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Witness deposition backs claims of fairgrounds' bid-rigging
Talley Amusements claims it was the original winner of a midway contract for the 2021 San Diego County Fair before the scores were changed to favor another operator. The fair was later canceled due to COVID-19. Courtesy photo
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Fairgrounds executive admits to changing midway applicants’ scores

DEL MAR — Last week, the transcript of a third deposition was released that corroborates claims that Del Mar Fairgrounds CEO Carlene Moore had twice fraudulently changed applicants’ scores during the bid process to ensure Ray Cammack Shows received the midway contract for last year’s county fair, which was later canceled due to the COVID-19 pandemic.

The latest testimony in a lawsuit against the fairgrounds alleging corruption, favoritism and bid-rigging comes from Melinda Carmichael, chief administrative officer for the Del Mar Fairgrounds, who was subpoenaed on Feb. 11 and admitted to changing midway applicants’ scores after speaking with Moore during the application process.

In her statement, Carmichael confirms she was an evaluator in the scoring process for the midway contract, which the 22nd District Agricultural Association awarded to Ray Cammack Shows, or RCS, for the previous summer’s fair.

John Moot is the attorney representing Talley Amusements, a Texas-based carnival midway operator claiming it was the original winner of the contract before the scores were changed to ensure Ray Cammack Shows won the contract bid.

When Moot asked Carmichael if she changed her scores after a conversation with Jean Flournoy, who was overseeing the competition for the contract, she said, “Yes.”

“As I recall, I came across Carlene, stopped by her office for something and I saw her scoring the scoresheets, and I said probably something jokingly, ‘You’re still scoring that?’ And she goes, ‘Yeah, I’m taking another look at a few things.’ And I said, ‘Oh, we can go back and take another look?’ And she said, ‘Sure, if you want to.’ And I said, ‘Okay, I think I will,’” Carmichael said.

Carmichael then confirms that she took the scoresheets back into her office and changed the scores.

“Whatever was changed, I do remember it was very minor. My main emphasis on getting it back was to review the materials and make sure that I had the most appropriate scores,” Carmichael said.

In her testimony, Carmichael maintains that she changed the scores to “ensure that [she] was scoring to the best of [her] ability,” and that she wasn’t aware that after the RFP (request for proposals) was opened, the 22nd DAA was required to divulge publicly all information relating to the RFP and its scoring.

She also testifies that she shredded the previous scoresheets after changing the scores.

Ryan Knoll, attorney for the 22nd District Agricultural Association, issued a response on behalf of his client to Carmichael’s admission to changing the scores and disposing of the scorecard.

“In her deposition testimony, Ms. Carmichael made it clear she stands by her evaluation of the Talley Amusements proposal and that Carlene Moore did not tell her to change her score or even suggest that she do so,” the statement reads. “Furthermore, she testified that concerns about Talley’s ability to operate the fair safely in the midst of the COVID-19 pandemic, and Talley Amusements’ attempt to subvert RFP 20-05’s requirement that proposers supply references from three separate fair organizations, prompted her to score its proposal with less confidence than RCS’s proposal. The RCS proposal received significantly higher technical, including safety, scores than the Talley Amusements bid.”

Carmichael also confirms in her testimony that Moore promoted her to her current role as a chief administrative officer in Oct. 2021, soon after the scoring process. The promotion included a roughly 10% salary increase.

“It’s amazing that after admitting changing the score to make the loser of an $80 million contract the winner and then shredding the evidence that she would get promoted to the number 2 position at the 22nd DAA, Moot said. “Why would the board condone such conduct by awarding the contract to RCS who they know did not actually win the bid?”

Carmichael was also previously named in testimony by Michael Ceragioli, a retired fairgrounds administrator, and Flourney. Ceragioli said he heard Moore ask for Carmichael’s scoring sheet, and tell Flournoy, “We might have to change her score.”

Ceragioli said that Carmichael’s scores were then changed a second time with Ray Cammack Shows coming out as the winner.

Flourney’s testimony also confirmed that the scores were changed to award the contract to RCS and that Carmichael was directly involved in that process.

But in a statement to The Coast News, the 22nd DAA noted “it is important to remember that no one won RFP 20-05, and no one lost RFP 20-05. The contract was never awarded to anyone because COVID-19 forced the cancellation of the fair.”

CORRECTION: This article incorrectly stated the midway contract at dispute in legal filings was awarded to RCS for this year’s San Diego County Fair. However, the contract was for last year’s (2021) county fair. We sincerely regret the error.  

UPDATE: This article has been updated to include statements from the 22nd DAA.