An attorney has filed a complaint with the state Fair Political Practices Commission alleging that Fresno Unified Trustee Brooke Ashjian failed to report numerous sources of income and broke conflict-of-interest laws.
Kenneth Mackie, a Merced-based attorney who works for a group called Fresno Watchdogs for Ethical Bidding, filed an official complaint Oct. 17 with the FPPC. The commission enforces the Political Reform Act, which regulates campaign financing, conflicts of interest, lobbying and governmental ethics.
The complaint 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 sources of income. Specifically, 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.
Ashjian also wrongly voted on a school board item that he had a financial interest in and falsified public records, according to the complaint.
The complaint says Ashjian could face fines of more than $6 million, be permanently barred from holding public office and is “punishable by imprisonment.”
Ashjian could be permanently barred from holding any public office.
Complaint filed with the Fair Political Practices Commission
But Ashjian has denied the claims, and has hired Sacramento-based attorney Charles Belle, who is considered an expert on the Political Reform Act.
Ashjian contends the allegations are merely political, since he has been a vocal critic of Superintendent Michael Hanson and is actively campaigning against a school bond measure up for vote next month.
Mackie – who refuses to identify the people behind the watchdog group he claims to work for – has made several allegations about Ashjian’s business practices over the past year, spurring the district to investigate. Last month the district announced it was dealing with an “unprecedented and intensely complicated pressing legal matter” that was later identified as Ashjian’s possible conflicts of interest.
Ashjian added more than 100 companies that he does business with to his Statement of Economic Interest in September. The list included businesses that the school district also does business with, raising questions about whether Ashjian’s work with those companies creates an “indirect conflict of interest.”
The FPPC complaint also alleges that Ashjian wrongly changed a vote after a public meeting in order to protect himself from a legal threat. The vote was on a $9 million school construction project that was re-bid after it was revealed that Seal Rite Paving was listed as a subcontractor on the project.
If the FPPC has a recommendation, we’re going to comply. But I’ve done nothing wrong.
Fresno Unified Trustee Brooke Ashjian
Videos show that Ashjian voted to approve the consent agenda that included the project in question, but at the next board meeting he contended he voted to abstain, asking to correct the record to reflect an abstention.
The minutes from the meeting say that Ashjian abstained from the vote, despite there being no public record of that. However, Ashjian and other school board officials have said he asked to change the vote the same day of the meeting, although that was not clear for the public.
“Ashjian did not move to ‘correct’ the record. He moved to have the record reflect something that did not happen. … The change is knowingly false,” the complaint says.
Ashjian said Tuesday that he hired Belle after Hanson refused to allow district attorneys to provide further information to clarify the legal concerns.
“I’ve never even heard of a remote or indirect conflict of interest,” he said. “If the FPPC has a recommendation, we’re going to comply. But I’ve done nothing wrong. What’s really interesting is that these guys have the ability to come after one board member that speaks his mind and shut down the political process.”
The FPPC analyzes more than 1,500 complaints a year about potential violations of the Political Reform Act. If there is insufficient evidence, a case could be closed with a letter finding no violation. If a case merits pursuit of a fine, the FPPC will prosecute the violators and may seek penalties of up to $5,000 per violation.