Three indicted in Travis County tax office fraud investigation


Highlights

Trio includes two tax office employees who were among a group of seven people arrested this spring.

A Travis County grand jury indicted three people Thursday as a result of the ongoing investigation into fraud at the Travis County tax assessor-collector’s office.

Two former tax office employees were indicted, according to a news release issued by the district attorney’s office. Cathy Lynn Wilson has been charged with theft by public servant and two counts related to presenting false or incorrect information, and Shell Kenneth Prieto-Reese is charged with theft by public servant,

Also indicted in connection to the investigation was Eulalio Hernandez Jr., on three counts related to presenting false or incorrect information. Investigators have said they believe Hernandez, who is not a tax office employee, was a “runner,” a person who charges individuals or companies a fee to wait in line at a tax office for them.

RELATED: Travis County tax employees charged in fraud tied to vehicle titles

The indictments come a little over a month after the Texas Department of Public Safety announced a multiagency fraud investigation related to vehicle titles, leading to seven arrests, including four tax office employees.

Officials have said a county audit tipped off authorities to irregularities at county tax offices, prompting special agents to launch an investigation in March.

Thursday’s indictments allow the felony charges to proceed toward criminal prosecution. Felony charges against the other four people arrested are pending.

Marc Chavez, an attorney representing Wilson, on Thursday denied the allegations against her.

“Cathy Wilson has worked for the Travis County tax assessor-collector’s office for 23 years and at no point did she ever intend to steal from or deprive the county of any money,” Chavez said. “We look forward to her day in court. The other matter deals with clerical errors in her normal job duties. We are currently investigating those clerical errors and look forward to clearing that up.”

ALSO READ: Travis County tax office hurries to reshuffle in wake of fraud probe

Alan Bennett, an attorney representing Hernandez, declined to comment, saying he had yet to review the indictment. Christie Noelle Williams, an attorney representing Prieto-Reese, could not be reached Thursday.

Wilson faces two to 10 years in prison for presenting false information and 180 days to two years in state jail for theft by public servant, and Prieto-Reese faces 180 days to two years in state jail for theft by public servant.

Hernandez faces two to 10 years in prison for each of the three counts of related to providing false information.

Wilson and Prieto-Reese had been with the county since 1995 and 2008, respectively, according to county records. Tax Assessor-Collector Bruce Elfant told County Commissioners on Tuesday that they were among 10 tax office employees not cleared to return to work.

Investigators have said one of the main schemes they uncovered involved undervaluing vehicles to lower state tax payments.

Wilson is accused of entering an incorrect value for a 2004 Ford pick-up truck and providing false or incorrect information on a title and/or a title transfer document and falsely notarizing a gift transfer affidavit for a 2004 Chrysler van, according to the indictment. The indictment states that she accepted the affidavit without requiring both signatories to be present and processed the transaction.

RELATED: Audit: Title transfer irregularities might mean tax shortfall of $1M

According to arrest affidavits, a DPS special agent saw Wilson and Prieto-Reese “coordinate to steal cash and coins from each of their respective cash drawers” and stealing rolls of quarters on surveillance tape.

The amount Prieto-Reese stole during over a period of several dates in March totaled $900, and the amount Wilson stole during a similar span totaled $822, according to affidavits.

Hernandez is accused of notarizing gift transfer affidavits for a 2001 Toyota pick-up, a 2005 Acura four-door sedan and a 2002 Toyota Camry without requiring the presence of both signatories, according to the indictment.



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