Fair Board forwards sale report to D.A.

A report condemning the failed sale of the Orange County Fairgrounds will go to the district attorney’s office for legal review.

The Fair Board unanimously voted Thursday to send the D.A. the Fair Sale Review Committee’s 17-page report, which questioned contracts related to the 2010 proposal to sell and potentially privatize the 150-acre property.

The independent committee’s report, released last month, had nine principal recommendations that included calling for an audit, more review of the failed transaction, more transparency measures overall and never again undertaking action that would cause the state attorney general to stop representing the state-owned fairgrounds.

Sending the report to the D.A. will help the O.C. Fair & Event Center “move on” from the sale attempt, said Director Nick Berardino, who last month accused those behind the sale of money laundering and failing to protect the board members. He was appointed to the Fair Board in 2011, after the sale.

The D.A.'s office, Berardino added, can use its subpoena power to pursue the missing information requested by the committee that the board cannot secure with its own authority.

“We’ve done it,” Berardino said. “What we have, we’ve got … there ain’t no more to get. Nobody’s going to be giving up anything at this thing, and I’m sure their attorneys are telling them not to.”

The Fair Board’s decision marks the second time the D.A.'s office has examined the fairgrounds sale. In October 2010, the D.A. exonerated the Fair Board of any wrongdoing.

In a 51-page report, the office said the Fair Board did not violate open-meeting laws or have any conflicts of interest.

Theresa Sears, a member of the Fair Sale Review Committee who testified during the Jan. 17 meeting, said in a phone interview from Vermont that she was glad to see the report go back to the D.A.

This time, she said, after news of Bell and exposed political corruption elsewhere, there may be more “pressure to actually do it right.”

“Hopefully, a young D.A. will get in there, sink their teeth into it, not be politically connected and do the right thing,” Sears said.


‘I know nothing of a check’

The committee’s work has not come without its critics, however.

Director David Ellis — who during the Jan. 17 board meeting called parts of the report “speculation,” conjecture” and overtly biased — said in lieu of advocating transparency, the Orange County Fairgrounds Preservation Society should also disclose its donor list, income and assets in a manner that the Fair Board does. The society has been an active proponent to keep the fairgrounds public.

Ellis said he saw documents produced by American Fairs and Festivals — an organization that includes Phil Teller, whose Tel Phil Enterprises firm runs the weekend swap meet at the fairgrounds — that indicated Sears was a “team member” in Tel Phil’s attempt to acquire the fairgrounds.

“I believe Theresa is an honest person with integrity, but if she had the promise of income, or any income from this sale process, in her relationship with Tel Phil, I think that should have been disclosed by this committee,” Ellis said.

He called on the board to “uncover these alleged crimes against humanity” for a person “potentially on the payroll of a firm that was trying to acquire — and I said potentially — trying to acquire the fairgrounds.”

Sears denied working for Tel Phil, saying that Ellis was “simply fabricating so that he can change the conversation.”

“I’d like to see a check that was ever given to me … I know nothing of a check,” she added. “I know nothing of payroll.”

Sears called Ellis a “weasel” and “the guy we should all be trying to shine the bright light on.”

“Dave Ellis just simply can’t tell the truth,” she added. “Period. And it’s gone on since he started the whole thing with trying to privatize the fairgrounds.”

Twitter: @bradleyzint