City of Laredo performs internal audit after controversial election lawsuit

Council to be asked on two rental assistance programs
Updated: Mar. 19, 2023 at 10:00 PM CDT
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LAREDO, Tex. (KGNS) - A recent election lawsuit has raised questions about some of the federal programs the City of Laredo handles.

On Monday, council member Melissa Cigarroa will ask the Laredo City Council to discuss an internal audit done on two rental assistance programs administered by the City of Laredo’s Community Development Department.

The audit was originally brought up in the city council’s February 21, 2023 agenda, but the topic was never touched on during the meeting.

The ‘KGNS On Your Side’ team obtained the auditor’s report through an open records request, along with other documents related to it.

In December of 2022, following the issuance of a legal subpoena to the City of Laredo related to the lawsuit filed by Ricardo “Richie” Rangel against Daisy Campos Rodriguez, the City of Laredo’s legal department requested an internal audit into the rental assistance programs.

The auditor stated in the report that the most pressing issue presented by the legal department was grant funds issued to applicants who had the same address mentioned in the legal subpoena.

The auditor found that four rental file applications were for two addresses expressed in the legal subpoena, and of the vendors given assistance three were found to have an association or is a sitting council member.

It’s important to note that the auditor’s conclusion was that there were no violations because the granting agencies’ guidelines were lax.

Council member Alberto Torres, Jr. admitted to KGNS that he is one of the vendors listed, but explained that he is a landlord of several properties, and three to four tenants of his applied for the program.

“Once they applied, [and] they qualified,” Torres said. “Then us landlords are reached out, to inform us that they would be assisted and that the rent would be diverted to the landlord after filling out W-9 forms for taxing purposes,” he added.

Torres told KGNS he did have concerns about the legality of accepting money on behalf of a tenant, so he requested the opinion of the city’s community development and legal departments.

“There was no conflict on the landlord’s as the tenants were the ones asking for the assistance,” Torres said.

An issue that Torres said created the perception of wrongdoing is the city’s check printing system.

“It lists landlords as vendors,” Torres said.

“Since that happens, there is a law saying that if you’re ‘a vendor’, though we’re not, that you must disclose that,” he added. “Once the city attorney informed me of the way the procedure of the city system works, it was recommended that, even though there was no conflict, that I file a disclosure [statement], and I went ahead and did that immediately, once I was informed,” he concluded.

According to the council member, the ‘Conflicts Disclosure Statement’ and ‘Good-Faith-Affidavit’ are something the City of Laredo requires and not the federal or state government.

KGNS did obtain a copy of Torres’ ‘Corrected Financial Statement/Good-Faith-Affidavit’, and the ‘Conflict Disclosure Statement’ of Campos-Rodriguez, who filed on behalf of her mother.

Campos-Rodriguez’s mother was one of the vendors mentioned in the auditor’s report as well.

The disclosures were filed after the auditor’s report was released in January of this year.

In the report, it did mention that the local government code requires “Conflict of Interest Statements.”

Additionally, the auditor concluded that the city’s community development department followed the administration process.

KGNS did speak with Cigarroa and she said the goal of her agenda item is not to target anyone, but solely to ensure their departments are following the rules, and that council members are being held to the highest ethical standard.

The councilwoman’s agenda item specifically calls for possible action to conduct a formal investigation as it relates to the audit.

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