Fresno Developer accuses councilmember of pay-to-play, official denies allegations

KSEE24 News

FRESNO, Calif. (KSEE) – A Fresno developer has filed suit against a Fresno City Councilmember alleging he had to “pay-to-play”.

Tutelian & Company has announced that it is suing Councilmember Miguel Arias for around $12.5 million in damages.

In the last few months, Fresno City Hall has been in the spotlight after District Attorney Lisa Smittcamp opened a Brown Act investigation into City Hall and now this lawsuit.

Mayor Jerry Dyer would not comment on the legal matters but had a message to the public.

“I don’t think it is appropriate for the Mayor of this city to talk about some of those investigations or civil allegations that have been brought forward but I just want folks to know that regardless of whatever distractions come, whatever allegations are made, we are gonna continue to serve the public in the matter which they deserve.”

Smittcamp announced the Brown Act investigation regarding Granite Park.

The Brown Act requires all meetings of legislative bodies to be open to the public with few exemptions.

Then on September 17, Fresno Developer Cliff Tutelian filed this lawsuit for $12.5 million against Miguel Arias. Tutelian said back in 2018, his company entered into an Exclusive Negotiation Agreement regarding a parking lot on Fulton Street near CVS.

The city ended that agreement this year.

According to court documents, Tutelian accuses Arias of “soliciting a bribe and personal favors in exchange for approvals” and that Arias “demanded that the plaintiff ‘contribute’ $12,000 to his campaign”.

Under state law, the maximum contribution a business or individual can make is around $5,000. Arias would not go on camera but sent a statement to our station.

“I expected this baseless suit would be filed following the city’s rejection of Mr. Tutelian’s outrageous claims. In recent weeks, I have been approached by representatives of Mr. Tutelian who have sought to extort me by offering to have the claim withdrawn in exchange for the City’s sale of Parking Lot 2 to him without a public bid process. No amount of baseless attacks or threats will convince me to give anyone the right to develop someone else’s private property without the owners consent or sell public assets without a public and transparent bidding process as required by law and city policy. I am confident the legal process will confirm the city’s decision was appropriate. ”- Councilmember Miguel Arias

Legal Analyst Charles Magill said developers who make pay-to-play allegations have two options, one of them being turning over the case to law enforcement.

“That is not the way he is going,” said Magill. “So, my suspicion is that this is more of a political thing and that he is trying to pressure that city councilman to do what he wants him to do by alleging he has done, misdeeds or something that is inappropriate.”

The case will go before a judge in January.

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