This article was updated at June 5 at 11:50am to add that the Cliffs Hotel conference center requires room reservations, and that Fagundes stated the payments to his sister were preapproved by a Kings County Fiscal Analyst.
Kings County District Attorney (DA) Keith Fagundes paid county funds of at least $8594.77 and up to $12,152 to his sister, Jacqulyn Smith, and brother Ronnie Fagundes, for county expenses between 2019 and 2022, according to receipts obtained by Visalia-Hanford-Lemoore Future newspaper and the Valley Voice.
The transactions include multiple payments for use of his sister Jacqlyn Smith’s $1.4 million house in Pismo Beach for DA staff retreats and payments to his brother’s printing business in Hanford. Payments to Smith were made using a state credit card known as CalCard. Payments to his brother were by check.
Officials with Kings County told the Visalia-Hanford-Lemoore and the Voice that the payments are under active investigation.
Fagundes says the arrangement saved the county’s money
Former Kings County Assistant DA Matt Darby attended several of the retreats and told the Voice that he knew the home was Fagundes’ sisters house.
“I thought Fagundes was saving the tax payer money. I didn’t know he was paying his sister,” he said.
Darby said that he just recently found out about the payments to Smith.
“At first, Keith would have team building retreats once a year, but by my last year it was all the time. It was taking time away from my family and my work so I tried to get out of going,” said Darby.
Fagundes stated that he was, in fact, saving taxpayer funds.
“For six years, my sister donated the house for our retreats,” he said. Fagundes added that all expenses involving his sister were preapproved by his fiscal manager Veronica Mello.
That changed when Fagundes asked the county to pay the attendees a per diem for food and travel. The county finance person said that a per diem can only be paid accompanied with a hotel bill.
“So we got the house at a bargain basement price in order for the attendees to receive their per diem. We paid the minimum which saved the county thousands of dollars,” said Fagundes.
Fagundes said that the first six years of using his sister’s house for free he paid, out of his own pocket, about $15,000 on meals and other expenditures for his staff.
The retreats, Fagundes said, were necessary to train employees and build a management team.
“They stay more focused outside of the office during the trainings,” he said.
Payments under investigation, may have violated county policies
Evan Jones, County Purchasing Director confirmed that transactions by Fagundes appear to violate the county’s Conflict of Interest Policy which says decisions cannot be made that would result in financial benefit to an immediate family member.
The policy states: “In order to avoid any actual or apparent conflict of interest, purchasing personnel shall avoid making award decision(s) that affect their personal financial interest or that of a family member.”
“Any such interest in a county or bidder must be disclosed to the Purchasing Manager as soon as the interested employee knows or reasonably ought to know of the conflict. The Purchasing Manager will take action to havethat person abstain from any further involvement in that acquisition.”
The payments to Smith could also be a violation of CalCard rules.
“Any purchase found to be in violation of County Policy shall be the responsibility of the cardholder and disciplinary action may be taken,” the policy states.
Beyond the issues of possible violation of county policies, there is the matter of funneling transactions through a business entity that may have been defunct at the time the charges were made.
Decorium Décor, once at 4809 S. Mooney Blvd. in Visalia, closed on December 23, 2020 according to the Visalia City Clerk.
A Loopnet.com listing shows the 4809 S. Mooney address was listed for lease on January 6, 2021.
Additionally, an update posted on the business’s Google profile on June 2, 2021 states that “Due to Covid-19 and our horrible Governor, Gavin Newsoms’ inability to run California, I (like thousands of others) have chosen to relocate my business to another state!!”
Several thousand dollars in payments were paid to the Decorium after the business closed.
Kings County has initiated an investigation into Fagundes’ actions but cannot comment beyond that, said Kyria Martinez, the Assistant Kings County Administrative Officer.
An employee of the Kings County DA’s office who attended a few of the retreats told the Voice that a Kings County investigator contacted them about the payments to Smith: the investigator wanted to know if they were aware that the location of the retreat was owned by Fagundes’ sister.
What’s unclear is why Fagundes, who is one of the most prominent public figures in the county, would risk the appearance of a conflict-of-interest involving county payments to his relatives when similarly-priced retreat facilities with no connection to his family are readily available in Pismo Beach.
The Cliffs Hotel charges $350 for a full day’s use of a conference room for up to 10 people, including a table with linens, said a spokesperson. Food and beverage service are also available for an extra charge.
Fagundes said that to get those rates if you also rent hotel rooms which would add another $950 a night for just three attendees.
The county finance department produced receipts for four DA Office retreats between February 17, 2021 and August 4, 2021.
Decorium Décor billed Fagundes’ office $1,000 for use of a conference facility February 17, 2021 for four people over a two-day period, according to county receipts. The payment was made using state CalCard issued to Fagundes.
Decorium also billed Fagundes’ office $772.50 for a “team building” retreat on April 12 – 14, 2021 for six people. The payment was also made with the same CalCard.
Another billing from Decorium for $1,175 was paid on June 24 also using the same CalCard. This one was for five people and occurred on June 14 – 16, 2021. The purpose was labeled “Team Building and Realignment.”
Then on August 10, 2021 a new entity called the Coral Court Conference Facility billed the county $550 for an August 4, 2021 retreat labeled “Strategic Planning between Victim Witness and DDA Staff.” This was also paid with the same CalCard.
Expenditures by the DA’s office to Fagundes’ brother’s printing company included everything from Business cards and DA emblazoned polo shirts to an $1,100 expenditure for lettering on an Emergency Response Trailer. The trailer work was invoiced on April 6, 2021.
The trailer itself became an issue in the campaign when his opponent Sarah Hacker questioned why the trailer was being stored at Fagundes’ residence when it was county property. The Board of Supervisors later told him to return the trailer to county property.
Other expenditures on January 8 of this year included tablecloths printed with the DA’s logo. The cost was $300.
Fagundes said that his brother was only one of five vendors the county uses for printing services.
“We use who we can get at the best price and be able to do the job,” he said.
Fagundes’ opponent in the DA’s race, former employee Sarah Hacker said,
“A district attorney has a responsibility to the citizens of Kings County. If Keith Fagundes has been misusing public funds, he has failed in his duty to our citizens again – not only in his mistreatment of employees, or his abuse of power, but also in taking taxpayer money to benefit his family members.”