Fresno County District Attorney’s investigators on Friday removed financial and business records from the Parlier Unified School District business offices in a probe that could lead to criminal charges.
The district attorney’s office issued a search warrant and recovered up to 60 boxes on Friday from the district offices.
The warrant stems from an “extraordinary audit” investigation completed in May by the Fiscal Crisis Management Assistance Team, an arm of the state Department of Education, said Pat McPherson, chief of the district attorney’s bureau of investigation.
“We’re reviewing it as a potential criminal investigation,” said McPherson. “We wouldn’t take a case like this if we didn’t think there was probable cause of some kind of crime.”
The audit was requested in 2015 by Jim Yovino, Fresno County Superintendent of Schools.
In a statement released Friday, Yovino said that he can order such an audit if he “has reason to believe that fraud, misappropriation of funds or other illegal fiscal practices have occurred that merit examination.”
He added: “My office completed everything it is authorized to do, and now the investigation is in the hands of the Fresno County District Attorney.”
The audit found that the district overpaid board members for meetings they didn’t attend, failed to follow rules for open government and failed to provide audits in a timely way. The audit also found that board members may have sought donations from vendors in exchange for contract awards.
In addition, the audit said the board and superintendent weren’t fiscally responsible between 2012 and 2014.
“Bank reconciliations are not done or not available, raising concerns over fraud and mismanagement of funds,” the audit said.
Sometimes these small school boards run unchecked, and this is what it could lead to.
Pat McPherson, Fresno County District Attorney’s office
There also were instances noted in the audit of board members, school officials and family members taking free meals and trips that weren’t disclosed in their state-required economic interests forms. They also may have had conflicts of interest, the audit said.
The audit pointed out that “all governing board members, designated employees and consultants either failed to file (statements of economic interest) in 2012, or their (statements) were lost.”
In addition, the audit also accused some board members in a “pay to play” scheme.
The audit said vendors were solicited for significant donations “up to $5,000” in exchange for promises of business with the district.
“Parlier’s financial records indicate significant purchases were made from the named vendors,” the audit noted.
McPherson said he doesn’t know how many people were involved, but the state report specifically names nearly a dozen.
A document filed in the audit shows that six former and current board members were paid for meetings they didn’t attend, resulting in overspending of $4,397.
“Sometimes these small school boards run unchecked, and this is what it could lead to,” McPherson said.