Arias Tells State’s Political Watchdog He Paid for Private Flight. Probe Continues. - GV Wire - Explore. Explain. Expose
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Arias Tells State’s Political Watchdog He Paid for Private Flight. Probe Continues.

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Fresno City Councilmember Miguel Arias, seen here at a Feb. 2023 event, is the subject of state Fair Political Practices Commission scrutiny. (GV Wire/David Rodriguez)
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Fresno City Councilmember Miguel Arias has provided the state’s political watchdog with records showing he paid for a private flight connected to a trash hauler with a pending city contract.

However, the state Fair Political Practices Commission says it has not wrapped up its investigation into the matter.

The incident led to an anonymous complaint on Oct. 25 to the state agency charged with monitoring campaign finance rules and ethics. The FPPC sent Arias an update on Dec. 11 about its “commission-initiated investigation regarding your potential violations of the conflict of interest and the statement of economic interest provisions of the Political Reform Act.”

“At this time, we have not made any determination about the possible violations. We are simply providing you with this information as a courtesy and may be contacting you to discuss the matter,” wrote James Lindsay, chief of the enforcement division.

The FPPC provided GV Wire with a 241-page document detailing its correspondence with Arias.

The initial complaint alleged that Arias “took a free flight from Joe Kalpakoff” (president of Mid Valley Disposal) from Las Vegas to Fresno in March 2023. The company had a contract on the city council agenda in September.

In his response to the FPPC, Arias wrote that he received an invoice for the flight on March 17, 2023, and paid $1,976.44 to the company, JJK Acquisitions, LLC, by August. Kalpakoff has ties to both JJK Acquisitions and Mid Valley Disposal.

Private airplane tracking data provided to GV Wire showed a plane registered to JJK Acquisitions flew from Fresno Yosemite International Airport to Harry Reid International in Las Vegas on March 17 at 10:30 a.m.; and returned to FYI a few hours later, landing at 2:04 p.m.

Questions remain about whether Arias violated campaign finance or ethics rules even though he did not attend the Sept. 14, 2023, council meeting. The council approved, 6-0, an amendment to a solid waste franchise agreement with Mid Valley Disposal and one other company. The contract allowed the companies to raise rates to comply with new state environmental regulations.

State laws would have forbidden Arias from voting on the matter because he accepted a gift from an affiliate of the company and did not pay it back promptly. However, there are also questions about whether Arias’s participation in city meetings before the vote violated the rules.

The maximum penalty from the FPPC is $5,000 per violation.

Arias declined to comment to GV Wire about the matter. Messages from GV Wire to the city of Fresno and Kalpakoff were not returned.

An invoice sent by JJK Acquisitions, LLC, to councilmember Miguel Arias for “travel expense.” (FPPC)

 

Arias Responds to FPPC Complaint

Arias responded to the FPPC in an email on Nov. 7 and  Nov. 10 with correspondence on city letterhead that included several attachments.

An email from Southwest Airlines showed Arias’s ticket to Las Vegas, leaving Fresno on March 15 and returning on March 18 for $258. He also included his credit card statement, showing the charge for the ticket.

Also included is an invoice from JJK Acquisitions, LLC — a company with state records showing Joseph Kalpakoff as the registered agent and sharing the same Kerman address as Mid Valley Disposal — sent to Arias on June 14, 2023. The amount billed is $1,976.44 for “travel expense” on March 17, 2023.

A check from Arias’ bank account shows repayment in August 2023 (the exact date is not readable). As to the delay in payment, Arias wrote that “the invoice was mistakenly mailed to my former campaign treasurer’s former address.”

Arias emailed Fresno City Council President Tyler Maxwell at 8:30 a.m. on Sept. 14, 30 minutes before the start of the meeting stating that he would miss the meeting because of a family medical appointment.

Maxwell announced at the start of the meeting that Arias had an excused absence.

A calendar for the week of the meeting showed Arias with a Sept. 12 meeting at 1 p.m. listed as “briefing/comm solid waste amendment & southwest services for organics.”

City Manager Georgeanne White previously told GV Wire about the meeting. She said several councilmembers met with public utilities staff.

Arias responded to the FPPC, writing “travel was fully paid for with my personal funds,” and “city staff developed the contracts in accordance with City charter and I did NOT vote to approve the contracts in question or attend that particular Council meeting.”

He wrote that the contracts were published on Sept. 8, 2023, and city staff briefed councilmembers. The contract approved on Sept. 14 did not have amendments or modifications.

Rules on Gifts, Reporting

The initial anonymous complaint also accused Arias of failing to properly report the flight.

Public officials are required to file statements of economic interest, known as Form 700, which cover finances — including gifts — for the prior year. The most recent Form 700 would not cover the period of the flight from Las Vegas. That would be due in 2024.

State law allows public officials to receive gifts of up to $590 yearly from a single source. Any more would require disqualification from voting on an issue involving that company. The gift can be exempt if it is paid back within 30 days.

Several ethics guides, including one authored by the League of California Cities, describe a gift of more than the allowable $590 to be a “financial interest.” Such a gift requires not voting on a matter, as well as refraining “from participating in a governmental decision.”

“No public official shall make, participate in making, or in any way attempt to use his or her position to influence a governmental decision if he or she knows or has reason to know that he or she has a financial interest in the decision,” the League guide says.

In his response to FPPC, Arias wrote “the return flight was not a gift nor in-kind as it was fully paid for by my personal funds. I did not attend and/or participate in the approval of the said contracts.”

Arias is running for Fresno County Supervisor District 3, with a March 5, 2024, primary. In his campaign financial documents covering the period of Jan. 1 through June 30, 2023, Arias never reported the payment for the flight — which could be considered a reportable campaign contribution.

FPPC would require the amount to be reported under “non-monetary contributions.”

Curiosity drives David Taub. The award-winning journalist might be shy, but feels mighty with a recorder in his hand. He doesn't see it his job to "hold public officials accountable," but does see it to provide readers (and voters) the information needed to make intelligent choices. Taub has been honored with several writing awards from the California News Publishers Association. He's just happy to have his stories read. Joining GV Wire in 2016, Taub covers politics, government and elections, mainly in the Fresno/Clovis area. He also writes columns about local eateries (Appetite for Fresno), pro wrestling (Off the Bottom Rope), and media (Media Man). Prior to joining the online news source, Taub worked as a radio producer for KMJ and PowerTalk 96.7 in Fresno. He also worked as an assignment editor for KCOY-TV in Santa Maria, California, and KSEE-TV in Fresno. He has also worked behind the scenes for several sports broadcasts, including the NCAA basketball tournament, and the Super Bowl. When not spending time with his family, Taub loves to officially score Fresno Grizzlies games. Growing up in the San Francisco Bay Area, Taub is a die-hard Giants and 49ers fan. He graduated from the University of Michigan with dual degrees in communications and political science. Go Blue! You can contact David at 559-492-4037 or at Send an Email