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El Paso city council members vote to further investigate 2022 fuel card misuse

Claudia Rodriguez and Cassandra Hernandez
Claudia Rodriguez and Cassandra Hernandez
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A "fuel card use" review provided by the El Paso Internal Audit Office revealed "high use" for gas cards issued to a current city representative and a former city representative.

On Thursday, a special meeting was held to discuss city council's and the city manger's office fuel card use for 2022.

Some of the findings revealed transactions made while a city representative was out of town and in other instances, the gas card being used outside of El Paso.

Edmund Calderon, chief internal auditor, revealed that a representative's gas card was used to purchase 4 gallons of fuel and in a separate purchase, 5 gallons of fuel that were pumped into a gas can, which could have been possibly for an ATV.

Another transaction that stood out was when a representative's gas card was used to purchase fuel at night and used again the next morning.

The report listed the gas card for representative Cassandra Hernandez was used during city council meetings held on July 6, 2022 at 12:24 p.m., July 19, 2022 at 4:38 p.m., November 22, 2022 at 12:05 p.m. and Jan. 3 2023 at 5:12 p.m.

Hernandez's gas card was also reportedly used twice while she was in Vancouver, Canada attending the International downtown Association conference.

The findings included fuel card usage for former city representative, Claudia Rodriguez, who represented district 6.

Rodriguez's gas card was reportedly used twice in Van Horn, Texas.

Calderon told city council members he had brought a 2020 transaction made in Pecos, Texas to Rodriguez. Rodriguez told Calderon she used the wrong card. Calderon said he advised Rodriguez and shed told him she would never do it again.

Following that conversation, Calderon said Rodriguez's gas card was use twice, out of town, in separate occasions. Calderon said once in July 2021 in Carlsbad, New Mexico and in Fort Stockton, Texas in July 2021.

The findings were provided to an El Paso police detective who conducted a criminal investigation, which was later closed when no criminal acts were found.

Mayor Oscar Leeser asked Calderon, "No one has asked you to change or alter or do anything different in your report found?"

Calderon said, "No sir, I won't allow it. I am the independent auditor, sir. I take what I do very seriously."

"Do you believe that you were ever pressured or felt that someone was trying to intimidate you, at any point" asked Leeser.

"I rather not answer, Mayor," Calderon said. "Anyone from council," asked Leeser again. "I rather not answer," Calderon said.

Timeline for the Fuel card Review:

  • October 2022: members of Financial Oversight and Audit Committee (FOAC) met
  • November 2022: Edmund Calderon, chief internal auditor, received call from hotline about a tip that Rodriguez had used her fuel card to fuel automobiles used in her campaign
  • December 2022: Tip prompted investigation. In January 2023, a request was made to review Alon statements. *City of El Paso partnered with 7 Eleven to use the Alon pumps since August 2019.
  • March 6: meeting with new FOAC members, which Brian Kennedy is the new chair. Meeting with Kennedy and Calderon occurred. Calderon told Kennedy he was looking into allegation of misuse of fuel card in District 6 for Rodriguez
  • March 20: Auditor met with El Paso police chief Peter Pacillas to get video to see who was using the gas pumps and how far back footage could be obtained.
  • April 4: Calderon met with assistant police chief Humberto Talamantes to see if video could be obtained
  • April 6: Calderon met with a police detective. Both looked over data on gas purchases. Rodriguez was identified as using "high use" but Hernandez's gas card use was "higher" than others in 2022, which was "concerning." Video obtained by a police detective. The detective discussed with his commander and assistant chief and eventually with the police chief. The police chief requested to launch a criminal investigation. City attorney, Karla Nieman and city manager, Tommy Gonnzalez, were notified.
  • April 18: police closed case after it was determined that nothing criminal occurred.
  • May 1: Calderon published report

Reports shows gas purchases for every council member in 2022 was reviewed, including Mayor's Office

  • District 1 - no purchase
  • District 2: 707 gallons
  • District 3: 1,943 gallons
  • District 4: 224 gallons
  • District 5: 426 gallons
  • District 6: 1,458 gallons
  • District 7: no purchases
  • District 8: 278 gallons
  • Mayor's Office: 325 gallons

City of El Paso's Commercial Fuel Card Policy & Use Procedures (ALON) Policy was reviewed.

*The policy was put into place in July 2021 and revised in June 2022

  • Section 1: Policy Purpose states "Each fuel card will be assigned to a specific City vehicle and city employee and is to be used exclusively for that vehicle by that employee for official City business.
  • Section 3: Fuel Card Purpose states "Fuel cards will be restricted to purchase fuel for the city vehicle to which they are assigned. A fuel card is not to be used for personal vehicles. Other city vehicles for which the card is not assigned, or rental vehicles."
  • Section 4: Procedures; requires "a Statement of Understanding acknowledging the understanding of this policy, and the sanctions for misuse, must be signed and kept in a file by a department's card administrator for each individual utilizing a card."
  • Section 4: Procedures: states "The card is never to be used for non-fuel, personal, non-City related purchases and/or securing of goods or services."
  • Section 7; Documenting Purchases; "Commercial Fuel Card User Departments are encouraged to maintain a log of fuel purchases and receipts.
  • Section 8: Mileage Entry; states "Drivers of City of El Paso vehicles are required to enter the correct odometer reading at the time of fuel purchase when prompted."
  • Section 16: Sanctions states "Employees having been investigated and found to have violated this policy will be disciplined in accordance with the City of El Paso's Personnel Policy and/or any applicable collective bargaining agreement. Users suspected of possible fraudulent use, misuse, or abuse of the fuel card shall have their PIN suspended."

Deficiencies identified by El Paso Internal Audit Office:

  • 1. The Policy does not address the use of the Commercial Fuel Card by Members of the City Council. Also, the Policy does not provide guidance on the use of the Commercial Fuel Card on
  • Privately Owned Vehicles (POV) used by Members of the City Council.
  • 2. The current policy does not require the use of the Department Record of Fuel Purchases Log. It is only "encouraged" to use the Department Record of Fuel Purchases Log under Section 7.
  • 3. Current odometer readings are not consistently entered when prompted at the time of purchase.
  • 4. Also, the required Statement of Understanding acknowledging the understanding of this policy could not be located for each Member of the City Council for Calendar Year 2022. In April 2023, the Streets and Maintenance Department began distributing new Fuel Cards and is attempting to obtain a Statement of Understanding from each Member of the City Council.
  • 5. The log used to document the delivery of the Fuel Cards to each individual City Council District is not signed by Members of the City Council. It is signed by either a Staff Member of the specific District or a member of the City Manager's Staff.

Recommendation made by El Paso Internal Audit Office:

The City of El Paso should create a program of offering Members of the City Council a Vehicle Allowance instead of providing a Commercial Fuel Card. This would limit the use of large amounts of fuel by Members of the City Council. The City of El Paso currently has a program of paying Executives a monthly Vehicle Allowance for using their POV for conducting City business. A similar program should be created for Members of the City Council.

Require the use of the "Log of Fuel Purchases" instead of only encouraging the use of the log as listed in Section 7 in the Commercial Fuel Policy.

The City of El Paso's Commercial Fuel Policy & Use Procedure (ALON) should be revised to require users of the Commercial Fuel Card to enter their Mileage at the time of purchase when prompted.

Calderon also recommended a statement of understanding for every employee who is issued or uses a commercial fuel card, which include the El Paso police and fire department personnel.

Public comment was heard around noon.

In a 6 to 1 vote, council voted to direct outside council to give options for an independent investigator to conduct and investigation and for the the internal auditor to complete his report to include previous years and the current year.

Hernandez voted against it.

"There's City Council voted right now to have an independent investigator to investigate everything at the work of the auditor and there’s been some allegations the city Council the mayor the auditor the FOAC that they have not done their jobs. So we want to make sure we give everything due process in hiring an investigator," Leeser said.

Lesser explained they’re asking an attorney to hire the investigator.

He stressed they will be 100 percent independent and unrelated to anyone on council or working with the city.

No timeline for when that investigation will begin or be complete.

RECOMMENDED: Review finds 'significant fuel usage' by 2 El Paso City Council members on taxpayers' dime

RECOMMENDED: Auditor recommends city change gas card policy after 2 reps accused of excessive spending

RECOMMENDED: Rep. Hernandez to pay city over $6K after review finds excessive fuel spending

RECOMMENDED: City Representative Cassandra Hernandez gives away gas cards on social media

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