El Paso City Council votes to have outside counsel search for independent investigator to look into purchasing and gas card audit findings
EL PASO, Texas (KVIA) -- The El Paso City Council voted Thursday to have outside counsel look for an independent investigator in the wake of a city audit that found irregular use of taxpayer-funded gas and purchasing cards.
The process appears to add at least two layers of separation between council, city employees, and the investigation.
"There's been some allegations that the city council, the mayor or the auditor, the (Financial Oversight Advisory Committee) had really not done their job," Mayor Oscar Leeser told ABC-7. "So, we want to make sure that we give everything due process and hire an independent investigator to investigate."
The vote was 6-1, with City Representative Cassandra Hernandez voting no. District 5 Representative Isabel Salcido was not present for Thursday's special meeting.
Hernandez was singled out by the review conducted by the city's Chief Internal Auditor, Edmundo Calderon, as having purchased by far more gas than anyone else on the council, close to $6,700 in 2022. The audit claims to have found Hernandez's gas card was used to fill up vehicles on consecutive days on several occasions, it may have been used on more than two vehicles, and even while she was attending city council meetings or at a conference in Vancouver.
The audit also claims to have found high usage by former City Rep. Claudia Rodriguez, to include two gas purchases outside of El Paso.
ABC-7 reached out to both Hernandez and Rodriguez after the council's vote. Hernandez did not answer. Rodriguez declined to comment.
Auditor Calderon told council he had referred the case to El Paso Police. Calderon said detectives had reviewed convenience store videos during the times when Hernandez's card was used. He relayed police told him the video was often too grainy to effectively identify even the gender of the person filling up, but according to the police report released Thursday, officers described occasionally seeing a male person filling up a truck. The report states that description matches that of Rep. Hernandez's husband and his vehicle.
Police, along with the District Attorney's office, found that no crime was committed.
Hernandez has denied any wrongdoing and claims to have already paid back the $6,700.
The audit also found the city's policy for gas and purchasing cards is deficient, and proposed changes to include discontinuing the gas cards and offering a stipend to elected officials instead.
You can read ABC-7's entire timeline of the city audit and subsequent investigation here.