This article was updated at 4:00pm ET to add the results of the city council vote on starting an independent investigation into the usage of the gasoline cards.
As we previously reported, City’s Financial Oversight & Audit Committee (FOAC) on May 4, 2023 recommended that the city council open an investigation into the alleged use of Cassandra Hernandez’ city-issued gasoline card. Today city council met to discuss FOAC’s recommendation to investigate.
Prior to the meeting, the police report investigating the use of the city’s gasoline credit cards was released. According to the police report dated May 5, 2023, Edmundo Calderon, the city’s auditor asked the police to investigate the use of the city’s credit cards. The police report lists three names as “involved” in the investigation. They are former city representative Claudia Rodriguez, current city representative Cassandra Hernandez-Brown. The third individual named in the police report is Jeremy Jordan who is engaged to Hernandez.
According to the police report, the city auditor alleged that “a city employee that is alleged to have stolen gasoline.” The police investigator met with the city auditor and four of his staff members. Also at the meeting was Brian Kennedy, who told the investigator that he was there in his capacity as chairman of the FOAC.
The report details that part of the evidence collected included surveillance video.
Calderon, the city auditor, told city representatives today that he wanted to know who was using the city’s gasoline cards by looking at surveillance video from the gas stations during the times the cards were being used. He did not intend to start a police investigation. He asked police for help in locating video of who was using the gasoline cards.
The police report identifies that Hernandez drives a white 2020 Honda Odyssey and Jordan drives gray a 2022 Toyota Tacoma. The police report states that the investigator recovered video surveillance for the dates that the gasoline cards were used from several gas stations.
According to the investigator’s report of the surveillance video, a “gray truck” was fueled on February 10, 2023, March 3, 2023, and on March 24, 2023. In the March 3, 2023 video, the individual’s gender, who was fueling the gray truck on that day is “unknown.” The other two dates, the gender of the person fueling the gray truck was identified as “male.”
The video also showed the use of the gasoline card to fuel a “white van” on February 8, 2023, March 4, 2023 and on March 25, 2023. That video showed a “male” fueling the white van. The gender of the individual on the February 8, 2023 and March 4 videos was “unknown.”
The police supplemental documents included a copy of the city’s current Commercial Fuel Card Policy & Use Procedure manual that governs the use of the gasoline cards. The policy states that the fuel cards are “restricted to purchase fuel for the city vehicle to which they are assigned.” The policy adds that “a fuel card is not to be used for personal vehicles.”
Calderon told city council today that he has not seen any surveillance video. Calderon added that police officials told him that the surveillance video they recovered was “blurry” and “grainy.”
Seventeen members of the community spoke at today’s city council meeting. Eight members of the community spoke in support of the city council investigation. They were Max Grossman, Minerva Torres Shelton, Arnulfo Hernandez, Philip Laign, Rich Wright, Kenneth Bell, Gabriela Marcelo and Theresa Caballero. Caballero said that “there is a lot of holes in the reports as they stand.” Caballero commended the city council and Brian Kennedy for their work on the investigation. Caballero told Hernandez, that “it is not a good look” for her and that she “is not ready for prime time.”
Nine members of the community spoke in support of Cassandra Hernandez. Several characterized the council’s meeting as a “witch hunt.” Those speaking in support of Hernandez were Mario Ceniceros, Martin De La Rosa, Mike Adjemian, from the Cielo Vista Neighborhood Association and Eileen Karlsruher. Karlsruher asked city council to close the investigation into Hernandez and to “not remove her from office.” Also supporting Hernandez were Manny Romero, Sid Searcy, Lissette Cobos, Chris Yost and James Peinado.
On May 7, 2023, Cassandra Hernandez paid $6,700 to cover her fuel purchases as reported by the city’s auditor. On May 18, 2023, the investigation was closed by the El Paso Police Department as “unfounded.” The police report noted that the fuel cards should not have been issued to city council members.
City council went into executive session at around noon.
(Updated at 4:00pm ET)
City council returned from executive session at 1:35.
The city council voted to direct the outside counsel to “bring some options” to counsel for an independent investigator to investigate “the usage” of the gasoline cards. Oscar Leeser said that the city council decided to hire someone to conduct an independent investigation because of the “accusations” made by others about the current investigation. Also, the city council voted to have the auditor finish his review of prior years’ usage of the gasoline cards. The motion was made by Alexsandra Annello and seconded by Art Fierro.
Voting in favor of the motion were Brian Kennedy, Alexsandra Annello, Joe Molinar, Art Fierro, Henry Rivera and Chris Canales.
Cassandra Hernandez voted against it. Isabel Salcido was absent from the meeting.
This is a developing story and will be updated as more information becomes available.