EL PASO, Texas — The company overseeing the Downtown streetcar project left a voice message inquiring about a missed payment with a city employee who had retired months prior, possibly delaying the discovery of a $2.9 million “phishing” scam.
The El Paso Times (http://bit.ly/2jIq45c ) reports the city in December released emails that showed that a representative of the lead contractor on the streetcar project, Paso del Norte Trackworks, had contacted the executive director of the Camino Real Regional Mobility Authority, Raymond Telles, and an unidentified city employee in September about a missing $2.9 million payment.
City officials have criticized Telles for not notifying the city of the missing payment, but have been mum about their own employee.
But on Tuesday, the city issued a statement that briefly said that the city employee had retired in July, two months before the trolley contractor left a message about the missing payment. City officials declined to answer any question from the El Paso Times about the revelation, including when the city discovered the message and whether the city had policies for tracking voicemail or email messages sent to departed employees.
The main purpose of the city’s news release appeared to be to repeat officials’ claims that Telles had failed to notify city staff after learning about the missing payment. Mobility authority officials have disputed that.
The city and the mobility authority learned in early October that the payment went to a scammer who had convinced the two entities to change Paso del Norte Trackworks’ bank account information.
The El Paso Times first reported details of the scam Nov. 2, and has filed multiple open records requests with the city and CRRMA for emails and other documents related to the trolley scam and a second phishing scheme that involved a $312,000 payment for an unspecified city project.
City and CRRMA officials have released only a small group of emails, and are asking the Texas attorney general for permission to withhold other information from the public because the incident is under investigation.
The city acts as the fiscal agent for the mobility authority, handling vendor relationships for the agency and processing payments that have been authorized by Telles.
City officials continue to assert that Telles did not contact the city when the CRRMA was notified by the real vendor of the missing payment on Sept. 29.
“As previously reported by the city, the city has no record of the CRRMA employee attempting to follow up with this city employee or any other city employee on or after Sept. 29 when the CRRMA was notified by the real vendor about the missing payment,” according to the statement.
Telles could not be reached for comment.
Telles raised questions about duplicate invoices related to the payment on Sept. 28, according to emails obtained by the El Paso Times through state open records laws. That email exchange, which had been withheld by the city, was provided to the Times in December by the mobility authority in response to an open records request by the newspaper.
The first electronic payment made toward that invoice was returned to the city due to an incomplete routing number. City staff then told Telles that the second payment went through after the banking information was updated.
Emails released by the CRRMA to the Times show that Telles responded to the vendor’s concern about the missing payment on Sept. 29 by passing along the explanation he had been given by a city official a day earlier — that an initial attempt at payment had been returned and a subsequent payment sent. The vendor apparently didn’t question the missing payment further.
City officials learned in October that the payment had gone to scammers and not the vendor.
The FBI has recovered about $1.9 million of the $3.2 million stolen from both agencies, officials have said. No arrests have been made.
Information from: El Paso Times, http://www.elpasotimes.com
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