By JOHN WAYNE FERGUSON The Daily News
The county, apparently the victim of a scammer, sent more than $500,000 meant to pay a construction company for road repairs to the wrong person, officials said Tuesday.
The Galveston County Sheriff’s Office is investigating the incident as a crime, Galveston County Sheriff Henry Trochesset said.
The apparent theft was brought to light Monday, after the Galveston County Treasurer’s Office reviewed email correspondence between the county and Lucas Construction, a Houston company to which the county was scheduled to pay $525,282.39 for road repairs in San Leon.
Commissioners approved the payment to the company on May 21. Shortly after, the treasurer’s office received an email from someone purporting to be from Lucas, said Galveston County Treasurer Kevin Walsh.
“An entity that is unknown to us sent information to the county pretending to be the construction company to change where the money gets deposited,” Walsh said.
That email instructed the county to pay the money to a new account, which county officials apparently did. The county changed its information and sent funds to the account, Walsh said. Those emails and the account belonged to a scammer, Walsh said.
At the same time the county was sending money to the wrong account, Lucas apparently received messages from a fake county email, claiming a check was on its way, Walsh said.
The lies didn’t come to light until someone from Lucas Construction called Galveston County Commissioner Darrell Apffel, to ask why the check was taking so long to reach them. Apffel called the treasurer’s office late Friday, but revelations about what happened didn’t become apparent until Monday, Walsh said.
“Originally, we thought it was just a mistake that the bank made, that they were just holding the money,” Walsh said. “Monday morning we were reading through the emails and we said, ‘That’s not us.’”
The sheriff’s office and the district attorney’s office were contacted Monday, he said.
While officials believe criminals were behind the scam, Galveston County Judge Mark Henry questioned whether county employees had properly done their jobs when changing the destination for the bank accounts.
“Our employees accepted it as genuine, and processed it and paid the wrong people,” he said. “We deal with issues of no accountability from county employees on a regular basis.”
Some blame should be directed at the county auditor’s office and the purchasing department, Henry said. Neither of those offices report directly to Henry and the commissioners court. The county auditor is appointed by state district court judges, and the purchasing department is overseen by a board made up of commissioners and district court judges.
The county treasurer is an elected position.
The county’s information technology department has investigated the treasurer’s office computer and found no evidence that county computers or software were hacked, Walsh said.
Editors Note: Are you kidding me? I think this investigation is a lost cause. That money is probably in Nigeria by now. The county commissioner's put out an agenda and then voted to pay the bill in an open meeting. So, what suspects do you start with? Anyone can open a bank account under that company name or a variation. An email can be made to look official with simple cut and paste procedures on a home computer. County Judge Mark Henry has every right to question whether county employees had properly done their jobs. This is an embarrassment and the tax payers should be mad as hell!