(Jan. 9, UPDATED COVERAGE, 4:33 p.m.) California’s attorney general is reviewing an audit of the California Avocado Commission’s credit card expenses, which total more than $1.5 million over a three-year period.

The audit, by the California Department of Food and Agriculture, questions some vehicle, entertainment, hotel, food and clothing expenses from July 2005-June 2008. The agriculture department completed a 91-page report on the audit Jan. 6, and secretary A.G. Kawamura immediately forwarded it to the state’s Department of Justice.

Rick Shade, chairman of the commission’s board of directors, said the audit called into question about 20% of its overall outside-the-office credit card expenses.

“We welcomed the audit; I’m sad and very sorry that there were things to find,” Shade said. “But the questionable charges total no more than $300,000.”

Mark Jarvis, deputy secretary for public affairs for the state agency forwarded a copy of the audit summary to The Packer. The summary, which also has been forwarded to the attorney general’s office for review, questions such entertainment expenses as season tickets to professional hockey and baseball games.

“Most were legitimate business expenses,” Shade said. “Entertainment — baseball games and that sort of thing — that’s a good way to get your buyers’ attention.”

As indicated in the audit summary, which includes the commission’s response, the commission and its board of directors agree with most of the suggestions from the audit staff of agriculture department, Shade said.

“In fact, we have in the past several months taken many steps to correct problems even before they appeared in the final audit.”

The audit process began last May just as the commission’s president and chief executive officer, Mark Affleck, resigned. He had held the position for 20 years.

Tom Bellamore, the commission’s senior vice president, has been acting chief operating officer since Affleck’s resignation. Discussions on determining a successor to Affleck are on the agenda for the next board meeting, Shade said. But a final decision could be months away.

“We’re looking at a very, very light crop this year for California avocados,” he said. “I honestly don’t know if I would feel justified in saddling that much more overhead (the chief executive officer’s salary) on my growers on top of everything else.”

On-going discussions about a new president and chief executive officer will put the commission in a position to be ready to hire when heavier crop volumes hit, he said.