City publicly addresses being scammed out of millions in streetcar project

The city of El Paso and the Camino Real Regional Mobility Authority were scammed out of more than $3 million that was meant to be used to pay for the downtown streetcar project, city leaders said at a news conference Wednesday afternoon.

Officials said they had known of the scheme for several weeks but were advised by law enforcement officials not to make it public.

City officials revealed that the city was a victim of a vendor phishing scam. More than half of the missing money has since been recovered.

Phishing is the attempt to obtain sensitive information such as usernames, passwords and credit card details for malicious reasons, by masquerading as a trustworthy entity in an electronic communication.

An investigation began in early October when a comptroller notified the internal auditor that the city was a possible victim of a phishing scam resulting in the loss of nearly $300,000.

According to the news release, the loss was reported to law enforcement officials, prompting local law enforcementagencies and the FBI to launch an investigation.

In mid-October the city of El Paso and the Camino Real Regional Mobility Authority discovered an additional $2.9 million in misdirected funds.

Since the discovery of the scam, city leaders said it has changed its vendor payment process and is now issuing paper checks to people who do business with the city.

Reporter Tomas Hoppough asked Mayor Oscar Lesser what the city’s plan is if it can’t recover money from the scam.

Lesser responded, “We’ll continue to work with law enforcement and work with the city attorney to make sure that whatever is required of us we so cooperate with them.”

At this time, local law enforcement officials and the FBI are trying to recover the stolen money and find the person(s) responsible.

As of Wednesday, $292,000 of the $300,000 and nearly $1.6 million of the $2.9 million had been recovered.

Authorities are still trying to recover the remaining $1.4 million.

When the mayor was asked if the city had conducted a background check of its vendors, Lesser replied, “We’re not going to give you any more information in regards to the investigation.”

Raymond Telles, the executive director for the CRRMA told KFOX14 in 2015 the project was costing $97 million, the majority funded by the Texas Department of Transportation. Some $4.9 million of the funding came from the city of El Paso.

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