AUSTIN (KXAN) — A grand jury report released Thursday strongly condemns officials at the Travis County Tax Office for "bad management" that resulted in the theft of potentially millions of dollars in tax revenue.
A fraud investigation landed seven people behind bars, including four employees. The suspects in the fraud investigation were allegedly minimizing the taxes they were paying on vehicle title transactions along with other violations.
The report states Travis County Tax Assessor Bruce Elfant ignored questionable behavior by a fellow supervisor, allowing him to remain in a supervisory role even after a previous reprimand.
The grand jury said it was "GREATLY ALARMED" by the "pervasive lack of supervision and apparent willful dereliction of duty of the supervisors and officers of the TC Tax Office."
The lack of supervisors, the report continued, was a clear contributor to employees "feeling emboldened to apparently steal from the county and to accept what appeared to be incorrect or incomplete motor vehicle transactions."
Specifically, the report states supervisors appeared to encourage employees to accept or ignore questionable documents for processing. The jury says whether this was for expediency or intentionally criminal has yet to be determined.
Seven recommendations were made at the conclusion of the report, including: all tax office employees receive ethics training by a third party when hired and at least annually thereafter, additional training of employees to learn the DMV's red flag process for questionable vehicle title transactions and a yearly audit within the tax office.
The jury also recommended the Travis County Commissioners Court hold public hearings on the policies and practices of the tax office to identify improvements and best practices.
Elfant responded to the report, saying he has great respect for the jury and takes full responsibility for what happened.
The tax assessor says Monica Blackwell, who he describes as one of the most experienced and respected title managers in the state, has been hired to lead the motor vehicle team.
"Our goal is to rebuild the public trust and meet the needs of our customers," Elfant said. "We will continue to work closely with the county attorney, along with the county auditor and others, to restore confidence in the tax office."
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