Former Fowler official: Sworn in

Selma’s new city manager, David Elias is sworn in during the April 3 City Council meeting while council members look on.

SELMA – A search warrant filed with the Fresno County District Attorney’s Office in late May shows the department is gathering evidence to determine if Selma’s new city manager used public funds for personal use while serving as Fowler’s city manager.

David Elias was hired by the Selma City Council in April of this year. Councilman Louis Franco expressed doubts then about Elias' appointment and voted against the decision. Franco declined to go into details at the time but said he had concerns over the circumstances in which Elias left his employment with Fowler.

The document suggests that Elias may have spent thousands of dollars of public money on questionable purchases, primarily through the use of city credit cards. Many of them were vehicle-related purchases. 

“The council was aware of the charges while we were in the hiring process,” Selma Mayor Mike Derr said. “If the charges are different than were presented to us, we will deal with it. If it is as presented, we will probably continue to live with it.”

According to the search warrant, Fowler Police Chief Michael Brand notified Senior District Attorney Marshal Varela and Special Investigator Brian Poulsen about the suspected charges on Jan. 5. Since then, they've been working with Fowler Finance Director Kenneth McDonald to secure copies of business purchase orders and receipts of Elias' purchases. 

In the search warrant, these purchase orders include:

  • In December 2015 at Hanford’s Carroll’s Tire, $846.26 for four Pirelli tires, four rubber or chrome stems, four computerized spin balance, four California environmental tax and four passenger tire disposal fee.
  • In March 2016 at Hanford’s Carroll’s Tire, $902.16 for four Hankook tires, four rubber or chrome stems, four computerized spin balance, four passenger tire disposal fee and four California Environmental tax.
  • In March 2016 at Swanson Fahrney Ford, $349.22 for a lube and oil filter, air filter and transmission fluid exchange.

McDonald also asserts the following were questionable credit card charges made by Elias from June to October 2015 on Fowler’s MasterCard account. The purchases are questioned because at one time, Elias resided in Hanford while employed in Fowler:

  • In June 2015, Fashion Cleaners in Hanford, $11.85.
  • In June 2015, Fresno Grizzlies, $41.
  • In July 2015, CVS Pharmacy in Hanford, $85.
  • In August 2015, Tint Doctor in Hanford, $300.
  • In August 2015, Save Mart in Hanford, $55.15.
  • In September 2015, Kings Country Club in Hanford, $59.45.
  • In October 2015, Original Joes in San Jose, $306.94.
  • In October 2015, Excellence Medical Group, $175.

Elias was reported to have used Fowler’s Chevron and Texaco Business Cards 20 times for a total of $676.11 from June 2015 to December 2016 at Hanford gas stations. The search warrant showed that at the time, Elias received a monthly stipend of $600 per month beginning in June 2014 as a vehicle allowance for use of his personal vehicle while on city business.

The arrangement provided that Elias would then be “solely responsible for all expense to use, maintain, operate and insure the vehicle.” Since Elias received the vehicle allowance, the document states “there is no justified reason to use a City of Fowler gas credit card for personal use in the City of Hanford.”

Elias is also reported to have made nine purchases on Fowler’s Wells Fargo credit card to make purchases at such locations as a Starbucks in Hanford, the Kings Country Club in Hanford, at Dicks Sporting and at Orchard Supply from November 2015 to January 2017 for a total of $839.27.

Varela has requested all credit card statements from seven different accounts for the City of Fowler from June 2015 to January 2017 as he continues the investigation, as several pages were missing from previous statements from McDonald.

Elias said the purchases had not been brought to his attention prior to the investigation “with the attempt to allow me to correct it. Until [July 5], I was unaware that the DA’s Office was conducting an investigation."

Elias said that he has not been charged with any crime and has not been asked to clarify what he believed were allowable expenses under his duties and responsibilities as the city manager.

Elias said the purchases were for items used at meetings, at city offices, to fill various department supply requests as community goodwill and employee enrichment programs.

Elias did say, however, that there was one "inadvertent purchase" that he made for personal reasons, which he said "was an oversight on my part." Elias didn't elaborate on which purchase that was. 

“The facts are I retired from the City of Fowler and had an opportunity to apply for the same position in Selma," he said. "I would just ask the good residences of Selma, who I humbly serve, not to judge me on assumptions, allegations or speculations.”

Elias retired after 29 years with Fowler, the last 17 as its city manager.

An assistant with Varela’s office said since the investigation is ongoing, no further comments can be made at this time.

“It’s an ongoing investigation to determine if any crimes were committed,” Assistant DA Steve Wright said.

Evidence is still being collected to see if the office will press charges, he said.

In the concluding statements of the search warrant, Varela writes that based on the purchase orders, receipts and credit card statements, he believes that Elias did misappropriate public funds and misuse city credit cards. 

“From [my] experience and training in fraud investigations, [I have] knowledge that individuals who commit fraud do so on multiple accounts to which they have access,” Varela said.

McDonald, Fowler's finance director, declined to comment on the city's policies regarding approval and evaluation of credit card purchases.

The reporter can be reached at 583-2427 or lbrown@selmaenterprise.com.

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