Fort Worth

Audit of Tarrant County constable finds sloppy records of funds, property

Ruben Garcia was re-elected as constable for Tarrant County Precinct 5.
Ruben Garcia was re-elected as constable for Tarrant County Precinct 5.

An audit of Tarrant County Precinct 5 Constable Ruben Garcia revealed problems with the way his office kept track of receipts and seized property.

The issues came to light in audit conducted by Tarrant County Auditor Renee Tidwell’s staff that reviewed four months of records ending on Jan. 31, 2017.

At best, the audit found Garcia’s office operated haphazardly. At worst, it was hard to account for all of the constable office’s funds.

“Since the Constable does not maintain a master log or a comprehensive list of process papers received and then served by the Constable and his deputies, we offer no assurance that all funds collected were accurately recorded or deposited with the Auditor’s Office,” the June 12 report said.

The audit was presented to Tarrant County Commissioners at their June 23 meeting, but there was no discussion of the findings. Commissioners control the county budget, but have little authority to remove or discipline elected county officials.

Commissioner J.D. Johnson said he was troubled enough by the findings that he plans to raise the issue when he meets with District Attorney Sharen Wilson on Thursday.

It’s something I’m going to discuss with the DA. I will be bringing it up. When I saw that report, it sent a light to me that something was wrong, but I don’t know how serious it is.

Tarrant County Commissioner J.D. Johnson

“It’s something I’m going to discuss with the DA,” Johnson said. “I will be bringing it up. When I saw that report, it sent a light to me that something was wrong, but I don’t know how serious it is.”

Samantha Jordan, a spokeswoman for the district attorney, said the district attorney’s office had reviewed the audit but found nothing criminal in the report’s findings.

“Because the auditor found only risks and vulnerabilities, but not actual monetary losses, we have no criminal conduct to investigate at this time,” Jordan said. “We hope the audit will have the intended effect of encouraging the constable to repair these vulnerabilities.”

Commissioner Andy Nguyen said he would be talking with his fellow commissioners and the district attorney about the issues raised in the audit.

“I’m very concerned about any potential irregularities,” Nguyen said.

Garcia, a Democrat, did not return a call from the Star-Telegram seeking comment, but responded to Tidwell’s findings in a June 14 letter, saying that the issues had been addressed and “recommendations implemented.”

He was elected in 2012 and easily won re-election last November.

Precinct 5 is a majority Latino district that includes the Fort Worth’s near north side and near south side. Constables are a separate law enforcement agency from the sheriff. They serve civil papers as well as enforce child support orders and court judgments.

County Judge Glen Whitley, who is an accountant, and Commissioner Gary Fickes said they hoped Tidwell’s office would conduct a followup audit of Garcia’s office. The county auditor is appointed by the district judges and works independently of the county commissioners.

It seems to me that there was a lot of sloppiness going on and because you’re dealing with cash that’s always a concern.

Tarrant County Judge Glen Whitley

“It seems to me that there was a lot of sloppiness going on, and because you’re dealing with cash, that’s always a concern,” Whitley said. “There is absolutely no way, within the two days before he responded in that letter, that he was able to comply with all the auditor’s office suggestions.”

While the sloppy record-keeping raises questions, Tidwell said in a phone interview that it’s difficult to prove any property or money was missing.

“You can’t tell,” Tidwell said. “You don’t have enough paperwork to know what was there.”

At some point, Tidwell said her office would conduct a followup review of Garcia’s office. She said she has had no contact from Garcia’s office, other than his June 14 letter.

In her report, Tidwell said a constable must must follow guidelines spelled out in the Code of Criminal Procedure for disposing of “seized, forfeited and unclaimed property held by a peace officer.”

The audit found that “the Constable’s staff does not maintain a list or log of acquired and seized property. As a result, it is impossible to account for the property held by the Constable.”

Among the findings were “coins, weapons, drugs and drug paraphernalia in the property safe that were acquired as long ago as 2000. Some of the weapons were not properly documented with case information, such as case number or service of writ number, to clearly identify the owner or the origin of the property.”

Tidwell’s office recommended the constable’s office seek the advice of the district attorney’s office regarding the disposal of unclaimed property.

The auditor’s report laid out five other areas that required Garcia’s attention. These include:

▪ Controls over the accountability of manual receipts and the recording of payments were inadequate.The auditor recommended the staff maintain a log, deputies issue receipts in sequential order and the “administrative staff should reconcile funds collected by each deputy and then prepare the total deposit.”

▪ Certain receipts collected by deputies, usually cash, were not recorded in the mainframe system, which could result in the loss of funds to the Tarrant County Tax Office.

The mainframe system is used by constables for case information and financial transactions. The auditor recommended that all funds be collected in the mainframe and be deposited with the auditor’s office for recording in the general ledger.

▪  Segregation of duties was not adequate. This is a common problem with small county offices, Tidwell said. The audit revealed one staffer routinely used the constable’s user information to approve purchases and timecards. The auditor’s office recommended that either the chief deputy or constable approve purchases or timecards.

▪ Deposits were not always made in accordance with the local government code. The auditor recommended the constable make weekly deposits to the auditor’s office.

▪ The Texas Attorney General was not invoiced for court papers served in a timely manner. Constables serve documents for civil cases, including child support. The auditor recommended that the constable bill the attorney general’s office on a monthly basis to avoid the risk of not being reimbursed.

Bill Hanna: 817-390-7698, @fwhanna