FRESNO, Calif. (KSEE/KGPE) – The theft of $400,000 from the City of Fresno in a phishing scam was kept secret at the request of the FBI, according to Mayor Jerry Dyer.
The mayor spoke on Wednesday following the revelation that $400,000 of public funds were stolen in mid-2020. According to Dyer, city officials thought they were processing a payment to the contractor building Fresno’s new southeast district police station — but the invoice instead contained the account details for the scammers.
The disclosure that $400,000 was stolen from the City of Fresno was made Wednesday following an investigative report by local newspaper the Fresno Bee. Dyer says the money was sent by a city official following the receipt of the fraudulent invoice — described as almost identical to the invoice issued by the contractor working on the police substation.
“The difference was a different bank number which was not known at the time. So a payment was made to this particular thought-to-be-contractor,” said Dyer.
Once it was established that a wire fraud had taken place, Dyer says the Fresno Police Department was made aware. Officers notified the FBI of the incident, and federal investigators informed Fresno Police officers that the City of Fresno was not the only victim of this scam. The investigation was then taken over by the FBI.
“At that time they did ask that the City of Fresno not make this information public because it would compromise their investigation,” said Dyer.
Dyer explained that he was made aware of the phishing scam and the $400,000 lost in November 2020, shortly before he was sworn in as mayor in January 2021. In his first week of office, Dyer informed the members of Fresno City Council in a closed session about the incident and reaffirmed that the information not be made public.
Dyer says he is speaking openly about the incident following the leak of this information.
“The reason was because an email was provided to the Fresno Bee that talked about this theft, this wire fraud.”
Dyer does not know if the leak will jeopardize the ongoing investigation.
“I do know at times that when an ongoing investigation occurs and things of this nature are made public, that the people who are conducting the wire frauds shut their systems down,” said Dyer.
Dyer says there was no effort by the previous administration of Mayor Lee Brand to cover up the incident, adding that there are steps in place to ensure that the City does not fall victim to a similar scam in the future.
“Once we learned of what occurred, how it occurred, we took steps, the city manager took steps with our controller’s office to make sure there was an extensive verification process in place prior to any payments being authorized,” said Dyer. “That is, multiple people looking at the invoice, comparing past account numbers, bank accounts if there is any suspicion to reach out to the contractor.”
Dyer apologized to the citizens of Fresno for the loss of the money and added that there was no intent by city officials to lose the money. The person responsible for sending the funds to the scammers has been spoken to about the incident.
“That matter was dealt with at a personnel level, I can assure you of that,” said Dyer. “Shortly after I became mayor of this city — and as did the necessary steps being taken to prevent this occurring again in the future.”
Of the $400,000 stolen in this phishing scam, approximately $1,600 has been recovered.