El Paso

Newly released emails shed more light on El Paso phishing scam

Millions in funds misdirected to fake vendor

Newly released emails tied to...

EL PASO, Texas - Following an open records request by the ABC-7 I-Team, the Camino Real Regional Mobility Authority (CRRMA) released more emails Wednesday related to the phishing scam that duped the city of El Paso and the CRRMA out of millions of dollars. 

The first handful of emails were released by city officials last month. The emails are related to the scam that resulted in the misdirection of $3.2 million in funds, most of it related to the streetcar project.

The city said it redacted the names of its employee and that of the Camino Real Regional Mobility Authority's due to the ongoing investigation, although the CRRMA has only one employee, Executive Director Raymond Telles.

After they were released, the chairwoman of the CRRMA said the emails only told part of the story. "They may have reasons of their own, but it did not paint the full picture in my opinion," Susan Melendez told ABC-7 last month. She added, "there is information again that I don't want to preempt the city. There are some additional emails that I think would close some of those gaps."

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 their policies to prevent another financial fiasco.

As the CRRMA's only employee, emails showed Telles corresponded directly with the person posing as "The Granite Construction Company," a real vendor. In late August, the scammers contacted the CRRMA and provided a new bank account number to the city, which eventually led to millions of dollars being misdirected. 

The first misdirected payment happened Sept. 28 and involved $2.9 million in state funds for a project managed by CRRMA, city officials said. The second misdirected payment happened Oct. 4 and involved $312,000 earmarked for city projects.

According to the first batch of emails released by the city showed on Sept. 29, the real Granite Construction Company contacted the CRRMA, and stated they had not been paid.

According to the city, the CRRMA did not contact or alert the city's comptroller's office about it. But the new emails from the CRRMA received Wednesday showed that Telles did  reach out to the city about the confusion, and received confirmation from city staff that a payment had been made.  

The email, also dated Sept. 29, showed Telles responded to the real company. It read, "ok - city says there was an ach (automated clearing house)  number off on the payment that went out last week, so the payment was returned. However, a second, corrected payment went out this past Tuesday (09/27) - see the attached. Let me know if this helps."

The fallout that followed led to City Council threatening to take over the CRRMA, but the two parties have agreed to work together to prevent another scam. 

CRRMA Vice Chair Joe Wardy said changes are in works.

"The situation that occurred, caused both sides to evaluate their financial practices. And as you can see we are moving forward to really strengthen those relationships, and I want to make sure they are bulletproof," Wardy said.
 
At a board meeting Wednesday for the CRRMA, Telles addressed members about the scam and discussed ways to move forward to prevent it from happening again. Board members are considering hiring more staff, and perhaps even a chief financial officer.     

The board is also looking at the best ways to utilize the city for the RMA's financial operations.

Out of the $3.2 million lost, the city has recovered $1.9 million.


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