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Goldstein Investigation: $17K Spent So Local Officials Could Have Day At The Beach

LOS ANGELES (CBSLA)  -- They had a grand old time. $17 grand, in fact.

In the latest David Goldstein Investigation, he finds some local officials spent $17,000 to have a day at the beach.

And it was at taxpayer's expense.

The LA County Probation Department has launched an investigation after Goldstein started asking questions.

CBS2/KCAL9 hidden cameras were at the swanky beach resort where the  leadership retreat was being held.

"Ms. Mitchell? David Goldstein, with CBS2 News."

"Hi, David. Yes, hello," says Sheila Mitchell, the number two person in the probation department.

"Do you think it was smart to spend $17,000 of taxpayer money for a retreat at the beach in Santa Monica?" he asks.

Mitchell took in almost $315,000 in salary last year. She is shown getting out of her county issued car in June at Shutters on the Beach resort in Santa Monica.

She was joined by other members of the executive staff. Our cameras even caught the group -- we counted, fewer than 20 people -- taking a stroll near the beach outside the hotel.

They were gathered there for what was billed as the Spirit Awakening Leadership Retreat with breakfast and lunch ocean side, according to the schedule.

And the one day retreat cost $17,499 according to documents Goldstein obtained -- that included more than $7,200 for the venue.

Shutters is a luxury hotel right on the ocean in Santa Monica.

Another $7,500 went to trainer fees. And materials? More than $2,700.

The training was conducted by the Spirit Awakening Foundation.

Their website says they work with youth in the juvenile justice system and the organizer told Goldstein at the retreat probation executives learned how to work with youth in a more compassionate way -- including breathing and meditative exercises to pass along to the staff.

Goldstein asked what they learned for $17,000? "Did you learn how to meditate?" he asked, "because that's one of the things they teach."

He showed the invoice of $17,000 to Joe Tuchek, who is with the Association of Probation Supervisors.

"Oh, my God! This is ridiculous," he says.

His members deal with inmates in the juvenile detention centers.

Goldstein asked Tuchek what his men and women could do with $17,499?

"We probably could have provided some training for our staff in the institutions," he said, "We could have provided additional programming for the juveniles we supervise, or even the adults. $17,000 will go a long ways."

The probation department has come under fire. A reform group issued a report last month saying the department "is in dire need of oversight" after allegations of violent behavior at the Barry J. Nidorf Juvenile Hall in Sylmar by both staff and inmates. And, in fact, the justification for the retreat was to "implement extensive training for staff."

Goldstein asked Joe Gardner, president of the probation commission -- a civilian oversight group -- if the commission has heard anything about the retreat?

"No, it did not," Gardner said.

Goldstein also asked if he has a problem with a management retreat costing $17,499.

"Yeah," says Gardner, "I would agree with you. I think that would be a questionable expense."

Goldstein asked Mitchell if $17,000 of taxpayer money on a retreat at the beach?

Mitchell said she would be happy to talk to Goldstein once the investigation was complete.  "I'd like to talk with you now," he replied.

She said she wasn't able to answer because the incident was being investigated

A spokesperson for the department said, in part,

"The choice and associated cost for the location where the training was provided are being evaluated as less expensive alternatives were available."

Goldstein asked Mitchell if this was a wise way to spend taxpayer money -- one of the most expensive hotels in Santa Monica?

"Mr. Goldstein," says Mitchell, "with all due respect, I'm more than happy to discuss the item with you once the investigation is complete."

The $17,000 may just be the beginning. The probation department has refused to provide some documents that Goldstein requested. And they delayed others, he believes, will show the retreat cost taxpayers a lot more money. The breakfasts and the lunches, there were no receipts for that. And Goldstein says he heard there was another reservation there they didn't provide any documentation for.

In closing, he reported, "We're going to keep track of it."


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