Monday, December 29, 2008

THE CREDIT CARD FRAUD AGAINST THE CITY OF BROWNSVILLE IS OUT OF CONTROL, WHY IS NO ACTION BEING TAKEN?

After much internal debate I am changing my approach to this story. I have submitted a very specific claim of alleged fraud to Pete Gonzales. My problem is, in an unrelated claim of theft my source after months of telling the same story over and over and over again, changed his story the other day. When I caught him changing an essential fact, he responded with "oh I forgot." My response was, "oh there is the door."

With that experience I am not comfortable with being too specific until Pete Gonzales completes his investigation. Basically, what I can say is, a city employee is claiming a supervisor told him to purchase specific items on a city credit card. This city employee claims that just days later he saw these items at the supervisor’s home.

Based on the story I was told, I was able to provide Pete Gonzales with the specific credit card used, the items purchased, and the month the items were purchased. I also provided the name of the supervisor. I made it clear to Pete Gonzales I was just relating a claim and had no proof to support the claim. Everything is alleged.

The bigger problem is, the city has no checks in place to prevent this from happening. Literally a supervisor could ask several subordinates to buy different items at different times which by themselves would alert no one. But when you put the items together, you have a red flag there is a problem.

I reject probably 95% of the anonymous claims I receive. In most cases there is something so stupid in the story you just know the story is either pure BS or near pure BS. It was like the case of City Manager Cabler leaving the scene of an accident drunk and then lowering his liability coverage. Cabler lowering his liability coverage would only have served to increase his personal exposure, so I knew the story was a lie - the BV refused to cover it. And secondly, no insurance company would make itself party to such a stupid scam.

Another story I rejected is the claim DA Villalobos embezzled $300,000.00 related to some computer system. You know what, when a check is made out to the DA for $300,000.00 for a computer system which never appears, someone is going to notice. The Villalobos case is particularly instructive of the bogus claims received at the BV because the source who refused to answer any questions assumed that because I cover Villalobos in a negative light, I would just report any piece of garbage which makes Villalobos look bad.

This story about credit card abuse within the City I found credible because the person was persistent, answered all of my questions, told me which department manager is the alleged thief, and which credit cards were used. He also provided me with dates. I reported all of this information to Pete Gonzales so that he could open an investigation.

Maybe, in the end the entire story as told to me is false. Maybe, in the end the story is real, but by chance, both the city and this supervisor bought the same items at the same time.

Pete Gonzales may be good at keeping the city bond rating at a respectable level, but given the endless claims of credit card abuse by city employees, and the check fiasco with Mayor Ahumada, it is clear Pete Gonzales gets an "F" when it comes to safeguarding the taxpayers’ money.

I would hope Pete Gonzales can prove to Brownsville that the story is 100% false. This is why I am not getting into specifics. If the supervisor is the victim of a vindictive employee, reporting the entire claim before Pete Gonzales can investigate would be a disservice to the supervisor.

In the past I have reported herein as an eyewitness seeing city employees buying office supplies at Office Depot and then selling them for a discount to their friends in the parking lot. City Manager Charlie Cabler has failed to address the many areas where fraud can occur. Since Mr. Cabler is unwilling to do his job, maybe it is time the City Commission bring in an independent auditor to look for fraud and ways to prevent fraud in the future. After the Ahumada check fiasco, can we really trust Cabler and Gonzales to protect our tax dollars?

I would think Mr. Ahumada being the alleged victim of the laxed policies in the Finance Department would be the first to demand accountability.

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