BAKERSFIELD – The Kern County District Attorney’s office has filed criminal charges against the Kern County Fair’s former maintenance supervisor for the alleged theft of nearly 24 tons of scrap material over a two year period.
D.A. Cynthia Zimmer announced Wednesday that her office has filed charges against William Joseph Hebert, the former maintenance supervisor for the 15th District Agriculture Association, as the Fair is formally known. Hebert has been charged with three counts of felony grand theft.
In a related matter, the D.A. said charges would not be filed regarding Fair board members’ dinners that an audit found exceeded the state reimbursement rate. The D.A.’s investigation determined the board members believed they could budget a set amount for meals while traveling on Fair business based on advice they had received from a Deputy Attorney General tasked with advising the board on such matters.
“There were no criminal charges filed against the board of directors of the fair,” Zimmer told 17 News. “There were some accusations against them regarding extravagant spending. However, that was not any thing that was criminal in nature and the board members were acting upon the advice of the California Attorney General’s Office on how they are to travel and spend, and they have repaid that.”
Zimmer said there was no intent to steal from the fair on the part of board members. She said they now understand what their obligation is regarding travel and meals.
“I shouldn’t think that there is anything about this case that would cause the public to lose trust in the Kern County Fair,” she said.
The grand theft charges against Hebert, according to the D.A., are the product of an extensive investigation conducted by the District Attorney’s Public Integrity Unit after allegations of potential criminal misconduct were revealed in a state audit.
The charges relate to Herbert’s alleged involvement in obtaining scrap material from the fairgrounds, arranging for the material to be turned into recycling facilities either personally or through others, and not returning the proceeds of the recycled material to the Fair.
A total of 47,290 pounds of material was recycled between July 2017 and June 2019. In August 2019, the state auditor flagged the issue.
Zimmer said the information provided by the state auditor was limited and didn’t contain details supporting its findings. She said the state auditor refused to provide specific details, saying they were exempt under the state’s Whistleblower Protection Act.
“It was disappointing to learn that the state auditor had indications of potential criminal wrongdoing, investigated them, but declined to share complete evidence with the District Attorney’s office,” Zimmer said. “Even so, our public integrity investigators conducted a thorough investigation into areas highlighted in the audit.”
The fair board in a news release Wednesday thanked the District Attorney’s office for looking into the alleged misconduct and said it cooperated with DA investigators.
“The Kern County Fair Board of Directors and CEO are making every effort to prevent similar incidents from happening in the future,” the release said.