GALVESTON

The result of an independent investigation into the theft of more than $500,000 is in, and county Judge Mark Henry said he wants to form a committee to review and recommend changes to county financial systems.

County commissioners Monday received a draft copy of a report from the Dawson Forensic Group, the private firm hired in July to investigate how county employees managed to make a $525,282.39 electronic payment to a scammer posing as a road contractor earlier this year.

A final version of the report is expected to be released in coming weeks, but in advance of that, Henry said he wanted a committee to review all of the county’s financial processes, including how purchases are made and how payments are sent to vendors.

“It’s aggravating to me that everyone says ‘I’m not accountable,’” Henry said Wednesday. The committee would make recommendations that would increase accountability, he said.

No one has been fired over the lost money, and no arrests have been made in a criminal investigation the Galveston County Sheriff’s Office is conducting, officials said.

It’s unclear whether the new report will place any direct blame on a county employee or office for losing the money. An internal audit completed in June described how a scammer was able to manipulate the county’s payment systems.

The theft left some officials, including Henry, complaining about about a lack of accountability in county finances.

The person who received the money tricked county employees into changing direct deposit information about Lucas Construction Co., which was owed the money for a road project.

The scam had started as early as March when someone created fake email and web identities and made independent connections with both county officials and the company. The scammer communicated by email and presented a document with a forged or stolen signature to trick the county into changing where the payment for the road project should be sent, officials said.

The scammer was at the same time posing as a county employee to the contractor, and sending emails warning the payments were delayed, but on their way, officials said.

Henry has complained that the county offices involved in making the payment — the county purchasing department, the county auditor’s office and the county treasurer’s office — deflected blame for the lost funds, and said he was frustrated those departments don’t report directly to county commissioners. Those positions are either elected or appointed by different entities in the county.

An internal committee could research ways to change the county’s financial systems, including changing who reports to whom, Henry said.

It was unclear what changes would be allowed under state law, and what processes could be changed. The committee could seek legal advice from the Texas Association of Counties, Henry said.

Henry said he thought some procedures could be changed and only exist because they’ve not been reconsidered for years.

“Everything that’s in place is the way that it was when I started,” Henry said.

Galveston Purchasing Agent Rufus Crowder on Wednesday declined to comment on Henry’s plan. County Auditor Randall Rice could not be reached for comment on Wednesday.

The proposal to create a committee will be on the commissioners court’s agenda some time in December, Henry said.

John Wayne Ferguson: 409-683-5226; john.ferguson@galvnews.com or on Twitter @johnwferguson.

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(1) comment

Paul Hyatt

Typical of government employees, no accountability nor responsibility for anything. We hear of these stories in every level of government. City, County, State and the Federal level..... Good thing they work for governments for in the real world they would be out of work and looking for a job....

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