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Many left with unanswered questions after Fair officials hold first public meeting since allegations

Posted at 11:28 PM, Oct 21, 2019
and last updated 2019-10-22 02:28:58-04

BAKERSFIELD, Calif. — A meeting of the Kern County Fair Board of Directors ended in a shouting match when board members refused to answer questions from the public. The board said they won't comment on the alleged misuse of state funds.

23ABC's cameras were rolling as the fair's CEO ignored our questions, and moved behind closed doors.

The meeting was the first for the Board of Directors after a California Department of Food and Agriculture audit detailed that a "California county fair" misused state resources and violated multiple state laws. The Kern County Fair is not mentioned by name, but the Kern County District Attorney's Office says fair board members confirmed to them that the audit was "likely" about the Kern County Fair.

As fair officials left the building, many members of the public who showed up and wanted answers left feeling unsatisfied.

"I don't think they wanted to hear from us, and I think they were defensive. And it's regrettable," said Mary Helen Barro, who confronted the board during the meeting.

"The entire conduct of this meeting leaves a very bad taste in one's mouth in terms of how they are actually addressing the problems," said Liz Keogh, who thought the board did a poor job of being transparent.

The problems, according to the audit, include over $300,000 in misused funds. Including $132,000 in credit card purchases with no receipts, and $30,000 in excessive and illegal travel expenses. The report also said several employees spent most of their work hours doing side jobs.

"My specific boss pressured everybody in the maintenance department," said Chris Medellin, who claims to be a former fair employee and calls himself one of the whistleblowers who triggered the investigation. He explained one example where he was asked to fix a truck that belonged to his boss's friend.

"I got a box of parts saying 'hey can you do this' and it wasnt a fair thing but I did it on fair's time and the guy gave me a check later on," he said.

Medellin, like many others, felt that the board should be more transparent about how taxpayer money was spent. Board member Lucas Espericueta saying that's not an issue.

"We're operated like a business, our revenue, the tickets from sales, the tickets from parking, our take from concessions, all that is part of our revenue. And paying all of our employees is part of our expenses.We don't recieve or abuse any taxpayer money because it's the money that we generate here at the fair," he said.

23ABC asked other board members for comment, but none responded. The District Attorney's Office is investigating the fair, following the audit. The DA says there may be possible civil and/or criminal charges filed.