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She Approved a $2,259 Travel Expense. Then She Was Fired.

The $57 billion L.A. County pension fund abruptly terminated its CEO earlier this month.

The former chief executive officer and interim CEO of Los Angeles’ county retirement system (LACERA) improperly approved thousands of dollars of board expenses, an internal memo shows. 

LACERA’s boards fired CEO Lou Lazatin June 7 after putting her on leave one week earlier. Chief counsel Steven Rice declined to explain the reason why, citing policy against commenting on personnel issues. 

But Rice authored a June 3 memo laying out improper travel approvals made by Lazatin and former interim CEO Robert Hill, whom she replaced. 

[II Deep Dive: L.A. Retirement System CEO Fired After Eight Months]

Hill and Lazatin approved thousands of dollars of flight and hotel expenses for board members to attend LACERA meetings and CEO candidate interviews, the memo stated. Travel to board meetings is not covered under the retirement system’s reimbursement policy, Rice wrote, and the CEO does not have authority to approve exceptions. 

Last year, for example, investments board member Gina Sanchez “was attending a personal business trip in London, and Mr. Hill approved changing her airfare so she could attend the CEO interviews,” the memo stated. “The change fee was $3,024.01 for a roundtrip flight from London to Los Angeles and back to London. In addition, Ms. Sanchez incurred local transportation in London of $112.34.” 

Lazatin verbally signed off on more flight changes for Sanchez in February, amounting to $2,258.88, according to the document. 

Sanchez was not alone in allegedly receiving unauthorized expense approvals from Lazatin and Hill. The memo also named current investment board members Herman Santos and Wayne Moore. Hill approved a $200 airline change fee for Santos to attend the October CEO interviews, Rice wrote. Lazatin permitted travel expenses for Moore, which only amounted to about $450 because “the airline made a mistake in changing his flight, and therefore no air expenses were incurred.”

Rice’s memo asked the board whether to authorize the expenses, which he argued “are not permitted” under LACERA policy unless approved by the board. “The CEOs alone lacked authority to approve them,” he wrote.

On May 31, Sanchez attended a joint board meeting in Los Angeles, despite having made arrangements to be in Boston at that time. The memo shows that Lazatin and assistant executive officer JJ Popowich approved $639.60 in flight changes for Sanchez to be there. 

At that meeting, “LACERA’s governing Board of Retirement and Board of Investments placed Ms. Lou Lazatin on administrative leave from her position as LACERA’s Chief Executive Officer,” the organization said in a statement late last week. “During the same meeting, the Boards voted to terminate Ms. Lazatin at a future date.” 

Lazatin and Hill could not be reached for comment.

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