California National Guardsmen wrongly collected $500,000 in fire pay

About 100 California National Guard members have been accused by the Guard's internal auditor of collecting fraudulent or improper pay totaling more than $500,000 from 2006 through early last year by violating dual compensation and travel expense rules.

In preliminary reports issued in March and April, obtained by The Sacramento Bee, auditor Debbie Richardson reported that 95 Guard members received more than $286,000 in improper compensation for wildfire-response duties in 2008. The problems largely involved a fire-duty premium that full-time Guard members received above their normal state pay.

Other audits found that three service members got more than $65,000 in inappropriate commute expenses, and one filed fraudulent time sheets for 12 months to receive more than $163,000 while living and working in Texas for that state's Guard.

"If individuals owe money, it will be collected," the Guard said in a written statement to The Sacramento Bee. A spokesman declined to comment on specific audit findings because the reports are preliminary and officials wanted to avoid compromising future investigations.

The highest-ranking officer cited as collecting pay in acts the auditor called "suspected fraud or irregular acts" was Col. Robert A. Spano, currently the Guard's chief of staff and third-ranking officer. Spano's payments, ostensibly for fire-related work in 2008, included periods during which he was on federal military duty out of state.

The Sacramento Bee reported Tuesday that the Guard's top officer, Adjutant General David S. Baldwin, recently ordered an audit of Spano's pay, as well as his own and that of Col. Matthew P. Beevers, assistant adjutant general – as a matter of due diligence, rather than from evidence of a problem. Baldwin also ordered a compensation review for all generals who served the Guard full time in recent years.

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