DEL MAR — The 22nd District Agricultural Association awarded a midway contract on Monday for this year’s county fair to Ray Cammack Shows just days after a former fairgrounds contracts manager testified that CEO Carlene Moore had twice fraudulently changed applicants’ scores during a previous bid process.
Due to the alleged change of scores during last year’s bid selection proceedings, Talley Amusements, a Texas-based carnival operator expected to win the midway contract, lost to Ray Cammack Shows, or RCS.
Michael Ceragioli, a retired fairgrounds administrator, was subpoenaed on Jan. 27 for a deposition in an ongoing lawsuit filed by Talley Amusements against the fairgrounds over allegations of corruption, favoritism and bid-rigging. In his testimony under oath, Ceragioli testified that after completing the bid’s technical and financial scores, Talley Amusements had actually won the bid, not RCS.
Ceragioli detailed the process in which Jean Flournoy, who worked for the 22nd DAA for 26 years, calculated the scores and determined Talley had won the contract Ceragioli said he double-checked the scores and also determined Talley was the winner.
Ceragioli said he went into Moore’s office to inform her of the final results and Moore allegedly told him: “I need to go back and talk to everybody. We might have to change some score.”
Ceragioli then described overhearing a process in which the score sheet was changed, but Talley still emerged as the winner. Then, the score sheet was changed again, and this time, RCS was the winner by “not even a whole point,” according to Ceragioli.
Ceragioli also testified that Moore told him not to tell his direct supervisor Mike Sadegh, director of finance for the fairgrounds.
John Moot, attorney representing Talley Amusements, detailed the findings of both depositions in a Jan. 31 letter to G. Joyce Rowland, president of the 22nd DAA. Attached to the letter was a transcript of Ceragioli’s testimony, which Moot arranged to be read aloud by a handful of public speakers during the public comment portion of the board’s special meeting Monday.
The transcript of the second deposition given by Flournoy will be released Tuesday, according to Moot, which corroborated Ceragioli’s claims that the scores were changed, according to Moot’s letter.
The 22nd DAA was originally set to award the midway contract to RCS at its regularly scheduled board meeting on Feb. 8 but later changed the date to Jan. 31.
Claims of bid-rigging
Over the past few years, the 22nd DAA has attempted to transform the fair from consisting of dozens of independent contracts with a variety of food, ride and game operators, to a single midway operator responsible for the entire event.
But the transition process has drawn accusations of favoritism and bid-rigging from carnival operator Talley Amusements, who have unsuccessfully bid to operate the county fair.
In Dec. 2020, the DAA solicited bids for a master carnival operator. The request was for a five-year contract for 100% of the games, rides, and food concessions worth approximately $80 million. RCS and Talley Amusements were the only two companies that submitted proposals.
Despite the fact that Talley Amusements’ proposal was worth approximately $9.5 million more than the RCS proposal, RCS ended up scoring 0.17 higher than Talley Amusements, winning the contract. Talley alleged that this 0.17 difference was accomplished by the DAA “rounding up the RCS financial score.”
Talley Amusements formally protested the decision last March. Shortly after, the DAA canceled the bid in the wake of a decision not to hold the fair in its full capacity due to COVID-19 concerns.
In August, a few days after Talley filed its lawsuit against the fairgrounds, the 22nd DAA released another request for proposals for a master carnival operator, maintaining that the new bidding process was unrelated to the lawsuit.
Moot said the new proposal process included stricter requirements that were not in the previous bid, which subsequently excluded Talley Amusements.
For example, the former proposal process required bidders to have been master operators at any three fairs in the U.S. with an attendance of 500,000 or more between 2017 and 2019, including the same fair over three successive years.
Under the new proposal, bidders are required to have been a master operator at three separate fairs, each with an attendance of 1 million or more. RCS is the only bidder in the country to meet these requirements.
Lawsuit and beyond
In light of the new testimonies, Moot requested, in his letter, that the DAA take actions that include suspending Moore and put her on administrative leave pending disciplinary action; hire an outside attorney to take over the legal duties of the DAA, and request an investigation from the attorney general’s office or another party into whether there are any “financial or personal connections between Carlene Moore and RCS that exist that might explain why she did what the two former employees testified to.”
Talley Amusements’ previous two requests for temporary restraining orders were both denied by a judge. However, according to Moot, they will make a motion for reconsideration based on the new testimonies and the fact that the proposal was officially awarded to RCS.
“It’s currently not in the best interest of the public… the reason we have a competitive bid against to protect the public from fraud, waste and abuse and to ensure that an $80 million contract like this is only awarded through a competitive bidding process,” Moot said.
The 22nd DAA sent a statement to The Coast News regarding the lawsuit and Talley’s claims, which reads in part:
“During the meeting, there were several choreographed public comments on a prior RFP process in 2021, which was canceled due to Covid-19, a point the court has made in two separate rulings. These comments were part of a series of failed attempts by plaintiffs in an active lawsuit against the 22nd DAA to obstruct the awarding of an operator contract for this year’s fair.
“There is a lot still to come in this litigation and much of it will reflect a different perspective on this matter. After two years of Covid-19 cancellations, we look forward to welcoming back the 1.5 million patrons of the San Diego County Fair this summer.”
Moot said that Talley Amusements is moving forward with the lawsuit.