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Kern County District Attorney's Office: 'No criminal violation' by fair board members

Kern County Fair
Posted at 11:28 AM, Aug 18, 2021
and last updated 2021-08-19 13:11:55-04

BAKERSFIELD, Calif. (KERO) — The Kern County District Attorney's Office announced Wednesday that they found "no criminal" violation by Kern County Fair Board members after allegations of potential misconduct from a state audit.

According to the district attorney's office, there was no criminal violation for board members' dinners that an audit found was more than the state's reimbursement rate.

The statement from the district attorney's office says board members repaid the amount that was more than the state's limits.

The agency also said, "there was insufficient evidence to prove beyond a reasonable doubt that any Board Member had the specific intent to take without permission and permanently deprive the 15th District of funds."

The audit also looked into allegations of mismanaged funds and practices, including employees allegedly conducting personal site jobs while on the clock, district credit cards being used without supporting receipts or pre-approval, and excessive and illegal out-of-state travel expenses.

The State Auditor's Office did not provide the district attorney evidence to support the allegations of side work being done on the clock so no charges were filed. The use of credit cards and out-of-state travel expenses were determined to be "mismanagement in accounting procedures and processes" but did not rise to the level of criminal violations.

The Kern County Fair and Event Center said in a statement: "We would like to thank the District Attorney, Cynthia Zimmer, and the District Attorney’s Public Integrity Unit for their thorough investigation over the past two years.

"The Kern County Fair and their Board of Directors fully cooperated with the District Attorney’s Office throughout their investigation. The Kern County Fair Board of Directors and CEO are making every effort to prevent similar incidents from happening in the future."

Criminal charges were announced against William Joseph Hebert, a former maintenance supervisor for the 15th District Agriculture Association. He was charged on suspicion of three counts of felony grand theft.

According to the district attorney's office, Hebert had allegedly obtained scrap material from the 15th District, arranged for the material to be turned in to recycling facilities, and not returned the money from recycling to the 15th District.

While the 2019 state audit didn't specifically name the Kern County Fair, it says a fair CEO and maintenance supervisor allowed and often participated in the gross mismanagement of funds, including making purchases that had no receipts, excessive and illegal out-of-state travel expenses, expensive dinners, alcohol purchases, large tips and more.

According to the district attorney's office, investigators were unable to obtain specific details that supported the state auditor's findings. Those details included who was interviewed and what was said to the state auditor, according to the district attorney's office. Fair board members also couldn't say what was said to the auditor, the district attorney's office said.

The state auditor said certain information was exempt from being included because of the California Whistleblower Protection Act, according to the district attorney's office.

“It was disappointing to learn that the State Auditor had indications of potential criminal wrongdoing, investigated them, but declined to share complete evidence with the District Attorney’s Office. Even so, our Public Integrity investigators conducted a thorough investigation into areas highlighted in the audit. Where evidence of criminal misconduct was identified, appropriate charges have been filed," said Kern County District Attorney Cynthia Zimmer. "The Kern County fair is an integral part of our community, and the results of the audit and these charges should serve as a reminder of all involved to take management of the 15th District’s funds seriously, and thus protect the future of the Kern County Fair for future generations.”