EL PASO, Texas - El Paso city officials are demanding proof after a candidate for mayor made sweeping allegations of bribes, kickbacks and preferential treatment happening at City Hall.
David Saucedo first made the controversial statements on this week's ABC-7's "Sunday Xtra" show during a debate with the other mayoral candidate Dee Margo.
The pushback from city officials, like Rep. Claudia Ordaz, came swiftly.
"It's incredibly troubling that a mayoral candidate would make such irresponsibly claims like this without any facts or evidence to back it up," Ordaz said. "If what he claims is true, then he has an obligation to report this to law enforcement, because these have some serious criminal implications. And if he fails to do so, then this is just clearly just a desperate attempt at the 11th hour of his campaign to get attention."
In an email to ABC-7, Saucedo stated "Throughout this campaign I have spoken with business Owners, Neighborhood Associations and City Staff about my platform for the City as their Mayor. By and large, I believe that we have well intended and hard working City Employees, however the culture of "Pay to Play" has been a reoccurring theme and heard it as I knocked on their doors. They voiced these concerns to me, and fearful of coming forward and speaking out. As their Mayor, I have promised that I would put an end to those behaviors and make City Hall more transparent, ethical and a place for all citizens competing on a level playing field."
Saucedo claimed corruption can be found in the city's Planning and Inspections Department.
"I have heard retold stories of inspectors edging for either money or product in exchange for speeding up review and inspections from Planning & Inspections Department in order to pass inspections and receive their permits. (Eg. - More common of an occurrence when you have powerful business leaders pressuring Council members to push the process along, or take short cuts, and find loopholes in order for their project to pass inspections and receive their permits," Saucedo stated.
But when asked to provide names or proof, Saucedo said his sources want to remain anonymous fearing retribution.
"One of the most egregious things is that department heads in the city of El Paso were forced to sign an ethics contract which is basically a loyalty contract to not be critical of the council or the city manager. What has happened with that is that it has suppressed the real issues with the city," Saucedo said.
He claimed those who signed the contract were rewarded with raises, while the front line employees are fighting for 2 percent raises. Saucedo pointed a finger at Information Technology, Airport, Internal Audit, Streets, Economic Development Museum and Cultural Affairs departments.
ABC-7 reached out to the mayor's office for comment-- but did not receive one.
Both Ordaz and Rep. Emma Acosta said they are not aware of any so-called loyalty contracts or any other wrongdoing.
"He has an obligation to report it to the law enforcement. He has an obligation to the constituents of this city if he wants to be the next mayor. You just can't make allegations without having documentation, without having evidence that this is happening," Acosta said.
Acosta sits on the city's Financial Audit and Oversight Committee. She said members have discussed the claims Saucedo made on "Sunday Xtra" at a recent meeting.
"You just can't throw things like that, because it throw a dark cloud over the city that we are doing things that we are not supposed to. When in essence, we take a lot of time and effort to go through all the audit reports," Acosta said. "We have a hotline for all employees to report any wrong doings in the city. And they can remain anonymous. The internal auditor will follow up on those complaints if we have any. They follow up, they make sure that they are investigated. They make sure if they are investigated, it's taken care of."
Saucedo also questioned the city's process for awarding alcohol sales permit waivers.
"The city has an ordinance that prohibits alcohol sales within a certain distance of school, church, and day care and yet some bars are given waivers while others are not," Saucedo said.
When pressed for proof of his allegations, the mayoral candidate said instead "I would encourage people to come forward and I guarantee I will protect you. Under my administration the whistle blowers will be protected. But this is the first step. No one has ever called this out in the city of El Paso."
But without evidence to back up his claims, Ordaz said there is reason to question the candidate's motive.
"If he fails to provide that evidence, if he fails to go to the law enforcement officials, then I truly believe this is just a desperate attempt and we cannot afford this at the city and we do not deserve this type of leadership," Ordaz said.