The Inland Valley Development Agency in California disclosed that it and the San Bernardino International Airport Authority are being investigated by the Federal Bureau of Investigation.
The FBI conducted a search of the shared offices of IVDA and the airport authority on Sept. 21, according to the material event notice posted Sept. 30 on the Municipal Securities Rulemaking Board’s EMMA website. IVDA and the airport authority, in a county civil grand jury report, have been accused of fiscal mismanagement and questionable financial oversight.
IVDA issued $162 million of bonds in March to fund development of the former Norton Air Force Base, which was closed in 1994 and converted to civilian use. The project is expected to be completed in spring 2012.
“We wanted to make sure that the bondholders knew what was going on — not in connection with the bonds or prospective default, but because it was newsworthy,” said Alexis Crump, bond counsel for the IVDA and a partner with the law firm Lewis Bribois Bisgaard & Smith LLP.
Crump said she doesn’t expect the investigation to have any impact on the agency’s ability to make bond payments.
The bonds received an A from Standard & Poor’s in May. Analyst Sussan Corson said Standard & Poor’s would review the rating as it does on any bond when such an event occurs.
FBI spokeswoman Laura Eimiller said that no charges have been brought as a result of multiple searches conducted by special agents that day, but the investigation is ongoing. The FBI also searched the offices and home of airport developer Scot Spencer, according to the filing.
Jurors questioned why the agencies hired Spencer, a convicted felon who served time in federal prison for bankruptcy fraud and was banned from the aviation industry by the U.S. Department of Transportation.
Norton Development Co. and SBD Properties LLC — two companies that Spencer manages — were granted development contracts to construct a new terminal and a fixed base operator facility at the airport, the grand jury report says.
The initial combined cost estimate for these projects was about $43 million, but through January 2011, the airport authority had spent over $125 million on the projects. Companies affiliated with Spencer received payments of $7.4 million in developer fees, the grand jury report states.
The judge sealed the affidavits in support of the search warrants, thus IVDA does not know the specific allegations being investigated by the FBI, according to the disclosure filing.
A.J. Wilson, who was named IVDA’s interim executive director on Nov. 8, downplayed the grand jury findings, saying that the majority of the report speaks to a failure to adhere to standard accounting principles, not criminal misconduct.
The 70-year-old Wilson, who was retired, has worked as a public manager for Santa Ana and Pomona in California, as well as Portland, Maine, and Kansas City, Mo.
Wilson’s predecessor, Donald Rogers, resigned a week after the FBI search warrants were executed.
Wilson called the majority of the findings the kind of valid standard criticism agencies receive from an auditor. For instance, he said the report recommends that the agency hire a different internal auditor every five years rather than using the same one year after year.
“We are doing an internal audit to make sure it was all above board, but right now it seems to be exactly what I described,” he said. “There were about 15 recommendations from the grand jury and we are implementing all of them.”
A law firm has been hired to review the contracts with Spencer, however, Wilson said. The FBI is investigating the relationships between public officials and the companies who have contracts with the airport, he said.