City of Fresno Mayor Jerry Dyer has publicly disclosed that the City of Fresno lost over half a million dollars at the hands of scammers. As reported on by Brianna Calix at The Fresno Bee, the City of Fresno fell victim to a wire transfer scam in early 2020. Scammers submitted invoices looking like previous ones submitted by a contractor working for the city. In April of 2020, the same contractor threatened to quit when payment was not received for previous services rendered. Fresno Police were later made aware of the situation, and later the FBI took control of investigating the matter.
Despite the amount of funds lost, and the fact that the crime occurred close to two years ago, the City of Fresno did not come public with the fraud till early this month. According to the Fresno Bee, the FBI asked the City of Fresno in late 2020 to keep quiet regarding the loss of money so as not to compromise the FBI’s efforts to solve the crime. The lack of transparency would continue after Dyer became mayor in 2021. At a closed January 2021 session, Dyer instructed the city council not to share details of the incident with the public.
The sudden disclosure of the scam comes on the heels of a public records request made by the Fresno Bee this past December to the Fresno City Attorney’s Office. Acting on a lead about fraud, the Bee sought “…communication between Fresno City Councilmembers and Mayor Jerry Dyer’s administration regarding wire fraud during the calendar year of 2021.” This request was eventually denied, and the Bee was told by the city: “The City of Fresno has reviewed its files and did not locate records responsive to your request.” However, despite this claim, the Bee acquired emails between city officials which point towards the existence of fraud.
While there is some merit to prevent disclosing the fraud to avoid compromising an investigation, waiting two years for disclosure is unreasonable. Furthermore, the lack of response to the Fresno Bee’s request is an affront to California’s open records laws. In response to the request made by The Fresno Bee, the City did a search of emails for records relating to fraud, but limited the search to a very narrow criteria: the term “wire fraud”.
Dyer has insisted the City of Fresno was not trying to cover anything up with its lack of transparency. However, the absence of a thorough search for requested records unnecessarily raises suspicion. David Loy, legal director for the First Amendment Coalition, points out “If the agency denies that records even exist when they do, the requester has absolutely no way to challenge or press the agency on whether it is improperly withholding records. The proper course is to do a proper and adequate search, and if there are responsive records, acknowledge that fact.” Additionally, Loy importantly points out “…there is no exemption just because the FBI asked them to keep it confidential,”.
The incident serves as a reminder to public watchdogs to be thorough and persistent when searching for public records from public entities. Just because you get a “no” response from an administrator doesn’t mean it is the end of the road.
To read more about the City of Fresno and the ongoing scamming scandal, check out the great reporting from Brianna Calix of the Fresno Bee (info in blog post on the ongoing Fresno scandal compiled from the following two links): https://www.fresnobee.com/news/local/article259269754.html , https://www.fresnobee.com/news/local/article259205608.html
As always, you can learn more about how California governmental entities are spending taxpayer dollars at https://transparentcalifornia.com/
Joshua Lozancich graduated from the University of Minnesota-Morris with a BA in Political Science. As someone who spent most of his life living in California and is familiar with some of the major problems the Golden State faces, he is looking forward to turning TransparentCalifonria.com into a vital resource all Californians can use to help create a brighter future for the state.