LOS ANGELES —The Fresno County, Calif. district attorney is investigating allegations that officials at a local school district may have engaged in fraud, misappropriation of funds or other illegal activities.
The chief investigator for the district attorney's office said it seized between 30 and 50 boxes of business records Friday from Parlier Unified School District, a Fresno County school district that enrolls 3,400 students in seven schools and serves a largely migrant laborer population.
Jim Yovino, superintendent of the Fresno County Office of Education, asked the district attorney's office to investigate after receiving the results of an "extraordinary audit" on May 6 from the state Board of Education's Fiscal Crisis Management Assistance Team. Yovino requested the FCMAT audit after the Fresno County Grand Jury issued a report on July 21, 2015 that "raised numerous concerns related to the district's use of credit cards, contracting and hiring procedures, use of the Sunshine Club fund, meal expenditures for local meetings, travel and conference expenditures and governance."
Among the FCMAT findings: that "no-bid contracts worth millions of operating and bond-financed capital dollars were given at will to companies and individuals associated with the district, district employees and governing board members."
The audit reviewed transactions for fiscal years 2012 to 2013 through 2014 to 2015.
"Some of the contractor and vendor records that are missing are related to expenditures of local bond proceeds," the audit report said.
In addition to figuring out whether fraud had occurred, the audit was designed to provide the county superintendent with reasonable assurances that the district has adequate management and internal controls to report and monitor financial transactions, according to a letter from Joel Montero, chief executive officer of FCMAT to Yovino that was attached to the audit.
The audit said that bank reconciliations were not done, or not available raising concerns over fraud and mismanagement of funds. It also mentioned a pay-to-play scheme involving some board members where vendors were solicited for donations up to $5,000 in exchange for promises of business with the district.
The district has $8.3 million in general obligation debt and $2.9 million in certificates of participation, according to the June 30, 2015 year-end financial report. It has plans to issue new bonds under Measure P for a new multi-purpose building at Martinez Elementary School, according to the financial report.
The school district has an A-minus underlying rating from S&P Global Ratings.
After reviewing the audit, the superintendent's staff asked the district attorney's office to conduct an investigation, said Pat McPherson, chief of the district attorney's bureau of investigation.
"My office completed everything it is authorized to do and now the investigation is in the hands of the Fresno County District Attorney," Yovino said in a prepared statement.
Gerardo Alvarez, the school district's former superintendent, was placed on administrative leave in July 2015 following release of the grand jury report. Edward Lucero, was named acting superintendent at the time, but in January was named to head the district. The audit mentions a dozen school district officials and board members as involved in questionable activities.
McPherson said he would not name names until the investigation is complete, but that several people are being looked at.
Most fraud cases extend back four years, because of the statute of limitations, but McPherson said there is no statute of limitations related to public integrity cases, so the investigation could easily exceed four years.
The district attorney's office plans to zero in on the credit card charges and the way the district spent money, but it is looking at all aspects of the FCMAT audit, McPherson said.
The audit found that federal money for student programs were used to purchase office furniture for a vice principal and tens of thousands were spent to reimburse district officials for meals.