The Travis County Tax Office has recently faced four employee arrests, two indictments, and a multiagency fraud investigation—but that’s only been the beginning.

On Thursday, a grand jury released a report detailing the disturbing situation that has unfolded at the county tax office. The jury was “GREATLY ALARMED at the pervasive lack of supervision and apparent willful dereliction of duty of the supervisors and officers of the TC Tax Office.”

The report comes after state officials raided the tax office in May, arresting seven, three of whom were not employees, and seizing a slew of documents and $72,000 in cash. The investigation stemmed from a county audit that found concerning irregularities in vehicle title transfers and registrations, seemingly pointing to an effort to evade taxes. The state called the situation a “big organized scheme,” and filed charges including bribery and forgery.

Even more troubling, the grand jury report found a startling lack of oversight and accountability within the office, which acted as a “contributor to employees feeling emboldened to apparently steal from the county.” The tax office supervisors also “appeared to encourage employees to accept or ignore questionable documents … and process the paperwork anyway.”

Evidence presented to the jury showed that the accountability problem reached the top of the office. “[Tax Assessor] Bruce Elfant ignored questionable behavior by a fellow supervisor and, despite previous reprimands, allowed this individual to continue in his role as a supervisor,” the report said. Elfant had been aware of “significant risks” at the office since 2014.

According to the grand jury, the lack of accountability created a “pervasive culture, within the supervisory ranks of the TC Tax Office, of willfully looking the other way when presented with questionable practices or behaviors.” Ultimately, because of the management’s “outright negligence,” the county office “facilitated the theft of potentially millions of dollars of tax revenue due to the State of Texas.”

Elfant released a statement in response to the report. “[I] understand that this is a serious issue,” he said. “I take responsibility and am fully committed to making sure this never happens again.”

Elfant also said he has already implemented a number of the jury’s recommended oversight and best practice changes. “We will be calling on Travis County Commissioners to begin public hearings as recommended,” he 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.”

 

Despite the grand jury’s conclusion, this is still an ongoing investigation. The story will be updated as new information becomes available.

Jacob Asmussen

Jacob Asmussen is a Senior Journalist for Texas Scorecard. He attended the University of Mary Hardin-Baylor and in 2017 earned a double major in public relations and piano performance.

RELATED POSTS

Texas Runoff Preview

Texas Scorecard’s new documentary was just released. We talk about that and overview a bunch of the runoffs going on in Texas.

4/17/24 Superintendents Are Making BANK in Texas

- Texas taxpayers continue to fund sky-high Superintendent salaries. - TLR to help Dade Phelan raise money in Houston. - Equal rights advocacy group files lawsuit challenging job grant contest that excludes White contractors.