Pro Tem investigation update

More documents have been taken by investigators from the District Attorney’s office looking into the improper bonuses paid to staffers in the Mayor Pro Tem’s office.

Earlier Tuesday, a source told 11 News five or six investigators took about five filing cabinets’ worth of documents from the office.

The district attorney said that other city officials, dating back years, may have misused city money.

They took out about eight boxes in all, but wouldn’t say much about them.

“We did kind of see some interesting things on first blush,” said DA Chuck Rosenthal.

Rosenthal said the document seizure was related to the well-publicized bonuses four now-fired employees of former mayor pro tem Carol Alvarado. They lost their jobs for giving themselves bonuses.

Rosenthal also said the probe gave his office a chance to look at something else, allegations going back several years that city officials were improperly using the mayor pro tem’s budget.

“Charging things through the mayor pro tem’s office as opposed to their own budgets,” Rosenthal said.

Rosenthal said the seizures were the result of a phone call he received from someone he trusts.

“It was his contention that there may be documents in the file cabinet at the mayor pro tem’s office that might disappear,” said Rosenthal.

He said the probe could go from any official on down.

The statute of limitations allows him to only investigate city officials who served during the Lee Brown and Bill White administrations.

blogHOUSTON links to and quotes from this KTRK story, but the quote they excerpted is not in that story. A search of the site suggests it was edited out. Weird.

Former Mayor Pro Tem Gordon Quan, whose tenure is covered in this expanded investigation, has this to say about it.

“Anything like that would have been highly suspect,” said Quan Tuesday. “I would have questioned who is this person turning in this request.”

Four months after he left office, the one time mayor pro tem has been contacted by the Office of Inspector General about the goings-on while he was in office.

“As far as special expenses to an office that favors that over another office, we really didn’t see that,” said Quan.

Quan, who took over the office in 2002, says he finds it hard to believe any city official, elected or not, would be able to siphon money through the pro tem’s office. He says while he was pro tem, every expense that went through that office was double checked.

“We would immediately call the councilmembers and ask ‘We just want to verify. Did you authorize that? And if you did, we nee your signature on this’.”

Quan admits some expenses from council offices were reimbursed by the pro tem’s office. They were items like coffee and supplies. Nothing, he says, that would merit improper expenses. Nonetheless, he welcomes the investigation.

“I feel like since the pro tem’s office name and council has been tainted, that it’s better to have a cleaning of the house and a clean bill of health for everyone,” added Quan.

Well, we’ll find out, I guess. As I blog this, the Chron story is pretty lean on details. I’ll check tomorrow morning to see if there’s a revised version up.

Finally, it was in the other stories, but here’s Carol Alvarado’s statement on today’s development:

“I am encouraged at this sign that the District Attorney¹s office is moving forward. I strongly believe that investigators should have access to all the information they need to get their work done and complete this investigation.”

Stay tuned.

UPDATE: Here’s today’s Chron story, which has some new information to go along with the revelation that Chuck Rosenthal is looking into the past as well.

A memo dated last April from a city employee who has been fired for receiving unauthorized bonuses asked then-Mayor Pro Tem Carol Alvarado to approve $5,500 in extra pay.

A spokesman said Tuesday that Alvarado doesn’t remember such a memo. She has said she didn’t approve any of the monthly bonuses that totaled $143,000 over about a year for four employees in the Office of Mayor Pro Tem.

“She has no memory of seeing such a memo. There is no copy of such a memo in her files or any of her staff files,” said Joe Householder of Public Strategies Inc., Alvarado’s recently hired spokesman. “There’s no knowledge that this memo was ever sent or received.”

The memo, a copy of which was obtained by the Chronicle, came to light Tuesday, the same day prosecutors investigating the City Hall payroll-padding allegations took documents from the pro tem office.

In the memo, pro tem office manager Rosita Hernandez, who received more than $50,000 in bonuses that city officials say were improper, asks Alvarado to approve payments to her and three other fired employees.


If Hernandez did send the memo, it could support — at least in this instance — her contention that bonuses were properly documented, though the four employees eventually collected far more than the amount requested in the memo.

Conversely, it could fit with the conclusion of police investigators that pro tem employees enriched themselves through misconduct that included fabricating documents.


The memo from Hernandez to Alvarado asks for $5,500 in incentive pay to be split in different amounts among Hernandez and her three employees: Florence Watkins, Christopher Mays and Theresa Orta.


The memo is dated April 14, two weeks after Hernandez and the employees shared $9,000 in bonuses, according to city payroll records obtained by the Chronicle earlier. They didn’t receive more payments until May 27, when they split another $12,000, the records show.

Householder said Alvarado’s assertion that she didn’t see the memo is supported by the fact that the bonuses the employees received came at different times and in different amounts than were in the memo.

Hernandez, for example, asks in the memo for a $1,700 payment. But the next bonus she received wasn’t until weeks later — and it was $5,000.

“If you look at the city’s records, these particular bonus amounts are not reflected,” he said. “In fact, this is a far smaller amount than the $143,000 that was stolen from the taxpayers, something that resulted in the proper terminations of the four people.”

I don’t know what to make of that right now. Whether it was a real documentation trail or not you’d think there’d be more than one such memo. Maybe there’s still more to be found.

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