INDIO – A former Palo Verde Cemetery District manager, charged with embezzling more than $250,000, was arraigned Monday after a more than two year investigation by the county district attorney.
Lathan Williams, 47, had been arrested by the district attorney’s Bureau of Investigations unit last month. Williams worked for the cemetery district based in Blythe, which is located near the Arizona-California border.
Williams will face charges on four counts of embezzlement by a public officer, four additional counts of misuse of public funds and also a count of forgery of a DMV title.
County spokesman John Hall said that the investigation into Williams’ activities began in November 2008 when a county controller’s office audit of the cemetery district turned up several discrepancies.
As part of his job, Hall said, Williams would receive payments from cemetery district customers for plots and various burial services. Between 2003 and 2008, allegations say Williams took approximately $189,000 in cash from those customers.
There are also allegations that Williams wrote district checks to himself for fraudulent unused sick leave, vacation time, plus compensatory leave. Part of the audit shows that Williams received pay for 21 weeks vacation time, seven weeks sick leave and three weeks comp time – all in 2007.
A year later, Williams cashed out 10 weeks of vacation time, three weeks comp time and one week of sick leave, all of which are under suspicion of being fraudulent. The DA’s investigation showed that cash-out amounts over a three-year span were in excess of $50,000.
Other questionable expenditures by Williams include credit card purchases, a cell phone used by his wife, along with district invoices for vehicle maintenance of nearly $12,000, though he was authorized only $75 per month.
Williams, who was manager of the cemetery district from 1993 through September 2008, was under direction of a three-member board of trustees appointed by the Riverside County Board of Supervisors.
Williams, held at Indio jail in lieu of $50,000 bail, faces up to nearly nine years in prison if convicted on all charges. Last week, he was in court for a felony settlement. Deputy District Attorney Debra Postil is prosecuting the case.