Ruben Garcia is under the gun again.
A recent audit of the Tarrant County constable’s office found mismanagement of confiscated property and collection fees.
The recently released audit also raises the possibility of missing public funds but does not accuse Garcia of any criminal wrongdoing. In the document’s summary, County Auditor Renee Tidwell said she can offer “no assurance that all funds collected were accurately recorded and deposited with the auditor’s office” because Garcia does not “maintain a master log.”
The Tarrant County Criminal District Attorney’s Office has chosen not to investigate him.
In a recent phone interview, Garcia said, “There’s no money missing from my office.”
But the audit is just more worry for Garcia, who worked for 12 years as a jailer and deputy at the Tarrant County Sheriff’s Department before being elected constable in 2012 and reelected early last year. Earlier this year (“Constable Concerns,” Feb 22), he was accused of bullying and intimidation by three young men who say he allowed them to come under attack by a small mob. Garcia maintains he was actively keeping the fight from spreading. Constables often operate with scant oversight. In Tarrant County, the peace officers perform a wide range of duties, including collecting millions in fees for the county’s general fund.
His county personnel file while at the sheriff’s department shows an employee who was frequently reprimanded for showing up late for work, sleeping on the job, and missing work altogether. Supervisors counseled him for using foul language and for his “demeanor with inmates,” according to his file. Garcia turned in his two weeks notice on Aug 9, 2010, saying he wanted to improve his training and advance his career in law enforcement elsewhere. Three years later, he won election as constable.
The recent audit states that seized property stored in Garcia’s office safe (including firearms, illegal drugs, and drug paraphernalia) was not held in compliance with mandated government code. And on two instances, a Garcia staffer approved her time-clock records herself in violation of county policy, according to the audit.
Garcia said his office is holding a “bag of meth” and one shotgun that dates from before he took office. The county hasn’t allotted the funds for him to properly destroy the property, he said. As for time-clock records, Garcia maintains there was a misunderstanding over how his staff of eight logs work hours.
“It wasn’t each individual employee doing their time,” he said. “It was my administrative secretary. It got misconstrued” in the audit.
Tidwell said it’s difficult to prove whether county money is missing from Garcia’s office.
“When the record keeping is sloppy, it makes it difficult to be precise [regarding] what should be there versus what shouldn’t,” she said. “His books and records have to improve.”
Samantha Jordan, spokesperson for the district attorney’s office, said in an email that her office has seen the audit and that there is “no criminal conduct to investigate at this time.”
Garcia said he welcomes a follow-up audit.
“I take my responsibility to safeguard taxpayer dollars very seriously,” he said. “My office can account for every tax dollar spent. I have since contacted the auditor, expressed concerns, and resolved to make changes in procedures and policies to satisfy their concerns.”