City: more phishing scam money could have been recovered if CRRMA director had acted sooner

Update: CRRMA Phishing scam

EL PASO, Texas - The City of El Paso says it may have been able to recoup more of the nearly $3 million in trolley funding lost in an email phishing scam, if the Camino Real Regional Mobility Authority's executive director had alerted City staff about a missing payment.

The City sent out an email Tuesday afternoon in an effort to further clarify this situation.

The first misdirected payment happened September 28, 2016 and involved $2.9 million in state funds for a project managed by the CRRMA, city officials said.

The second misdirected payment happened October 4, 2016 and involved $312,000 earmarked for city projects.

About $1.6 million of the approximately $3 million scammed has been recovered, but the City's chief financial officer says more could have been recovered had CRRMA Director Raymond Telles followed up with a phone call about the missing payment.

On Sept. 28, Telles was contacted by email by the impostor about not getting a payment. Telles told ABC-7 he alerted the City that he had received two separate notifications the vendor had been paid and was concerned they may have been paid twice.

The City indicated there was a missing digit in the routing number of the first payment. So the City contacted the fake vendor to get the correct number and then made the second payment to the fake vendor. The next day, on Sept. 29, Telles was contacted by the real company asking about the payment it was due.

Telles acknowledges he did not contact City staff again about that missing payment. The scam was not discovered until nearly two weeks later, which the City CFO says hampered recovery efforts.

"There's two different things happening on those two dates, Sept. 28 and 29," City CFO Mark Sutter said. "And of course the press knows already, we did not then become aware of the missing payment until Oct. 12, so there's a long time in between there that unfortunately lapsed that we could have been more proactive had we known earlier."

Telles admitted Wednesday that if he had alerted the City about that missing payment he learned of on Sept. 29, the scam may have been caught sooner.

Telles said he is now focused on the future. "We have moved past what happened, when it happened, how it happened," Telles said. "We are now in the phase of how do we avoid it from happening again."    

The city of El Paso is the CRRMA's fiscal agent, meaning it handles certain financial matters. That relationship was in jeopardy following the scam, but both are now committed to improving policies to prevent another financial fiasco.

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