Products and Services
Fresno CVB Probed for Unauthorized Spending
December 19, 2006
The Fresno city council is asking questions of the local convention and visitors bureau after it was revealed that $60,000 was placed on CVB credit cards for retail items seemingly unrelated to bureau business.
Some of the dubious charges were made at Victoria's Secret, Starbucks and a Fresno day spa. Purchases were made at clothing and retail stores across California. And at Target, $9,500 was charged to the bureau's American Express corporate cards. Bureau leaders say a former bookkeeper, who quit in November, used credit cards to embezzle money and also used the signature stamp of retired executive director Lloyd Kennedy Jr. to cash between $4,000 and $5,000 in checks.
Besides its request for details on the spending, the council is asking for more safeguards for future funds that are slated—but not guaranteed—to be disbursed to the bureau in April 2007. Bureau managers and city officials say they will provide a full explanation of the spending soon (the council wants that by end of January), but the bureau has so far declined to comply with a November 30 request by The Fresno Bee, the city’s main newspaper, under the California Public Records Act to produce checking account records and certain other documents.
Bureau Executive Director Wayne Bennett, in a December 8 memo, told the newspaper that the bureau would not release those records because of the police investigation and the possibility of a civil lawsuit. But Katherine Keating, a lawyer at the San Francisco office of Holme, Roberts and Owen, general counsel for the California First Amendment Coalition, said those records should be public. Under state law, Keating said, public records remain public even if they later become part of a criminal investigation.
Council member Brian Calhoun says, "I don't care what kind of presentation we're given, but I want a completely reinvented bureau and a completely reinvented financial system for it. Because the system that's in place—I don't need a detailed report to tell me it's broken."
The bureau has an $850,000 annual budget. Of that, $735,000 is taxpayer money given to the bureau in quarterly payments. The city pays the bureau to attract conventions that generate hotel room taxes.
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