When records count, officials want big bucks
San Antonio – As you listen to audio records of the conversation between the former telephone manager for the City of San Antonio and a HUD grant auditor, you can see the wheels turning – sense the moving parts.
Within a quarter hour, you find the basic mechanics of how major metropolises such as Stockton, California and Detroit, Michigan are filing bankruptcy papers, seeking protection from their creditors.
The truth is, they are no long able to borrow from Peter to pay Paul because credit rating agencies such as Moody's have derated their tax free bonds to the point that underwriters refuse to make further bond issues possible. Pension funds go unfunded, punitive fines and interest goes unpaid, and once propserous communities turn into faded wraiths on the landscape, looking like ruined war-torn cities, plundered by implacable foes.
John Foddrill needed specific evidence to convince Victoria Marquez, a special agent, that millions upon millions of dollars in grant funding had been routed through the city's “variable” fund designated to pay the phone bill, then siphoned off for completely other purposes.
His problem: he was out of bullets.
Public records that would support his allegations were available, but city officials wanted $5,000 for the copying and staff time it took to answer his public information act requests.
They refused to let him come to their offices and inspect the documents, then send them in the form of electronic attachments at no cost. Though the Open Records Act of the Texas Government Code allows that, San Antonio officials wouldn't budge.
“I didn't have the money,” he explained.
The truth is, about 20 percent of San Antonio's annual income is in the form of federal grants, funds which are raised by steep tariffs on phone services, for one, then apportioned back to local governments through an application process supported by audits.
As telecommunications manager, he had learned that though his budget called for $5.2 million annual expenditures, he never had any money because the funds were quickly re-routed, then spent on other things.
Ms. Marquez, an associate named Michael Hall, senior auditor, and HUD Field Office Director Richard Lopes were unimpressed by his requests.
“They refused to discuss in official meetings any proof that the internal billing account, the variable, was used to illegally gain access to upwards of $5.2 million as early as 1982,” he recalls. “They allowed the city to submit their own audit information.”
When it came time to put on the whistleblower trial in state court, “They closed the investigation, finding that the City only mis-spent $648 from 2004 to 2008, a period of four years.”
Marquez, Hall, and Lopez – and others - “helped the city hide millions of dollars of theft and fraud.”
And then two police officers showed up on his doorstep with a note from the City Attorney, countersigned by the Chief of Police, William McManus, that said if he came to City Hall or the municipal Information Technology building, he would be arrested for criminal trespassing.
That made it impossible for him to inspect the records and find the proof he needed, he remembers.
When they fired him, they placed him on administrative leave for 30 days. That date was Februrary 1, the target date for removing civil service protection from managers who toil at City Hall.
At the end of that period, the Mayor extended the suspension for another week, then another, and then came the pink slip – a letter in his mailbox informing him he had been fired from his job.
Listening to this audio recording will make the dynamics of the situation very, very clear, especially federal auditors' reluctance to uncover evidence of the misapplication of grant funding over what Foddrill and a fire department contract officer named Michael Cuellar allege is a period of 25 years.