Fresno Named America’s Most Corrupt City, Again

Fresno, the fifth-largest city in California and the 34th largest in the US, has been identified as the most corrupt city in the country for the second consecutive year, as per a report from the University of Illinois at Chicago. The report, examining federal corruption convictions from 1976 to 2020, revealed that Fresno recorded 1,810 convictions, the highest among the 75 largest US cities. Chicago, the largest city in Illinois and the third largest in the US, also earned the dubious distinction of being the most corrupt city, with over 1,700 convictions during the same period.

Origins of Corruption

The report attributes Fresno’s elevated corruption levels to several factors, including its extensive history of racial discrimination, political patronage, and a lack of transparency and accountability. Established in 1872 by the Central Pacific Railroad Company, Fresno witnessed the mistreatment of Chinese laborers who faced discrimination and violence from white settlers. Discriminatory laws and ordinances targeted various ethnic groups, including Armenians, Japanese, Mexicans, and African Americans, reinforcing exclusion and oppression by the dominant white majority.

Fresno’s political landscape was further influenced by powerful interest groups such as the railroad, water, and agriculture industries, which exerted control over the city’s economy and resources. These groups often manipulated elections, policies, and contracts in their favor, fostering a culture of corruption and nepotism that endures to this day. The city’s government has also faced criticism for its lack of transparency and accountability, with many decisions made privately, without public input or oversight.

Ongoing Investigation

The federal authorities have taken notice of Fresno’s corruption issues, launching a comprehensive investigation into Fresno City Hall’s activities since 2018. The ongoing probe focuses on three main areas: the nonprofit managing the city-owned Granite Park, the city’s procurement of personal protective equipment (PPE) for the COVID-19 pandemic, and a downtown development project’s land deal.

The Central Valley Community Sports Foundation, led by developer Terance Frazier, is under scrutiny for alleged “deficient to nonexistent” internal accounting controls and questionable transactions, including a $50,000 transfer from a company operated by former Rep. TJ Cox, the foundation’s treasurer until 2019.

Suspicions surround the city’s PPE purchase, where over $4 million was spent on masks, gloves, and gowns from PPE Solutions, a company with no prior medical supply experience. The company, owned by a friend of Fresno Mayor Jerry Dyer, reportedly resulted in a $500,000 kickback.

The land deal involves The Row, a downtown development proposed by developer Cliff Tutelian. Tutelian claims discrimination and bribery by a Fresno City Council member, filing a government claim seeking $10 million in damages. The claim triggered accusations of corruption and misconduct among council members.

Fresno’s Future

Fresno’s corruption scandal has damaged the city’s reputation and eroded trust, exposing systemic issues in its political and social fabric. The city grapples with challenges like poverty, crime, homelessness, and environmental concerns, requiring honest and effective leadership. While the federal probe may bring some justice and accountability, a deeper transformation is needed in policies, institutions, values, and attitudes for Fresno to become a more inclusive, transparent, and democratic city.

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