Authorities investigating unauthorized withdrawals of county funds

PRESIDIO COUNTY — Authorities are investigating after someone or group made more than $14,000 in unauthorized withdrawals from the Presidio County general fund bank account.

The problems started in March, said Frances Garcia, the county treasurer for Presidio County. That month, treasury staff noticed three suspicious charges on their bank statements — including two charges for more than $3,000 at Nordstrom’s.

Also suspicious, Garcia said, was a withdrawal to Verizon that county officials didn’t recognize. Garcia reached out to Nordstrom’s, who she said couldn’t provide her with any more information on the purchases.

Officials also contacted Marfa National Bank — where the general fund account is located — and the bank was able to fully refund the money. With all the missing funds successfully recouped, officials decided not to press the matter.

Then, last month it happened again, with six unauthorized withdrawals made on a single day in July. That was followed by a seventh unauthorized withdrawal in August, Garcia said.

At the time, officials were focused on payroll and didn’t immediately notice the discrepancies. But after payroll was done, a county official was going over bank statements and noticed some more fishy charges, Garcia said.

This time, the charges included not just purchases but also checks and electronic deposits. One of the checks was made out to a name Garcia said she didn’t recognize “at all.” Some of the checks were signed off on using Garcia’s signature, as well as the signature of a former treasurer’s office employee.

Those developments left Garcia worried that there was a bigger problem.

“They must have got a copy of a [county] check somehow,” she said of the still-unidentified perp. “But how, we don’t know.”

County officials once again contacted Marfa National Bank — which, Garcia emphasized, was once again able to fully refund the stolen funds.

“We caught it, and we didn’t lose anything,” Garcia said of those latest charges. “We got all our taxpayers’ money back.”

But realizing they had a more serious problem on their hands, treasury officials this time contacted law enforcement. The Presidio County Sheriff’s Office is now investigating the incident.

So far, authorities haven’t publicly named a suspect or filed any formal charges. With the case still ongoing, the Presidio County Sheriff’s Office did not respond to a request for comment on the investigation.

But an incident report, obtained by The Big Bend Sentinel through a public records request, shows that PCSO is investigating a theft of around $14,000 from the account. The report also says the Federal Bureau of Investigation is involved in the investigation. (A spokesperson for the FBI declined to confirm or deny this, as is standard FBI policy.)

In an interview on Tuesday, Presidio County Judge Cinderela Guevara reiterated that the county had been able to recover all funds lost in the case. She said she was “really proud” of treasury staff for regularly checking bank statements, which she said allowed the county to quickly notice the theft.

After the string of unauthorized withdrawals, Garcia, the county treasurer, said officials are staying vigilant. At a commissioners court meeting last Friday, officials voted to close the general fund account entirely, transferring funds into a newly created account in hopes of safeguarding county funds.

“We’ll continue to stay on top of it,” Garcia said. “Every morning now we check [our statements], to make sure there’s nothing new.”