The California Fair Political Practices Commission has opened an investigation into allegations that Fresno Unified trustee Brooke Ashjian broke conflict-of-interest laws and failed to report numerous sources of income.
According to a letter from the FPPC on Tuesday, the organization’s enforcement division is pursuing a complaint made by Merced-based attorney Kenneth Mackie, who works for a group called Fresno Watchdogs for Ethical Bidding. The complaint, filed last month, alleges that Ashjian, who owns a paving company and other businesses, failed to fully disclose his financial interests when elected to the school board and did not report more than $1 million in income.
The complaint also alleges Ashjian did not originally disclose his interest in his company, Seal Rite Paving, which worked as a subcontractor for a company that was hired by the district for a school building project. In addition, the complaint says Ashjian wrongly changed a vote after a public meeting in order to protect himself from a legal threat.
“A sworn complaint found to have merit will be assigned to staff in the enforcement division for a full investigation,” according to the FPPC’s website. “The division may obtain additional documents, issue subpoenas and interview witnesses.”
If there is insufficient evidence to prosecute, the division may close the case with a letter finding no action, according to the FPPC. If the seriousness of the offense and public harm are low, a warning letter may be issued identifying a violation of the Political Reform Act, which regulates campaign financing, conflicts of interest, lobbying and governmental ethics.
The FPPC could force the subject of an investigation to pay a fine or could take other remedial action.
Ashjian has denied the claims and said the action is merely political – pointing out that Mackie has refused to identify the people behind the watchdog group that has hired him. Ashjian has been a vocal opponent of Fresno Unified Superintendent Michael Hanson amid an ongoing federal investigation of the district’s no-bid contracts.
On Wednesday, Ashjian declined to comment and deferred questions to his attorney.