For more than two years the FBI has been probing evidence of fraud and campaign corruption in Cypress Creek EMS. The federal investigation includes a review of the campaigns of three safety commissioners in ESD #11 who are elected to police the multi-million-dollar ambulance contract.
Now we know the mounting cost of the FBI scandal.
Dolcefino Consulting has confirmed a new round of grand jury subpoenas have been issued in a widening federal investigation of possible fraud by the 911 ambulance service Cypress Creek Emergency Medical Services.
The news comes as CCEMS is spending hundreds of thousands of dollars in legal fees in the last few years, much of it in lawsuits against Dolcefino Consulting for seeking records from the tax supported ambulance service. The money is likely coming from medical bill money that could be used to buy medical supplies.
You wouldn’t know there was all this trouble if you have been to a recent meeting of the ESD #11 Commissioners, elected to watchdog the CCEMS 911 contract. There is disturbing new evidence that could explain why.
New e-mails obtained by Dolcefino Consulting detail the efforts of CCEMS employees to help orchestrate the defeat of ESD Commissioners who were asking lots of question about money. The e-mails details efforts to get 3 new Commissioners elected.
The election in 2016 was an ugly one. Two ESD # 11 Commissioners, Robert Berleth and Kevin Brost were demanding explanations for questionable spending, including the big entertainment bills of CCEMS Ambulance Boss Brad England. CCEMS was also being sued by a former medical billing company for alleged bid rigging.
The new e-mails expose efforts by CCEMS employees to create a dossier of possible dirty information on one of the incumbent commissioners, providing material to favored candidates for use in the campaign.
In one e-mail, CCEMS PR guy Norm Uhl prepared a cliff notes version of the dirt for candidates, writing folks may be too lazy to read it all.
In another, the CCEMS IT guy boasts about deleting negative social media posts.
Under federal law, a 501c3 charitable organization like CCEMS is directly prohibited from directly or indirectly participating in, or intervening in, any political campaign.
The three candidates favored by CCEMS in the e-mails won the election. Only about 4,000 of 400,000 registered voters showed up at the polls.
Another ESD #11 Commissioner, Fred Grundemeyer claimed he didn’t have any e-mails when we asked under state law. Turns out he must have deleted at least one, where he congratulates the election winners, calling the vote a devastating defeat for Wayne Dolcefino and the candidates he supported.
“It is pretty simple. Dolcefino Consulting supports any political candidates who fights for transparency,” says President Wayne Dolcefino. “Don’t worry Fred, I am doing just fine. It’s the taxpayers that got played.”
Karen Plummer got the most votes for re-election, despite records showing CCEMS Ambulance money that could have been used to buy were used to entertain her instead.
A few weeks ago, Plummer got an e-mail from CCEMS Boss Brad England. The message was simple, Miss ya!
We have reached a new low.
It is no secret that government contractors try to influence the election of public officials, but what is happening in the ESD #11 election has simply crossed the line. It is time for taxpayers to send a very, very, clear message.
It is bad enough that in recent days Cypress Creek EMS has tried to scare senior citizens that the ESD #11 election threatens quality 911 service. Embarrassing, actually! None of the people running for the job as safety commissioner watchdogging the CCEMS contract has called for a change in contractors.
The IRS makes it clear that “501c3 charities like CCEMS are ABSOLUTELY prohibited from directly or indirectly participating in, or intervening in, any political campaign on behalf of or in opposition to any candidates for elective public office.”
They have been warned before. The FBI and IRS are already investigating the place.
Now we know the powers at Cypress Creek either can’t read or simply don’t care what federal law says.
On April 26, CCEMS Special Operations Chief Wren Nealy forwarded an e-mail to all the employees of the ambulance service with the headline LOCAL ELECTIONS MATTER…OUR CYPRESS CREEK EMS IS IN JEOPARDY!
The e-mail states “the unparalled emergency medicine CCEMS provides our community along with its leadership are being undermined by the opposing candidates” It recommends candidates even. If that isn’t a violation of federal law, it is hard to imagine what is!
What is even more disgusting is that the e-mail talks about the recent floods and the work of first responders to save people in nursing homes and assisted living centers.
First, we should tip our hats to every first responder who braved their own safety to help others, but to use it as some political wedge suggesting some ESD candidates would do something different is shameless.
Why the desperation?
Is it because Robert Berleth, Kevin Brost and Matt Folsom are campaigning to force CCEMS to cough up financial records justifying all the millions they get in tax money? Isn’t that what every taxpayer wants?
Maybe Wren Nealy has other worries. His wife owns a company called Koronis Revenue Solutions, that for the last four years has been the company that gets a cut out all of the medical bills CCEMS sends. What a coincidence?
Koronis Revenue Solutions has already been paid millions. Now that’s a revenue solution for the Nealy family.
A former medical billing company for CCEMS has filed a lawsuit alleging the deal was “rigged” to make sure Wren’s wife’s company won.
Secretary of State records also show Koronis Revenue Solutions only became a company a few weeks before they got the lucrative CCEMS contract.
Wouldn’t you love to start a company and get such a windfall so quickly?
Taxpayers are smarter than CCEMS gives them credit for.
The FBI and IRS don’t investigate and issue grand jury subpoenas for fun.
There are reasons CCEMS is the first charity in a long time to be charged with a crime by the Harris County District Attorney for refusing to disclose charity records.
CCEMS won’t even tell taxpayers who is on their payroll?
Now we have caught CCEMS red handed!
Enough is Enough.
Cypress Creek EMS will not tell you the names of the people on the ambulance payroll paid with taxpayer money.
The paramedics are certified, wear uniforms with name tags, so ask yourself. What’s the big deal?
Here’s another reason why the names are vitally important. At another contentious meeting of ESD #11 this week, commissioner Kevin Brost continued to demand accountability. Brost says ESD #11 taxpayers pay every month for 11,520 man hours for the ambulance crews. Brost says ambulance records show Cypress Creek is shorting the taxpayers 720 hours. Cypress creek denies it.
Ok. The best way to satisfy taxpayers is to show them the records detailing the names and time sheets of the paramedics.
What’s the big deal?
That is why taxpayers have a right to see who they are paying and when they are working.
On April 29th CCEMS will have to explain to a Judge why they ignored a criminal subpoena for the records.
ESD# 11 Commissioners this week paid a $50,000 bill to lawyers who dealt with complying with federal grand jury subpoenas, part of a widening criminal investigation by the FBI and IRS.
Widening, because a new round of subpoenas makes it clear the Feds are now questioning just not CCEMS influence on past elections, but at least one of CCEMS biggest contracts. Insurance may foot part of the $50,000 bill, but just part. And it is just one month.
The latest news release from CCEMS attacks the three candidates in the ESD who promise tighter scrutiny of the way CCEMS spends tax money, even bringing up a 21-year old family dispute involving one candidate to remind them he has a misdemeanor criminal record. Taxpayers deserve better.
CCEMS is a 501(c)(3) charity. In case Mr. Uhl hasn’t read Federal law lately, here it is. He thinks you just can’t endorse a candidate. He is wrong.
“A charity is prohibited of directly, or indirectly intervening in the campaign for an elected office.”
Luckily, the Internal Revenue Service is already part of the ESD fraud investigation so adding that to the list of tax issues shouldn’t be hard.
CCEMS has a contract with ESD #11 taxpayers to provide a service. The fact that they are blatantly trying to influence the election of the safety commissioners responsible for policing their contract is just plain wrong.
No one has ever suggested that ESD #11 should replace Cypress Creek as a contractor, but in the last few weeks Cypress Creek PR guy Norm Uhl has scared senior citizens by saying their choice in this election could jeopardize the quality of their medical care. Shame on him.
Now he jeopardizes the charities tax exempt status with personal political attacks on the only three candidates who have vowed tougher scrutiny of Cypress Creek EMS.
The legal bills mount.
Just to keep a secret.
What’s in a name? You got to wonder who is on the payroll that they don’t want you to see…
Everyone should read what the Cypress Creek Emergency Medical Services (CCEMS) PR guy is saying to influence the May election of the safety commissioners for ESD#11. “Setting the Record Straight” and you can find it at www.ccemsnews.com.
You have to love America.
Cypress Creek’s Norm Uhl argues CCEMS is a “private” company, providing a service no different than a construction company would on a Texas highway.
Quite frankly, I never would put an asphalt company in the same category as a life and death 911 provider, but OK, let’s play along.
Cypress Creek should just incorporate as a “for-profit” business. Now CCEMS is a public charity, not a private company. That is why their IRS 990 Tax Returns are public, not private.
In Texas, a charity must disclose financial records. That includes who is on the payroll, and who is getting the contracts. That is why the CCEMS contract requires competitive bidding. How else do we find out about overpaid charity bosses?
CCEMS is playing like they don’t know what the charity law says, but the Harris County District Attorney’s office thinks that’s hogwash.
As a public charity, CCEMS gets the right to buy equipment at those cheaper government pool prices. Private construction companies do not.
Let’s use the construction company example anyway. I invite Mr. Uhl to show me any government contracts with a construction company that has the government paying for specific line items of the company operation, like the salaries of employees.
ESD#11 pays the salaries of every paramedic and dispatcher, but cannot find out who is cashing the checks. Really?
It is the reason why ESD#11 Commissioners Brost and Berleth have argued taxpayers have a right to know who is paid with your money. Just names, time sheets, and bonuses.
CCEMS says it has nothing to hide. Great. Cough it up. The paramedics wear uniforms and name tags don’t they?
On a website called www.keepccemsstrong.com you read that CCEMS is being asked to share confidential HIPPA compliant Information. Nonsense.
ESD#11 taxpayers pay for the staff of the CCEMS dispatch center, which also dispatches fire trucks in other parts of Harris County. Those fire departments pay for the service, but word is ESD #11 taxpayers are paying far more than their fair share.
Again, CCEMS won’t cough up the truth so ESD taxpayers know.
If I live in Spring, I want firetrucks to get to a house fire in Katy, but I expect folks in Katy to pay for it.
If you read “Setting the Record Straight” you’ll notice there is no mention that the FBI and IRS are now investigating CCEMS, in part because of allegations of improper CCEMS influence.
There is no mention that CCEMS is now fighting a criminal subpoena from the District Attorney. What a great message for the kids of ESD #11.
But that’s ok. Maybe taxpayers should elect commissioners who will give CCEMS exactly what they want, a private company with a contract just like a road construction company.
ESD #11 could negotiate a specific service contract with a payment for services rendered. Of course, CCEMS would lose the right to veto their replacement.
I know, as stupid as it sounds, ESD #11 actually signed a 10-year contract that says that. ESD lawyers didn’t write the contract, the contractor did.
Under the current contract, CCEMS gets to keep the millions of dollars paid for insurance companies for 911 ambulance service, money that is supposed to defray the need for extra tax dollars. The tax money subsidizes the budget.
If CCEMS wants to be a private company like a construction company, all that medical billing money should then be collected by a third party vendor chosen by taxpayers and returned to taxpayers. It would be aggressively collected like toll road violations, and then, and only then, would taxpayers be asked for property tax money to make up the difference.
CCEMS lawyer Andrew McKinney admits CCEMS doesn’t aggressively collect the medical bills because taxpayers are chipping in millions. Maybe that explains why $6 million dollars in bad debt was written off.
The way it is now, charity ambulance service CCEMS gets to use all those millions in medical bill money to help pay for a bloated million-dollar plus administration, operating just 14 full time ambulances and 4 part-time ambulances. They use the money to pay Executive Director Brad England’s salary, which is much higher than the Harris County Judge Ed Emmett.
They use the money to pay for those lavish bills at Perry’s Steakhouse where England holds “wining and dining” meetings that may run afoul of IRS rules.
Ask Karen Plummer, who is running for re-election, why it’s right for an ESD elected official to accept entertainment from the contractor she polices, while CCEMS argues for a tax increase to pay for old medical equipment?
Let CCEMS run a dispatch center and make money doing it. ESD Taxpayers would pay their portions, plus a little more for England’s administration desires. Of course, taxpayers for all those fire departments will want to know how CCEMS is spending their money too.
What a tangled web you weave when you play games with the public’s right to know.
Let CCEMS run an education center and make money from it.
You have to love America. Imagine if a road construction company was blatantly trying to influence the election of highway commissioners to keep their contract. Taxpayers would be outraged.
No one has ever suggested CCEMS doesn’t provide great ambulance service. CCEMS has created this transparency crisis by this chameleon challenged game of being government when they want to, a charity when they want, and a private company when they want to.
The sad thing is that CCEMS and Mr. Uhl may have now committed the unforgiveable sin. Scaring residents, especially senior citizens, that their safety may be jeopardized in an attempt “to take over CCEMS or replace it with a private ambulance service which cannot manage the standard of care established by CCEMS.”
CCEMS says they have been the transparent one, alleging Dolcefino Consulting is being paid to expose the misuse of taxpayer money. We plead guilty. That is what an investigative communications firm does.
And that is the beauty of transparency, and why state law makes it illegal to question the motive of a citizen when they ask for charity records.
If CCEMS provides the records to the ESD #11 Commissioners, the Harris County District Attorney, the FBI and the IRS, the public would eventually get to see them anyway. And then you could judge for yourselves?
If CCEMS has nothing to hide, that’s the quickest way to fix it. What a concept.
If a candidate running for ESD#11 Commissioner will not promise to protect your investment, they do not deserve your support.
This political ad was paid for by Dolcefino Consulting. Just setting the record straight!
The embattled Cypress Creek Emergency Medical Service has spent hundreds of thousands of dollars fighting the release of records detailing only the names and salaries of those employees.
They have defied the Harris County District Attorney and now face a widening criminal investigation by the FBI and Internal Revenue Service.
Now a legal brief filed by Assistant County Attorney Scott Durfee challenges the charity ambulance service to follow the law. CCEMS is trying to block the criminal subpoena for their payroll records.
CCEMS is the first charity in Harris County to be accused of a crime for withholding financial records. CCEMS lawyer Andrew McKinney claims the charity law is vague, and CCEMS doesn’t know what the definition of financial records is. The brief by the DA calls that hogwash, arguing CCEMS just doesn’t like the disclosure requirements.
“There is no doubt that the records sought by Mr. Dolcefino – the money paid to employees of CCEMS are financial records and financial activity of CCEMS,” says Durfee.
ESD#11 taxpayers pay millions of dollars every year to pay the salaries and benefits of every dispatcher and paramedic at CCEMS. CCEMS has even refused to identify the names of people on their payroll to the government agency paying their salaries.
At a candidate forum last week in the hotly contested May election for ESD #11 Commissioners, it was suggested CCEMS is fighting the release of HIPPA personnel records.
That is nonsense.
No one has asked for any confidential information, only the information that every government entity in Texas provides. Dolcefino Consulting simply has sought the names and time sheets, and records of who has received bonuses and when. We have told CCEMS to redact any confidential information. They aren’t telling taxpayers the truth.
Taxpayers should ask a simple question. Why are they hiding the names? Who is on the payroll?
CCEMS should release the names of everyone on their payroll immediately. CCEMS Boss Brad England has refused to even release his salary and bonuses. Administration expenses of the ambulance service exceeds 1 million dollars. You pay taxes to subsidize the cost of ambulance service. The ESD doesn’t even make Cypress Creek return medical bill funds to the taxpayer to
make sure the tax rate is as low as possible.
“Supporters of CCEMS are fighting to elect ESD Commissioners. That is their right, but do we really want a government contractor controlling the people who are supposed to watch the way
they spend money,” asks Wayne Dolcefino, President of Dolcefino Consulting. “This election isn’t a referendum on Cypress Creek, but a referendum of what taxpayers expect their safety commissioners to do.”
The DA will make their case to a Judge this Friday.
Meanwhile, money CCEMS could have spent on medical supplies is being wasted again in a battle to keep secrets, over names.
Virtually all government agencies now have a Facebook page, used to keep taxpayers informed.
The FBI even has one. So does the IRS.
And here in Harris County, ESD #11 has a Facebook Page. It has the same graphic as the ESD #11 website, links to the emergency service district webpage, and of course it is labeled as a government organization. After all, ESD #11 is responsible for 911 ambulance service for 600,000 Harris County Residents.
Just one problem.
Take a look at Harris County ESD #11 on Facebook and take a look at the patriotic looking message on the left. It is calling for the reelection of incumbent Karen Plummer for the ESD Board. In fact, she is the only one mentioned, even though there are 7 people vying for just three spots on the controversial ESD #11.
“There is not even a required disclosure on what appears to be a political advertisement hidden under the guise of an official government Facebook Page,” says Wayne Dolcefino President of Dolcefino Consulting. “Maybe it shouldn’t be a surprise that Ms. Plummer is playing games with voters because some ESD #11 commissioners seem to have issues with Texas Election Law and the ethics of running for public office.”
Commissioner Fred Grundemeyer never filed a single required campaign document when he ran for the ESD.
Now the FBI and IRS are investigating the way some ESD Commissioners were elected, and whether they improperly received financial benefits from a group linked the ambulance contractor the ESD is elected to watchdog.
ESD #11 John Peeler says the Facebook Page used to promote Karen Plummer is not the “official “page of the ESD #11, but they are investigating who controls it. As a licensed private investigator, I have a good place to start. Ask Karen Plummer!
Did Ms. Plummer violate the law? That’s the job of the Harris County District Attorney’s job, but taxpayers curious about what the ESD does shouldn’t be confused by this “unofficial” Facebook page.
Wonder what would happen if someone set up a fake FBI Facebook page, or one for the IRS?I have a clue it wouldn’t be up long.
You might think Ms. Plummer would be careful about her electioneering this time. She just had to turn over her campaign records to the FBI.
An investigation by Dolcefino Consulting found records detailing evidence Plummer frequently accepted entertainment from Cypress Creek EMS Head Brad England. CCEMS is the ambulance service ESD #11 is supposed to police to protect millions in taxpayer money.
That should tell voters all they need to know.
We all know about the famous Bill Clinton answer to a grand jury investigation. “it depends on what the meaning of the word is is.”
Now we have the local edition. Cypress Creek EMS lawyer Andrew Mckinney is trying to convince a Harris County Criminal Judge the state charity law is too vague for him to understand, even what a “financial record” is.
Cypress Creek EMS has faced criminal charges for sixteen months for violating the Texas Charity Law by refusing to release payroll records of administrators, including CCEMS Boss Brad England. CCEMS has even refused to provide the names of CCEMS employees paid with tax dollars.
Dolcefino Consulting asked for the payroll records so that taxpayers could see who was getting paid with their money. Seems simple, but not to the folks at CCEMS.
Months after being charged, the Harris County District Attorney subpoenaed the payroll records. CCEMS just ignored the criminal subpoena, and now their lawyer is trying to convince a Judge to throw it out.
Mr. Mckinney claims the charity law is vague and he just doesn’t know what a “financial record” is. That means it is apparently hard for him and the folks at CCEMS to figure out if a payroll record is a financial record.
At a recent court hearing after more than 17 delays, Mr. McKinney addressed the District Attorney.
“I know what you are getting at, I know what you are asking for, but there isn’t a record of salaries the way you are asking for it.”
Sure sounds a lot like that famous Clinton quote.
“Charities in Texas have been releasing the names of employees and their salaries since I was in diapers”, says Wayne Dolcefino, President of Dolcefino Consulting. “The United Way, the Red Cross, you name it and the public has a right to see how their donations are spent. I am sorry Mr. Mckinney is so confused.”
Of course, with CCEMS there is a greater obligation for transparency. Ten million in tax money, plus a government contract from ESD # 11 that lets CCEMS collect and keep the
medical bills from the 911 contract they have to protect 600,000 Harris County residents.
And all this time, the majority of the elected ESD #11 Safety Commissioners haven’t forced them to show the records.
Of course, the FBI is now investigating who helped fund the campaigns of some of those same commissioners. CCEMS has been subpoenaed too.
Your tax dollars at work.
Luckily, taxpayers in ESD #11 have a chance in May to elect the new safety commissioners who will hopefully watchdog your money the right way.
Texas Attorney General Ken Paxton’s assault on the public’s right to know may affect the safety of millions of Texans…here’s how.
The beleaguered attorney general says volunteer fire and 911 ambulance services are no longer covered by the Texas Public Information Act. That changes decades of open records law.
When the attorney general convinced Austin Judge Karin Krump to go along last week, Texans lost more than the right to see how millions of their tax dollars were spent.
Now the public will no longer to be able to access dispatch records to see if response times are accurately reported. They will no longer be able to see if delays cost lives.
And what will happen when fire and ambulance services are sued for an injury or death? If they are not government entities any more. How can they claim governmental immunity?
In the recent CCEMS case, Assistant Texas Attorney General Rosalind Hunt told the court in Austin that the ambulance company can find another way to raise money if they lose government funding.
Maybe Hunt should read the CCEMS has no authority to answer 911 calls without the permission of the elected members of the emergency service district.
Tonight, millions of Texans are left in the dark by Judge Karin Krump’s decision.
The public’s right to know about how their tax money is spent to protect them should never be jeopardized.
If you live between Tomball and Humble, you should send a clear message to your elected representatives on the ESD board.
Protect our money. Protect our right to know.
It sure looks like Texas Attorney General Ken Paxton has abandoned the public’s right to know.
And today Judge Karen Crump in Austin put a judicial seal of approval on what could quickly become a new era of secrecy.
Texas taxpayers should demand something different.
This particular fight was about Cypress Creek EMS, the contractor for 911 service for 600,000 Harris County Residents. ESD #11, the elected government safety agency, lets CCEMS keep every penny of the money they make from the ambulance bills, even though it is the taxpayers who authorize the ambulance to go, and the money is used to defray the cost of the government service. Taxpayers then pay another $10 million dollars in taxes to support CCEMS, paying the salaries of the paramedics who responds and the dispatchers who send them. You should find out if that is the system used where you live.
The Texas Attorney General told CCEMS they had to show the records of their use of tax money when Dolcefino Consulting requested them. Just like Texas has worked for decades.
CCEMS filed suit against the Texas Attorney General, refusing to let taxpayers see who benefited from the tax dollars. Dolcefino Consulting joined in to help fight for the public right to see who got their money.
Sounds pretty simple, right? Not in Texas anymore.
Last year, the Texas Supreme Court ruled in another case that the Greater Houston Partnership wasn’t a governmental body just because it got a little money from government contracts. Since then, the Attorney General has folded its “public right to know “tent, regardless of how much public money it is involved, or even how critical it is to the people getting it.
Dolcefino Consulting argued that volunteer fire and ambulance services are different, because they provide a critical government service, have an exclusive contract with the government and without the government contract they wouldn’t have any right to send a 911 ambulance at all.
In the CCEMS case, the Texas Attorney General abandoned the fight for taxpayers, and instead joined the guys who take your money and want to keep it secret. Makes you proud doesn’t it?
In court this week, the Assistant Attorney General argued CCEMS could find another way to make money if they didn’t have all your tax money. CCEMS
Lawyer Andrew McKinney told Judge Crump they could go to neighborhoods between Tomball and Humble and get volunteer contributions put on water bills.
They would make 4 million dollars a year.
We say go for it. But read the law first.
The legislature created the ESD’s to provide 911 ambulance service, and CCEMS likely wouldn’t have the legal authority to answer the 911 calls without the government contract. It wouldn’t matter how they get the money.
That same fight is already happening in the Katy area.
Harris County Commissioners better wake up, because as the county has grown the budgets for these volunteer fire and ambulance services have exploded. They aren’t just folks running to the call of the bell. They are becoming huge bureaucracies.
Why should taxpayers be forced to pay money for a service they have no right to question? Beats us.
Here is a message to Attorney General Paxton. You have done taxpayers wrong.
Judge Karen Crump had a chance to fix it. She didn’t.
Of course, there was never anything stopping CCEMS from voluntarily showing their records, especially to the elected safety commissioners who are supposed to watchdog their contract. They refused. Yet they always want more of your money.
Next week, CCEMS will be back in another court, trying to quash a subpoena from the Harris County District Attorney for refusing to release charity records.
ESD #11 could have joined the fight for taxpayers right to know. They didn’t.
Maybe that is a symptom of the real problem. Some of the people elected to police the 911 contract in ESD #11 may have been helped into office by CCEMS officials and their friends. One never even filed required election reports, yet no one stopped him. What a cozy deal!
Maybe that is why the FBI is now investigating, and records are being taken to a federal grand jury.
Taxpayers should explore an election to roll back taxes. CCEMS apparently doesn’t need your money, and they are willing to spend money they could have spent on medical supplies fighting the public right to know instead.
“The people, in delegating authority, do not give their public servants the right to decide what is good for the people to know and what is not good for them to know”.
That is one of the first paragraphs in the Texas Public Information Act.
Maybe our Texas Attorney General should take another look at it sometime.