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Criminal complaints filed against Mayor Margo alleging misuse of public funds

El Paso businessman and former mayoral candidate David Saucedo has filed a criminal complaint against Mayor Dee Margo alleging misuse of public funds, according to documents obtained by ABC-7.

The complaint alleges Margo did not have the authority to negotiate the separation agreement with former city attorney Sylvia Borunda Firth. Saucedo filed the complaints with his attorneys at Vielledent & Associates, PLLC.

The complaints were sent to the Texas Attorney General’s office, the Texas Rangers, the district attorney, the county attorney and the El Paso County Sheriff’s Office.

“The mayor promised good governance, and the fact that we don’t know what happened with the city attorney, whether it was a resignation, a retirement, what have you, you can’t have it both ways,” Saucedo said.

Margo sent this statement to ABC-7 in response:

“I am confident that David’s accusations are baseless and it’s apparent he is trying to position himself to run for office. He has limited business and governance experience, especially having been fined and disciplined by the TX Ethics Commission for campaign violations last year. In all candor, he should be ashamed of himself for his lack of character, integrity, and his lack of leadership with the Boys & Girls Club. El Paso needs young strong Hispanic leaders to step forward and he is not fit to represent our community.”

The complaint alleges Margo “violated Section 3.07 of the City Charter by acting unilaterally in negotiating, coercing or otherwise causing the separation of the City Attorney.”

The complaint also alleges Margo violated the Texas Open Meetings Act by communicating with council members regarding public business outside of a meeting and without posting notice.

The complain goes on to state that Margo violated Article 3, Section 53 of the Texas Constitution by authorizing severance pay in the City Attorney’s separation agreement.

Saucedo lost the 2017 mayoral run-off election to Margo.

“Seeing this type of behavior, and again, my motivation was, if you’re not going to answer the questions of the media, you’re going to walk away from journalists, over and over again, that was the post you wanted. You take those questions and you answer those questions to the best of your ability. You don’t walk off,” Saucedo said. “We challenge him to walk off from anyone of those agencies.”

ABC-7 asked Saucedo if this was a publicity to stunt before he announces a potential run for office. He said he does not plan on running for mayor again, but didn’t rule out the possibility of running for another position in the future.


Firth’s Departure

Former city attorney Sylvia Borunda Firth originally announced her retirement back in April. The decision comes as the City of El Paso is in the middle of major litigation over the location of the proposed Downtown Multipurpose Performing Arts Center.

“Before practicing what I do for the city now, I have seven years of litigation experience. I’ve litigated cases with the city for many years. I’ve been involved in significant litigation for the city. It’s not a problem,” Nieman said.

A draft of a news release obtained by the ABC-7 I-Team dated April 26th, is titled “Sylvia Borunda Firth resigns as city attorney,” but the word ‘resigns’ is then crossed out in the final version and replaced with ‘retires.’

City Council has approved a separation agreement of more than $251,000.

ABC-7 obtained text messages, through the Public Information Act, between Mayor Dee Margo and two city representatives on April 26, the day the announcement was made.

ABC-7 spoke with representatives Michiel Noe and Cassandra Hernandez about the exchanges. Both confirmed the conversations they had with the mayor. One exchange shows the mayor wanted the public to believe the city attorney had retired.

On April 26, before city officials made the official announcement that city attorney Sylvia Borunda-Firth was retiring, the news had already leaked out.

ABC-7 called all city representatives trying to confirm the news. Rep. Noe said he had not heard the news, but would make a call.

Instead, Noe texted the mayor asking “Did Sylvia quit?” The mayor responded “In process. No comment to media till agreement signed. We’ll put out press.”

On the same day Rep. Cassandra Hernandez sent the mayor a text which read “I think we should call a special meeting regarding this. I want to see any agreements related to what I am hearing and vote on the issue. Any action should come to council.”

The mayor texted back “Agreement coincides with her contract and simply pays what she is contractually owed. Had outside counsel review. I’m signing today.”

Later that night, the mayor sent another text to Hernandez which read “Public perception will be retires. no disparagement.”

ABC-7 asked Margo if he had the authority to sign and notarize Borunda Firth’s separation agreement without getting council approval.

“Council voted on it, we had an agreement and council voted on it,” Margo said.

When ABC-7 asked Margo again if he felt he had the authority to sign the agreement, even before some members of City Council knew of her departure Margo said: “that was to provide council with the ability to vote on it.”

ABC-7 asked Margo a third time if he had the power to do that as mayor, Margo began to walk away. As he walked away, Margo responded: “city council has the authority.”

On May 24, the ABC-7 I-Team obtained an email sent from City Attorney Sylvia Borunda Firth apologizing to council members about not informing them of a personal issue tied to an agenda item.

In the email, Borunda Firth apologized to City Council members for not informing them that her husband was representing a company that was seeking incentives for real estate. Borunda Firth’s husband, attorney Victor Firth, and his partners were seeking incentive to renovate a vacant building on Montana Avenue.

The email said that she would excuse herself from the meeting when discussion started on the items. She alleged that she properly shielded herself from any involvement with the legal work related to the requests made by her husband and his partners.

It’s unclear if this was the catalyst for the city attorney’s departure, which still remains a mystery. Margo said it became clear that a change needed to be made after Borunda Firth’s latest evaluation. The ABC-7 I-Team obtained her latest evaluation, where she received a 3-out-of-5 evaluation. The City praised her management skills but saw areas for improvement.

The evaluation stated: “[Borunda Firth] provides legal interpretation, but also adds her personal opinion, which appears to be leading the recommendations to council instead of the advice being factual and based on case law or legal opinions. ”

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