A grand jury found pervasive evidence that supervisors and managers, including Travis County Tax Assessor Collector Bruce Elfant, were aware of theft and fraudulent behaviors that have likely cost the county millions of dollars.
Updated to include a response from the Travis County Tax Office.
Travis County Tax Assessor Collector Bruce Elfant was made aware of alleged theft and fraudulent activity in the county’s motor vehicle department as early as 2014, a grand jury said in a report issued today. Elfant was not only aware of the fraudulent activities, which resulted in the loss of what is likely millions of dollars of tax revenue. He and his supervisors systematically overlooked suspicious behaviors, the grand jury found.
“The evidence presented give this grand jury cause to state that the Travis County Tax Office, due to its practice of inadequate supervision, poor accountability, bad management and outright negligence, facilitated the theft of potentially millions of dollars of tax revenue due to the State of Texas,” the report states.
The Travis County Tax Office responded to the letter on Thursday evening.
“I have great respect for the grand jury and understand that this is a serious issue," Elfant said in a news release Thursday evening. "I take responsibility and am fully committed to making sure this never happens again."
The grand jury concluded that Elfant was not alone in overlooking questionable transactions in the tax office. Supervisors and managers did not report suspicious documents and encouraged other employees to process the paperwork anyway.
“There appears to be a pervasive culture, within the supervisory ranks of the [Travis County] Tax Office, of willfully looking the other way when presented with questionable practices or behaviors,” the grand jury wrote in its report. “This lack of supervisory presence is a clear contributor to employees feeling emboldened to apparently steal from the county.”
The grand jury issued seven recommendations within its report. The suggestions include mandatory ethics training, requiring employees to sign a written certification indicating they understand the conduct expected of them, training on reporting suspicious behavior, a yearly audit process and more.
“The grand jury, in hearing the evidence presented, is GREATLY ALARMED at the pervasive lack of supervision and apparently willful dereliction of duty of the supervisors and officers of the [Travis County] Tax Office,” according to the report.
Travis County spokesperson Hector Nieto said that the "Commissioner’s Court has received and is reviewing the letter."
"Our goal is to rebuild the public trust and meet the needs of our customers," Elfant said. "We will continue to work closely with the county attorney, along with the county auditor and others, to restore confidence in the tax office.”
The grand jury has concluded. However, this is still an active investigation. The story will be updated as more information becomes available.
Taylor Buchanan joined Community Impact Newspaper in 2018 after completing a master of journalism degree from the University of Texas. She worked as the senior reporter for Community Impact's Southwest Austin edition and is now the editor for the company's flagship Round Rock/Pflugerville/Hutto edition.