5 Questions The City Of El Paso Needs To Answer In Light Of The $3.3 Million Trolley Project Phishing Scam
The downtown street car project was already controversial, but it is now even more problematic because of a multi-million dollar scam. The El Paso Times reported on Wednesday that the City of El Paso paid out $3.3 million to a person or group pretending to be a vendor working on the streetcar project. City officials didn't make clear when the scam, which is called phishing, happened when they answered questions about the Times report in a hastily called press conference on Wednesday. As a matter of fact, there were quite a few things the City didn't talk about. Here are a couple of questions I have in light of the City's blunder with your tax dollars.
1. Were there previous payments made to the vendors? If so, did City officials think to verify their bank information if it had changed? A simple phone call could have alerted everyone that the information didn't match up.
2. Does the City monitor the payments once they are made, or get a confirmation that the vendor has received the payment? If they don't, why not? I get a confirmation number when I pay a utility bill. It protects everyone involved and leaves a paper trail in case anything goes wrong.
3. How long did the City wait from when they discovered the money was "misdirected" to when they notified law enforcement? Did waiting to notify law enforcement make recovering the money more difficult?
4. Why didn't City officials tell the public what was going on? Perhaps when it first happened, the City needed to keep it low-profile to let the investigation get rolling, but it looks like they were moving towards recovering the money, and never would have disclosed their problem had the Times not found out about it.
5. Who approved the payments to the scammers? Mayor Oscar Leeser said he couldn't say who did, and that raises other questions like, is the City in the dark about who has access to taxpayer money? Is taxpayer money so easily accessed that an unknown person can get to it that easily? If it's the case that the Mayor won't disclose who authorized the payment, why not? Who is being protected, and why?
With the upcoming construction of the Quality of Life bond downtown arena, millions more of your taxpayer dollars will be spent by the City. Can we trust that those dollars will be spent wisely? Can we trust that the City won't fall victim to another phishing scam? Do they have any safeguards in place, other than using paper checks instead of electronic payments, to prevent that from happening? And can we trust that they won't try to resolve another issue like this one behind closed doors and away from the eyes of the public?
Is that the kind of City Council we want directing our money? Contact the mayor and City Council here, and tell them how you feel about this situation.