Is Granite Park still cursed? Fresno DA reviewing audit tied to congressman, developer

Personal loans, missing documents, spending that appeared “not ethical” and a lot of unaccounted money were all issues raised by a recent Fresno audit into a nonprofit charged with rehabilitating Granite Park.

That nonprofit has ties to a newly-elected congressman and a high-profile developer. And now the Fresno County District Attorney’s Office is getting involved.

Steve Wright, assistant district attorney, confirmed on Tuesday his office received the audit and is reviewing it.

The nonprofit, Central Valley Community Sports Foundation, is run by developers Terance Frazier and newly elected Rep. TJ Cox, D-Fresno.

The audit analyzed accounting practices for CVCSF from Jan. 1, 2016 through July 31, 2018 after Frazier asked the city to double his $150,000 yearly agreement to maintain baseball fields, volleyball courts, jogging trails and more at Granite Park.

City Manager Wilma Quan-Schecter requested the audit to determine whether CVCSF presented its finances and performance fairly and honestly.

“We have previously made the operators of Granite Park aware of changes they need to make in their managerial and accounting practices and are meeting with them next week to talk in greater detail about providing quality sports and recreational programming at Granite Park for the benefit of City residents,” Quan-Schecter said in a statement on Tuesday.

She declined to comment on the district attorney’s review, citing policy not to comment on investigations, pending litigation or any other unresolved legal matter.

granite park terance
Developer Terance Frazier stands on one of the fields at Granite Park, which he and TJ Cox have revived after years of decay and neglect. CRAIG KOHLRUSS Fresno Bee file

Because of the audit, Frazier in November withdrew his request to increase the contract and expressed interest to work with the audit team moving forward to develop and maintain proper accounting procedures.

A copy of the audit summary was provided to The Bee and other media outlets by Frazier’s former business partner Sammy Franco, who obtained the documents through a public records request to the city.

“The reason I requested the PRA for the audit is simple,” Franco said. “Right is right, and wrong is wrong. The public deserves to know the details of the audit so they can see people for who and what they really are.”

The Fresno City Council will discuss the agreement with CVCSF during closed session of Thursday’s meeting.

Frazier declined to comment for this story and referred questions to his lawyer, David Emerzian. Cox also declined to comment.

Emerzian emailed a statement to The Bee on behalf of CVCSF that didn’t mention either the audit or the review by prosecutors.

“CVCSF is proud of our work to revitalize Granite Park into a state-of-the-art sports facility for a community that has long been forgotten,” the statement read.

“After years of neglect, we took over the park and turned it into a first class public recreational facility that’s used by thousands of residents each month – and at a fraction of the cost to taxpayers to operate and maintain. We invite everyone to come see what’s been accomplished with our ballfields (sic) and soccer fields. We are going to get back to work providing a first-class sports center for thousands of Fresno families.”

City audit

The city auditor, Kriti Agrawal, found 31 errors in a sample of 143 transactions.

Although the city and CVCSF agreement was signed in December 2015, the nonprofit didn’t record any transactions into its ledger until February 2017, the audit found. For 2017 and 2018, the auditor only received information for 20 percent of the nonprofit’s transactions, so the auditor could not determine if the nonprofit’s expenses were appropriate.

It was difficult for the auditor to obtain documents from the nonprofit and its bookkeeper, according to a timeline in the audit that shows multiple attempts to obtain documents from CVCSF. The audit outlines correspondence between the city, CVCSF and its bookkeeper from Aug. 20 to Sept. 25, 2017. The bookkeeper repeatedly asked the city which documents to provide, and still the city audit notes a bulk of accounting records were not provided.

The audit found Frazier and Cox made personal loans to CVCSF, and the auditor was not provided with written agreements for the loans. It wasn’t clear what the loans were for or when they would be paid back.

Furthermore, the audit says money from CVCSF was used to pay other projects managed by the men, such as Gateway Ice Center and Frazier’s Central Cal Baseball Academy.

In another instance, CVCSF deposited a $50,000 check from Cox’s separate financial firm. On the same day, $50,000 was wired from CVCSF to a “corporate officer” of the nonprofit, the audit said. Both Frazier and Cox are corporate officers of CVCSF.

Cox’s business, Central Valley NMTC, LLC, is a community development entity that uses new market tax credits to finance projects in “distressed neighborhoods” throughout the region. The company’s website says it financed $1.6 million of the $2 million project.

The nonprofit also allowed two employees to live in storage rooms at Granite Park without the city’s knowledge, violating the lease agreement, the audit said. CVCSF also paid to house two employees in a nearby apartment, which could put the nonprofit at risk of losing its status with the Internal Revenue Service, the audit said.

Additionally, the audit found two instances in which a “non-employee” received money from CVCSF as reimbursement for iPad cases and groceries for two people. The expenses amounted to about $200, which the auditor called “small” but said reimbursements should require a form and receipts of purchase.

Public-private partnership

As part of their deal with the city, Frazier and Cox promised to invest $2.7 million to renovate three dilapidated ball fields and build a restaurant, basketball and volleyball courts, jogging trails and other amenities to end years of blight at the 20-acre park in east-central Fresno.

In return, the city agreed to a 25-year lease that paid Frazier’s nonprofit, Central Valley Community Sports Foundation, $150,000 a year for 10 years to help with staffing and maintenance. The agreement also said the city would provide direction to CVCSF on league activities.

Since then, Frazier has said the restaurant didn’t pencil out and he’s losing money at Granite Park because of an expensive water bill. In July 2018, Frazier announced the addition of a dozen soccer fields at Granite Park, something that wasn’t in the original agreement.

Granite Park has a long history of trouble and has even been called cursed in decades-old news reports, even before CVCSF’s involvement.

More than a decade ago, the city co-signed a $5 million bank loan to help the original developer, Milt Barbis, build a regional destination for sports, restaurants and shops. But the developer went belly up, and the city got stuck with the property and the $5 million bill.

Other city contracts

District 3 Council Member Miguel Arias said the Granite Park audit points to a larger problem.

“What the audit demonstrates is that the city should closely monitor its agreements with all the nonprofits operating our green spaces and community centers,” he said. “I’m confident city staff and Granite Park staff will be able to resolve these items in a way that ensures the park will be operated and available to the public.”

Arias said multiple other nonprofit organizations operate the city’s community centers and green spaces and face similar challenges as Granite Park.

The city also contracts out other services, such as solid waste, and does not audit the entire operations of those businesses, he said.

“What the city should be concerned about is our $150,000 investment resulting in good service and public access to green space that we acknowledge we cannot afford to operate ourselves,” he said.

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Brianna Calix covers politics and investigations for The Bee, where she works to hold public officials accountable and shine a light on issues that deeply affect residents’ lives. She previously worked for The Bee’s sister paper, the Merced Sun-Star, and earned her bachelor’s degree from Fresno State.