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.”
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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.