AUSTIN (KXAN) - A newly filed indictment alleges a former City of Austin permit reviewer who worked in the Planning and Development Review Department was taking cash payments on the side from people who wanted to rush their applications.
But new software aims to prevent such a scheme from happening again.
A court document filed June 11 shows four counts of misdemeanor bribery against 42-year-old Edward Vigil, dating from March though July 2012.
His former supervisor told KXAN he couldn't talk specifics due to the upcoming court case, but admitted when he first found out about the alleged crimes, he was shocked.
"I've run across a lot of things, being the supervisor, but not something like that," said John McDonald, development services manager with the City of Austin's Planning & Development Review Department, Residential Review.
Mid-2012 marked a period of intense economic expansion for Austin. Homeowners were either building new, or expanding on what they had. It led to a months-long backlog in the permitting office.
The backlog has been virtually eliminated according to Don Birkner, an assistant director to the city's planning department.
He said six new reviewers have been hired to replace a number who left due to life circumstances, as well as Vigil. There are also two in-take workers and two staff members who consult with applicants to help direct them through the permitting process.
Vigil worked with the department for two years. He resigned last November after a city auditor's investigation into the alleged bribery scheme. One staff member said it is believed Vigil advertised his services and the cash transactions may have happened outside the city offices at 515 Barton Springs Road.
Bosses said they began to suspect Vigil when someone applying for a residential permit showed up and asked to see him specifically. When another reviewer came to a window, the customer casually mentioned paying Vigil.
The Austin Police investigation involved looking at the hundreds of permit applications Vigil handled.
In the aftermath, the city's permitting office now employs new safeguards:
- it has hired intake workers to work a front window and limit direct contact between the reviewers and the applicant. Even before this, they weren't supposed to handle payments.
- acquired new software, on loan from the fire department that quickly shows a supervisor how many new applications have come in, their status, who worked on them and when.
McDonald admitted someone could still skirt the system, but he would now be able to easily spot a residential build permit that was cleared in days, instead of weeks.
"They could still do that, but it wouldn't take me near as long to find out that someone was doing that," he said.
Vigil is due in court July 5. If convicted, Texas law allows for repayment of what was taken illegally to be redirected to a charity.
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