Posted: Apr 19, 2012 11:32 PM
Updated: Oct 2, 2012 8:48 AM
EDINBURG - The Hidalgo County auditor is expected to release a final number on how much the county was overcharged for guardrail. In February, CHANNEL 5 NEWS purchased a measuring wheel and inspected more than 30 guardrails in Hidalgo County. Our investigation found an estimated $50,000 in apparant overcharges.
Sources tell us the final number is a lot higher.
The Hidalgo County auditor checked all guardrail installed since October 2010 and found $117,000 in apparent extra charges. Because of the discrepancies, the auditor decided to widen his investigation and go all the way back to 2004. That's when a company called Guerra Construction got the guardrail contract.
CHANNEL 5 NEWS asked owner Richard Guerra about the trouble on March 6. At the time he told us, "If I'm off in any way, I'll repay the county back their money."
He blamed the discrepancies on places where sections of guardrail overlap. We asked him why some of the overlaps count and some not.
"It was my mistake... Mine because I'm the owner of the company, and my workers are out there, and they didn't count that," Guerra explained.
We haven't seen Guerra since March 6. We went to his office on March 15. An officer worked told us she had no idea where he was. "Just leave," she yelled, through the locked front door. She told CHANNEL 5 NEWS reporter Jordan Williams, "I don't have anything to say to you."
Monday, April 17 we returned and found the door locked. By April 18, workers had put up no trespassing signs and closed the gate on us. We followed a truck that appeared to be heading to Guerra Construction. A woman pulled off and came over to talk to us. She told us she wasn't "at liberty to say anything" and that she "didn't work with him or anything." She referred us to Guerra Construction's attorney.
Zeke Reyna Jr. told us he plans to dispute the auditor's findings. "The numbers do not add up to the information that you reported. The procedure that as used is inappropriate," he said.
We asked Reyna about the issues with overlap. He believes the overlap amounts should count. "It's a matter of fact. Let me get all of the information," he told us. He promised to follow up with us.
Most of the new guardrail is in Hidalgo County Commissioner Joel Quintanilla's precinct, Precinct 1. The contractor, Richard Guerra, is his brother's brother-in-law. Guerra has held the county guardrail contract since 2004. Quintanilla was elected in 2010. The commissioner has denied any wrongdoing. He's waiting for the audit to be released before commenting.
Hidalgo County has stopped purchasing guardrail until the audit is complete. The audit will be forwarded to the county judge, the sheriff and the district attorney.