U.S. Marshal T. Michael O'Connor

U.S. Marshal and former Victoria County Sheriff T. Michael O'Connor.

Former Victoria County Sheriff T. Michael O’Connor is calling for a forensic audit to examine the county’s management of Hurricane Harvey recovery money.

As he transitions to his new role as U.S. marshal, O’Connor, who was first elected as Victoria County’s sheriff in 2004, said he was speaking out to keep the public’s attention on the ongoing questions and concerns about how the county managed the recovery process after the storm.

“It’s been proven over the years under my administration that the office of sheriff is the office of trustworthy stewardship at the highest level of integrity, and the people of Victoria should demand nothing less,” O’Connor wrote in a statement shared with the Advocate.

T. Michael O'Connor issues statement on need for Victoria County forensic audit

In the aftermath of Harvey, the sheriff’s office, like dozens of county buildings, needed repairs. O’Connor wrote that there seemed to have been a “disconnect” in communication between the county administration and the sheriff’s office about the repairs needed.

“At one point, due to the prolonged delay for needed repairs, we had to utilize sheriff’s office funds to make the repairs due to the urgency of personnel working in an unacceptable environment,” he wrote.

When the county administration later hired a contractor to work on the additional repairs at the sheriff’s office, the office asked to review work orders and schedules to have internal oversight while the work was ongoing. But the sheriff’s office was never provided any documentation from the contractor or the administration and continued to have delays to its questions, O’Connor wrote.

O’Connor instructed sheriff’s office personnel to begin an in-depth investigation to determine why the information requested was not provided in a timely manner and continued to have delays, and the preliminary findings were that there were “many questions unanswered and tracking documentation seemed to be limited to non-existing,” he wrote.

To ensure an independent investigation, O’Connor said the sheriff’s office contacted the Texas Rangers Public Integrity Unit about the case. He said he did not know the status of the case out of respect for the integrity of the review process.

A representative with the Texas Rangers did not return a call Friday to confirm the status of the investigation.

The sheriff also emphasized a forensic audit is much different from a financial audit approved by the county commissioners during their Feb. 3 meeting. A forensic audit is needed, he said, because annual financial audits are limited in scope and not able to discover the real issues.

“When the sheriff’s office was requested to investigate a matter, it became a practice to incorporate a forensic audit as a part of the investigative capabilities allowing a more in-depth accounting and evaluation,” O’Connor wrote.

In his statement, O’Connor defined financial and forensic audits and wrote, “It is the best interest for all to have a forensic audit of Harvey funds.” He listed his main questions about the county’s management after Harvey:

  • Why did only one county administrator have oversight with no redundancy to assure integrity of the process?
  • Why wasn’t there an auditor assigned from the beginning to review expenditures for compliance with the contractor on a real-time basis?
  • Why wasn’t there a posted priority list countywide in regards with work repair schedule that was shared with all county stakeholders?
  • Why was there a delay in establishing a review committee to determine the accountability of funds and repair work?

O’Connor joins a chorus of Victoria County residents and leaders who are calling for a forensic audit, each citing lingering concerns about the county’s management of more than $4 million in Harvey funds and saying that a financial audit will fall short of answering remaining questions.

Asked about the sheriff’s call for a forensic audit, County Judge Ben Zeller continued his assertion that a financial audit is the same as a forensic audit. He said he was unable to respond to O’Connor’s call for a forensic audit because he had not seen his statement, but he added the court “did approve a forensic audit, so it sounds like we’re a few steps ahead.”

On Feb. 3, Victoria County’s commissioners court voted 4-1 to proceed with a financial audit conducted by a certified public accounting firm, despite repeated calls for a forensic audit by Commissioner Gary Burns, other county leaders and members of the public. The motion the commissioners approved used the term “financial audit” and not “forensic audit.”

O’Connor ended his statement with a quote from famed astronomer Carl Sagan: “One of the saddest lessons of history is this: If we’ve been bamboozled long enough, we tend to reject any evidence of the bamboozle. We’re no longer interested in finding out the truth ...”

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Morgan Theophil covers local government for the Victoria Advocate. She can be reached at 361-580-6511, mtheophil@vicad.com or on Twitter

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Local Government Reporter

Morgan Theophil covers local government for the Victoria Advocate. She can be reached at 361-580-6511, mtheophil@vicad.com or on Twitter.

(4) comments

Bruce Woods

Bottom line is there was a lot of money paid that can not be accounted for... work that can not be verified... and only a couple of hands that touched it. It should not be hard to identify where the issues were. Texas Rangers definitely could figure it out.

George Schwarz Staff
George Schwarz

I am afraid Judge Zeller is mistaken. And, given that he lacks knowing the difference between a forensic and standard financial audit, one must wonder how he got through an MBA program and how he succeeds (if he does) in the financial services industry.

One must ask if he is in over his head or, given his degrees and experience, he is flat out lying and spinning to provide a cover-up.

Glenn Wilson

“...did approve a forensic audit, so it sounds like we’re a few steps ahead.” -- Liar, liar, pants on fire. IMO :)

Doug Hazlewood

“Did approve a forensic audit, so it sounds like we’re a few steps ahead.” Riiiight. Makes you sound even more like you are hiding something by doubling down on your 'Trump-y' deceitful response. You did NOT approve a FORENSIC AUDIT by the accepted definition.

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