The city’s longtime chief internal auditor is alleging city officials, including former City Manager Tommy Gonzalez and city Rep. Cassandra Hernandez, retaliated against him after he audited fuel card usage by elected officials.

“The harassment has been terrible, terrible,” Chief Internal Auditor Edmundo Calderon said in a phone interview with El Paso Matters. “To the point where it was cruel – this is why I had to seek legal representation.”

Calderon is pursuing the grievance process for a workplace complaint with the city’s human resources department and is giving notice to the city that a claim for a violation of the whistleblower statute will be filed with the state, according to a letter obtained by El Paso Matters. The letter was sent to Mayor Oscar Leeser and City Attorney Karla Nieman on July 21 by attorney Laura Enriquez, who is representing Calderon. The letter was first reported by the El Paso Times.

Hernandez said Calderon is “unjustly” singling her out.

Cassandra Hernandez, City Council Representative for District 3, asks the Ethics Commission to consider last-minute evidence during a hearing related to her alleged misuse of a gas card on July 19. (Corrie Boudreaux/El Paso Matters)

“I have not lodged any complaints against Mr. Calderon, and his allegations remain unsupported and inaccurate,” Hernandez said in an emailed statement to El Paso Matters. “The auditor is well aware that decisions concerning his employment with the City of El Paso are not made unilaterally by me.”

The City Attorney’s Office declined El Paso Matters’ request for comment because it is a “personnel matter.” Leeser also declined to comment because Calderon’s complaint involves personnel matters and possible litigation.

Gonzalez could not be reached for comment.

In an email to El Paso Matters, Enriquez said, “The Texas whistleblower statute involves a civil claim by my client against the City of El Paso and others because of the protection afforded to public employees who make good-faith reports of violations of the law by their employers to an appropriate law enforcement agency.”

Key dates and instances where Calderon conducted his audit report of elected officials’ fuel card use are outlined in the letter Enriquez sent to the mayor and city attorney. The audit report stemmed from an anonymous tip from an employee that claimed former city Rep. Claudia Rodriguez was using her city-issued fuel card to put gasoline in the vehicles of her campaign workers.

Throughout the process of conducting the audit Calderon discovered that two elected officials’ use of the cards – Hernandez and Rodriguez – was much higher than others. He also discovered instances of the fuel cards being used while the elected officials were out of town, which led to a police report.

On April 6 Calderon met with a detective from the police department which led to a meeting with Interim Police Chief Peter Pacillas who said a criminal investigation due to possible credit card abuse and/or misapplication of fiduciary property needed to be launched, according to the letter.

The police investigation concluded that no criminal violation occurred because there was no policy in place that applied to elected officials’ use of the city’s fuel cards that were meant for the city’s Streets and Maintenance Department fleets and city-owned vehicles such as those used by the police and fire departments.

Former City Manager Tommy Gonzalez.

Enriquez said Calderon faced retaliation from Gonzalez including open criticism of his audit report process, staff retaliation by not granting funding for cyber security funding during the city’s budget process and not being given an employment contract among the allegations.

Prior to the May 6 city charter amendment election, the office of the auditor reported to both the city manager and City Council. But voters approved an amendment to have the chief internal auditor report directly to the City Council via the Financial Audit and Oversight Committee.

The FOAC is made up of the chief internal auditor, the city manager and four members of the City Council approved by the council itself.

The City Council voted to appoint Calderon as the city’s chief internal auditor in July, but did not vote to issue him an employment contract, which Enriquez said has still not been given. Hernandez voted against appointing Calderon as the chief auditor.

“Representative Cassandra Hernandez voted no on hiring my client as the auditor, refusing to recuse her from the vote, despite his qualifications working almost 19 years with the City of El Paso,” Enriquez said.

Another allegation Enriquez mentions in the letter is an ethics complaint that was filed against Calderon.

“On June 21, 2023, Deborah Paz, along with the help of co-conspirators, Cassandra Hernandez, Jeremy Jordan, and possibly Tommy Gonzalez, submitted an ethics complaint against my client,” Enriquez said, adding the city attorney did not provide legal counsel to Calderon though he was serving in his official capacity during the audit investigation.

Enriquez said the complaint attacks Calderon’s ethics, professionalism, alleging he misused his position, among other accusations. The letter does not cite evidence that Hernandez, Jordan and Gonzalez aided Paz in filing or writing the ethics complaint.

Paz was paid as a canvasser for Hernandez ahead of the November 2020 general election, according to campaign finance reports.

“The letter in question suggests a relationship between Deborah Paz and myself, a claim that lacks foundation,” Hernandez said. “For clarity, Deborah Paz has provided her services to multiple city campaigns, not just mine. This history can be verified through campaign finance reports. Any private citizen can file a complaint on any officer or employee of the city per the ethics ordinance.”

The ethics complaint against Calderon was ultimately dismissed.

“The above retaliation actions that occurred after his April 6 report to the El Paso Police Department affected Mr. Calderon’s compensation, promotion, demotion, and performance evaluation,” Enriquez said in the letter. “My client has endured intimidation and harassment described above as well as other instances of abuse since his report.”

Elida S. Perez is a senior reporter for El Paso Matters. Her experience includes work as city government watchdog reporter for the El Paso Times, investigative reporter for El Paso Newspaper Tree and communities...