Candidate Ty Humes is seen in this screenshot of his Oct. 2, 2021, campaign video for the San Dieguito Union High School District board.

Ty Humes continues to defend his involvement in a fundraiser that skipped out on more than $25,000 worth of bills. 

But in doing so, the San Dieguito school board candidate has revealed additional fundraising debts — far more than previously known. 

Humes has offered an explanation for the 2017 event that was supposed to raise money for local kids but instead left multiple parties seeking payment: He said an unnamed “organizer” was responsible for the bills but hasn’t been heard from since. 

Humes also acknowledged an additional expense — dozens of suite tickets to the Breeders’ Cup, a prestigious horse-racing event held in Del Mar that year — wasn’t paid for, either.

Though he has campaigned by touting his tenure as the Del Mar Schools Education Foundation’s board president, inewsource found Humes led the fundraiser that racked up what possibly amounts to nearly $90,000 in bills. Along with the Breeders’ Cup tickets, an event caterer and a company that provided lighting and sound services still haven’t been paid.

Why this matters

Donors giving to charity should have confidence that their contributions are being spent as intended, but there are still several unanswered questions about a failed benefit for the Del Mar Schools Education Foundation and huge debts left in its wake.

There is no clear record of what happened to the donated money, despite Humes securing multiple event sponsors and offering tickets for as much as $70 apiece. He previously said the fundraiser, billed as a benefit for the foundation, was “a financial disaster” and failed to generate any proceeds.

Now, as he faces two opponents in his bid to rejoin the San Dieguito Union High School District board, Humes has released a statement with further explanation of the unsuccessful fundraiser. But his response, posted on his campaign website more than two months after inewsource investigated the fundraiser and his professional background, raises additional questions — and introduces new discrepancies. 

Humes now suggests the foundation was more involved than officials have acknowledged, claiming the nonprofit hired the outside organizer for the fundraiser.

But two records show otherwise: The foundation’s tax forms report that it didn’t hire anyone for fundraising services that year, and an email details a board member’s assertion that officials never authorized any expenses.

inewsource also obtained a payment agreement bearing Humes’ signature that stipulates he, “on behalf of the foundation,” would pay caterer Whisknladle Hospitality nearly $25,000 within a month of signing the deal. The document was dated Dec. 22, 2017, about two months after the fundraiser was held. Humes had denied entering into a contract for catering.

A payment agreement obtained by inewsource shows Humes’ signature and stipulates that he would pay Whisknladle nearly $25,000.

Humes initially indicated he would respond to inewsource’s questions about his statement. But by Friday morning, the statement had been removed from his site and replaced with a two-sentence explanation that it was “under revision for clarification.” 

He has not answered inewsource’s questions. You can read his original statement here.

As Humes maintains he’s not responsible for the bills, others won’t talk. The foundation, which collects about $1 million each year from families to help fund specialized curriculum at the Del Mar Union School District, continues to withhold any explanation.

Several donors told inewsource they’re concerned by the foundation’s silence.

“It looks like you’re not being transparent,” said Evan Sorem, whose four children have attended the district. “And that’s a big issue for anyone who wants to give money to benefit the kids in Del Mar because it impedes the confidence that they would have in making sure that money is going to be properly used.”

Humes has said he was still the foundation’s president when he began planning the 2017 fundraiser, part of Del Mar’s weeklong celebration ahead of hosting the Breeders’ Cup. He was no longer on the board by the time it was held.

Fact-checking Humes’ new claims

inewsource has found additional discrepancies in Humes’ latest statement, posted on his campaign website more than two months after we reported on his checkered professional history, including his controversial tenure at the foundation and companies that were out of compliance. 

Humes did not send his response to inewsource and has never sought any story corrections or retractions.

  • Humes dismissed reporting on his companies’ compliance issues, saying registration information had been updated. But Sercagen, a biotech company Humes claims to partly own, still isn’t a registered business in the city of San Diego, where he said it’s headquartered. Businesses must obtain tax certificates to operate within city limits.
  • Sercagen’s parent company, Theragene Pharmaceuticals, where Humes is now an equity partner, also doesn’t have a valid tax certificate and remains suspended by the Franchise Tax Board for missing tax returns. An agency spokesperson said Theragene also owes the state about $600. Suspended companies lose their right to do business in California.
  • Humes said he never handled ticket sales for the 2017 fundraiser. But as inewsource previously reported, he is listed as the creator on the website that handled the fundraiser’s online ticket purchases. Humes also is the contact person on a flyer promoting the event, which also directs guests to buy tickets online.

When the event faced low ticket sales, Humes said the outside organizer proposed buying 48 tickets to a Breeders’ Cup suite at a discounted price and selling them “to contacts in Los Angeles at face value of $1,250 each,” Humes said — a total of $60,000 that would cover catering and more.

When payment was due, he said, the organizer stopped returning calls.

“No one has heard from the man since,” Humes said. “The Breeder’s (sic) Cup is pursuing him personally for payment.”

Humes’ statement did not disclose how much the organizer was supposed to pay for the tickets, nor did it explain why the fundraiser would be covered by funding from a seemingly separate event.

A spokesperson for the Breeders’ Cup, which returns to Del Mar next month, declined to comment. The outside organizer who Humes blames for the bills didn’t respond to calls, emails or text messages. inewsource is not naming the accused event organizer.

inewsource was unable to find any court records showing legal action related to the fundraiser.

The San Dieguito Union High School District building is shown on July 2, 2021. (Zoë Meyers/inewsource)

Phoebe Gardiner Katsell, the foundation’s current president, also didn’t answer multiple inquiries. She previously said no one currently on the board served at the time of the fundraiser.

Foundation donors who spoke with inewsource called on the nonprofit to start giving answers. One of them cited the lack of information as part of their family’s decision to not give any money this year.

Another donor, Glenn Collins, said the foundation’s trust is at risk.

Collins, whose three children attended Del Mar schools, served as a foundation board member several years before the fundraiser was held. He said the nonprofit typically was only involved in basic events — think school carnivals, he said — and that “the money in and money out was pretty straightforward.”

“My first thought is why are these events being held at these kinds of places? What are the expenses all involved? How much money did the foundation get back from them?” Collins said. “And it seems to me from this story that it is all very not clear.”

Humes was appointed to a San Dieguito board vacancy in April, but was removed less than two months later after a petition drive led in part by the district’s faculty association forced a special election. The union had taken issue with the trustees’ appointment process.

One of the county’s highest-rated districts, San Dieguito taxpayers are expected to pay as much as $500,000 for the all-mail ballot election next month. The district already faced a $14 million budget deficit earlier this year.

inewsource intern Chloe Wynne contributed to this report.

Type of Content

News: Based on facts, either observed and verified directly by the reporter, or reported and verified from knowledgeable sources.

Jennifer Bowman serves as inewsource's Assistant Editor. Before that, she was an investigative reporter focusing on government accountability issues in southern San Diego and Imperial counties. She also used to cover education. She’s happy to be back in her hometown after stints at daily newspapers...