Fresno Unified school board President Brooke Ashjian says the federal investigation of the district’s no-bid contracts is “100 percent full blast” – contradicting former Superintendent Michael Hanson’s claims that the investigation is a nonissue.
In a meeting Thursday with The Fresno Bee’s editorial board, Ashjian said the FBI investigation – which began with a federal grand jury subpoena of the district in 2015 – is still ongoing.
“They have not backed up. They are not backing off,” Ashjian said. “They have looked at documents and it is ongoing.”
Ashjian said the school board hopes “to have some sort of resolution” within the year.
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The subpoena demands that the district – the state’s fourth-largest – turn over a wide range of financial documents related to “lease-leaseback” construction agreements and money spent from the $280 million Measure Q bond passed in 2010. The investigation specifically targets projects with Harris Construction and Bush Construction, asking for documents related to preconstruction services and for any information related to financial dealings between the contractors and district officials, including their involvement in the passage of Measure Q and campaigns to get Fresno Unified trustees elected.
Hanson – who was fired last month after announcing his intention to resign in August – has downplayed the investigation. In December, he criticized The Bee for reporting on the matter, and said his departure was unrelated to the investigation.
“People continue to say it, including The Fresno Bee, because they think it’s a great thing to say. But candidly, we’ve not heard word one back from it. … ,” Hanson said. “What I consider an investigation is something where someone actually talks to me about a problem. I’ve not heard a peep. In fact, I’ve heard more that this thing is all but done, but they (investigators) just don’t want to say it.”
While Ashjian would not disclose any details about the investigation, some Fresno Unified trustees voiced concerns about his statements on Thursday. Christopher De La Cerda said he was “disappointed” in Ashjian, alleging he violated state laws that keep matters discussed in closed session confidential.
Trustee Valerie Davis also spoke out against Ashjian. “He shouldn’t be giving you updates on what’s going on. Our lawyer gives us updates and he speaks for us,” she said. “What goes on in closed session is not supposed to be reported at an editorial board.”
In December, the Fresno County District Attorney’s Office warned the school board to not violate such laws.