‘It’s a lot of taxpayer dollars that were stolen’: The con that stripped Fresno of $600,000

Photo of a pile of $1 bills.
The city of Fresno lost $600,000 due to an invoice scam.
(John Lund / Getty Images)

Good morning, and welcome to the Essential California newsletter. It’s Tuesday, March 29. I’m Justin Ray.

Recently, Fresno revealed a big mistake.

The city was a victim of wire fraud and lost $600,000 worth of taxpayer money. The public, however, was only recently notified about the 2020 incident.

It all came to light when the Fresno Bee published a story about the city losing $400,000, citing emails among city officials and confirmed by Council Member Miguel Arias.

Then, Fresno Mayor Jerry Dyer revealed that the total was actually $200,000 more than that, saying the discrepancy was due to an incorrect amount cited in a City Council member’s email. “It’s a lot of taxpayer dollars that were stolen from us. And we haven’t given up on trying to recover those dollars,” Dyer said at a news conference.


City officials said that silence was maintained to protect a federal investigation. Here’s what else we know about the fraud.

How the scam worked

In January 2020, city officials wired $324,473 to a person they thought was a contractor building a new police station in the city. Less than two months later, the officials sent another $289,254, for a total of $613,727 in electronic payments. The invoices were similar to previous ones sent to the actual contractor doing the work except for one big difference: The account numbers weren’t the same.

The suspected fraudsters are American, Dyer said, citing FBI sources.

Federal agents asked that the investigation be kept quiet “for fear that it would hinder their investigation because they had good leads at that time,” Dyer said. “And it could also impact the ability to be able to recover any of the funds that were taken not only from the city of Fresno but also other agencies that had been victimized.”

At least two other unidentified cities were targeted in the scheme, including one that lost twice as much as Fresno, according to Dyer — one of many jarring aspects of the crime that have come to light.

Meanwhile, Arias wants to propose a policy addressing how the city would reveal such funding losses in the future.

“What I’m concerned about is how we publicly acknowledge when there’s significant loss of city taxpayer money, so that there’s no allegations of cover-up, as well as making sure we are in compliance with our credit rating agencies and our fiscal and auditing standards as a city,” Arias told the Bee.

And now, here’s what’s happening across California:

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Chris Rock and Will Smith onstage during the show at the 94th Academy Awards.
Chris Rock and Will Smith onstage during the show at the 94th Academy Awards at the Dolby Theatre on Sunday.
(Myung Chun / Los Angeles Times)

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One pig looks up amid the animals packed together with pink marks on their backs.
Newly marked pigs are ready to be shipped to a meatpacking facility.
(Robert Gauthier / Los Angeles Times)


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Today’s California memory is from Saul Roe:

In 1958, my mom took us to live in La Jolla in a bungalow across from Children’s Pool. I was allowed to go swimming there by myself. It was the most beautiful and wonderful time of my life. Today there is a skyscraper where we lived, crossing Prospect is dangerous, and people are prohibited from the Children’s Pool. We lived there in violation of the covenants. I wasn’t allowed to attend story time at the library because I might give away we were passing as white.

If you have a memory or story about the Golden State, share it with us. (Please keep your story to 100 words.)

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