Saturday, May 4, 2013
Article comment by: F.E. Velez

Sad Truth has the right idea. Now that Lathan has been convicted it is time to go after ALL his assests. Anything he has of value , house, cars, boats, atv, quads, big screen tvs should be seized and sold at a sheriffs auction to begin repaying those he stole from. It's easy to do, all you have to do it look at his legal income, and subtract it from his total expenses for the years in question. And let's not be bleeding hearts for his poor wife and children. After all she signed the tax returns with him and should have know they were living beyond their means. When you begin to feel sorry for his family , just remember the pain you will be feeling when you find out you cannot bury your loved ones in the plot you thought you had purchased for them.

Posted: Wednesday, May 1, 2013
Article comment by: Sad Truth

The news paper hasn't stated in their article...Will there have to be restituion paid. I know I would like to know . Or does the district have to go after him civilly in court. This is a large amount of money we are talking about and if he has any property from 2008 to present it should be sold to pay what he embezzled.He should not be allowed to put anything he owns or had owned in 2008 in someone elses name either. He stripped this community of money and created hardships for families. He should pay it back.

Posted: Wednesday, May 1, 2013
Article comment by: EL PICA BUYAS

You know what hurts more than the money that was lost? The hurt he did to the people and their families, by his actions it should be twice the time.

Posted: Wednesday, May 1, 2013
Article comment by: Patricia Zamora

Are you kidding all that hes done by hurting our love ones, when we think its all paid for and ready to bury or love ones we cannot because he took rob stole from us, and all he will get is 4years, I read in paper where people do worst and they get years and years prison, but what happen to justice for us innocent, why did he get away with this, not fair at all, how about the other that were involve are they also getting punish or getting free laughing at us who lost in this tragic thing this person (deleted) has done.

Site Administrator's note: A portion of this comment has been removed because it violated our Terms of use Agreement.

Posted: Wednesday, May 1, 2013
Article comment by: Blythe's Entertainer U2CanBeeeeeeeee

Site Administrator's note: A portion of this comment has been removed because it violated our Terms of use Agreement. Personal attacks are not tolerated, and are a direct violation of these Terms of Use.

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