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Goldstein Investigation: MTA Spends Thousands On Catered Meals, Talent Show

LOS ANGELES (CBSLA) — Hundreds of thousands of dollars in taxpayer money is being spent on things other than transportation under the watch of the Metropolitan Transportation Authority in Los Angeles, a CBS2 investigation has learned.

Investigative reporter David Goldstein found lavish spending by the MTA, including for things like a talent show.

Here is a full script of Goldstein's investigation:

"The first ever talent showcase." These are MTA employees performing at a talent show for an audience of co-workers and anyone else who showed up, even though it was done after work hours.

"You got to know when to hold them, know when to fold them."

We discovered you're paying for it.

We obtained receipts showing the MTA shelled out more than $20,000 last year to stage this event for employees in Downtown LA.

All paid for with public money. Why? Thats what we asked MTA Chief Communications Officer Pauletta Tonilas.

"How does the talent show benefit the bus riders? The train riders?"

"This was about employee appreciation"

And that's one small part. CBS2 News has obtained hundreds of receipts showing the MTA spends hundreds of thousands of dollars of your money to make sure its employees are appreciated and well-fed.

Like $3,000 for burgers. And $3,000 for hot dogs to cater a "meet your diversity and economic opportunity department."

$1,600 for a sandwich buffet for a business meeting.

$1,800 for "the eye opener" breakfast for 140 people.

Add it all up, we found more than $228,000 spent on in-house food for MTA employees. That's just from January through August of last year!  8 months! Almost a quarter of a million dollars!

It works out to an average of just over $940 a day!

"All this money on catering."


"Is that right in your mind?"

Eric Mann is with the Bus Riders Union, a group that advocates reduced fares and better conditions on the buses and rails.

"The painful part is not that specific amount of money. It's what's inside the mind of that person that would say, 'Nothing but the best for me, but the poor: let them pay or let them not ride.' That's the cruelty of it."

MTA says some of the food is for catered meetings that go on for hours. And some they claim is paid for with profits from vending machines, although they never provided any proof.

They do admit a majority of the receipts we found were paid for with public funds, like the money generated by measures M and R. When M was overwhelmingly approved in 2016, the agency said it would fund a litany of things, like improve freeway traffic flow, repair potholes, nothing here about meals for employees.

"Do you think this is what people thought they were voting for?"

"I think the people understand that employee appreciation is a part of any good employers practices."

"Do you think so?"

"I do believe that"

It's not just food. We found the MTA paid more than $15,000 last year to rent out the Orpheum Theater in Downtown LA for their awards breakfast, which, of course, was catered.

And MTA board members, who are elected officials, are also eating well. We uncovered receipts for prime rib and salmon. 55 orders with all the fixings. That cost more than $1,500.

"Are you going to make changes?"

After we asked the tough questions, MTA says they may make changes.

"The fact that you have done your due diligence and brought this to our attention is a good opportunity for us to take a look and see if we have to make some changes."

But no promises from the MTA that they will stop spending. Just that they will look into it.

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