The Houston Chronicle’s St. John Barned-Smith reports on an entity contractor under scrutiny from watchdogs:
A federal grand jury is investigating a north Harris County emergency services district that contracts with a nonprofit ambulance service which has come under intense scrutiny by government watchdogs in recent years.
Prosecutors ordered commissioners of Harris County Emergency Services District No. 11 in February to produce records related to its operations, according to a federal subpoena obtained by the Houston Chronicle. READ MORE
Oh, what they confess in court:#HarrisCounty #CypressCreek
Posted by Dolcefino Consulting on Wednesday, March 2, 2016
Taxpayers living between Tomball and Humble probably don’t know who Andrew McKinney is. They should. The law firm he works for has been paid hundreds of thousands of dollars to keep secrets about who is benefiting from tax money being spent on 911 service.
Andrew McKinney is the long time lawyer for Cypress Creek Emergency Medical Services (CCEMS), the charity with the exclusive government contract from ESD #11 to provide 911 emergency ambulance service for 600,000 Harris County residents.
In some places across Texas, taxpayers don’t have to kick in much tax money to help pay for 911 service. That is because the 911 ambulance bills insurance companies. For instance, CCEMS collects millions, and they are allowed to keep all that money. Taxpayers are then asked to make up the rest of the ESD budget.
In an Austin courtroom Monday, Andrew McKinney admitted CCEMS doesn’t aggressively collect the medical bills because they get all those millions from taxpayers.
In just a few words, he may have provided taxpayers with the evidence to say enough is enough.
Why in the world should taxpayers pay a penny for 911 service without having the right to audit the millions of dollars CCEMS already make from the 911 medical bills? It is not complicated.
Why are elected ESD Commissioners sitting on their hand? Hundreds of thousands of dollars that could pay for ambulance equipment, medical supplies, even bonuses for underpaid paramedics are being used instead to wage legal battles with the Harris County District Attorney and Texas Attorney General to keep records a secret.
Why did the ESD Commissioners do nothing when they found out the medical billing money is being used to fund the entertainment habits of the CCEMS Boss Brad England?
Monday in Austin, Dolcefino Consulting asked District Judge Karin Krump to order CCEMS to release payroll records of the employees paid with tax dollars. 87 percent of CCEMS employees, including all the paramedics and dispatchers are paid with tax money.
CCEMS lawyer Andrew McKinney wants the Judge to rule CCEMS isn’t covered by the Texas Public Information Act and doesn’t have to show taxpayers their payroll records.
The Judge will rule in the next few days, but taxpayers have already been the clear losers. They are being asked to pay taxes to subsidize a lifesaving government service without any ability to oversee how the rest of the money collected in their name is being spent.
And thanks to Mr. McKinney, taxpayers now know they are paying more than they have to.
And the money which could have been spent on reducing ambulance service cost went to a lawyer instead.
The safety commissioners responsible for 911 service between Tomball and Spring meet tomorrow morning at 9:00 am under the cloud of a federal investigation.
The records of five Emergency Services District (ESD) #11 Commissioners are among those already subpoenaed in an FBI investigation. They have been told to turn records over to a federal grand jury on February 24, 2016.
The FBI doesn’t publicly comment on investigations, but the ESD Commissioners have been the subject of an ethics complaint accusing them of getting political funding from a group linked with Cypress Creek Emergency Medical Services (CCEMS).
CCEMS has the 911 contract for four hundred thousand Harris County residents, and the ESD Commissioners are elected to watchdog the contract and the choice of ambulance contractor.
In 2014, a group called Friends of Cypress Creek EMS with a logo almost identical to CCEMS, took out ads and secured endorsements for incumbent ESD Commissioners. The organization was not registered as a corporation, or a political action committee, and CCEMS Director Brad England has refused to identify the members or his role in helping create the organization.
England’s entertainment expenses include numerous steak dinners with Friends of Cypress Creek EMS. Those records also do not identify who were the beneficiaries of CCEMS Entertainment.
Why is this so important to taxpayers?
ESD #11 has allowed CCEMS to keep total control of all the medical bills generated from taxpayer supported 911 service, while billing taxpayers an additional 10 million dollars in property tax funds.
The ESD has also refused to force CCEMS to detail who receives taxpayer funds, including who is on the payroll of the ambulance service.
The ESD has taken no action while CCEMS spends money that could have been used for bandages and medical equipment in litigation to keep financial records secret.
CCEMS has been charged with a crime for refusing to provide financial records by the Harris County District Attorney and has filed three lawsuits against the Texas Attorney General to keep financial records secret.
The ESD Meeting is scheduled for Thursday, February 18, 2016 at 7111 Five Forks.
A criminal investigation is now underway into the public safety commissioners responsible for 911 service to more than 400,000 people who live between spring and Tomball.
At least two commissioners of ESD #11 have already been served subpoenas Wednesday to appear in February before a federal grand jury. The other three commissioners are expected to be served at any time.
The subpoenas ask for records detailing campaign money used or raised by commissioners. Last year, Dolcefino Consulting raised questions about campaign advertising and political support given to ESD #11 president Lynn Lebouff and Fred Grundemeyer in the 2014 election from a group called “Friends of Cypress Creek EMS”. The organization was not registered as a political action committee so there was no record of where the money actually came from, or even who made up the group.
Two current commissioners have long raised questions about whether “Friends of Cypress Creek EMS” was actually some kind of a front for tax-money provided to ESD candidates from, the 911 ambulance service with an exclusive contract in ESD #11, the “Friends of Cypress Creek EMS” show up frequently on entertainment reports of Cypress Creek boss Brad England reviewed by Dolcefino Consulting.
Those documents do not identify who received the expensive steakhouse meals, and England has refused to identify them.
ESD commissioner Karen Plummer is among those subpoenaed to bring records and testify to the grand jury. Plummer was a frequent recipient of entertainment by the CCEMS boss.
Plummer, Lebouff and Grundemeyer have refused to force Cypress Creek to turn over financial records detailing who is on the CCEMS payroll, or who benefits from lucrative overtime, nor have they forced CCEMS to turn over millions in medical billing so taxpayers control all the money. CCEMS has significant entertainment expenses and a growing legal bill fighting the release of financial records.
CCEMS has filed three lawsuits against the Texas Attorney General to keep from turning over financial records detailing the recipients of millions of taxpayer dollars. The ambulance service has also ignored a criminal subpoena from the Harris County District Attorney’s office.
It is unlikely anyone will ignore the subpoenas hand delivered by FBI agents.
For decades, the Harris County District Attorney’s Office has enforced state charity laws. Now charities who want to hide what they do with your donations may have found a friend. Her name is Devon Anderson, Harris County District Attorney.
The Harris County District Attorney has asked the Texas Attorney General to weigh in on whether charities in Texas have to disclose the kind of financial records that let donors see how they spend every penny of donations, not just the stuff they want you to see. It has never been a question before, but when you hear who is involved you’ll know why this deal stinks, and why Anderson is proving her word to disabled veterans is meaningless.
In 2013, the records of the Houston based charity for disabled veterans Helping a Hero showed questionable spending, missing receipts, and a $100,000 payment to former President Bush to speak to the group. Disabled Veterans across the country have complained about the way Helping a Hero spent money, and whether the founder broke promises and misspent money. More than one veteran and their family have filed suit. The charity has refused to show the public all its financial records since then, and more than once has stalled the DA from acting. On August 26, 2015, nearly five months ago Anderson warned the charity of a deadline to comply with the law or else. The deadline was September 19, 2015.
Helping a Hero refused to comply. The District Attorney reneged on her word.
Is this Republican politics? The founder of Helping a Hero is a major Republican donor named Meredith Iler, the target of most of the veteran’s complaints.
This request will likely affect another criminal investigation by the Harris County District Attorney’s Office. In October 2014 Anderson filed charges against the Cypress Creek Emergency Medical Service for violating the state charity laws. CCEMS boss Brad England is tight with Republican officeholders, so it was a hopeful sign.
The misdemeanor case has been postponed more than 14 times. CCEMS even ignored a subpoena from the District Attorney’s office for payroll records sent months ago, and Anderson hasn’t sent investigators to get them.
The Texas Attorney General may decide the way the law has been enforced for decades is right, or he might decide the public doesn’t have the right to see details of how their donations is spent.
A tough DA would have followed the law that has been used by the public and media for decades?
The only remaining question, is Devon Anderson a chicken or politically compromised, or both?
The embattled boss of Cypress Creek EMS says his company doesn’t need the Emergency Service District #11 contract to stay in business, even though that government contract accounts for almost the entire CCEMS budget.
Taxpayers from Tomball to Spring pay about $10 million in taxes for their 911 service. The rest of the money comes from the medical bills resulting from the 911 service.
CCEMS has defied the Texas Attorney General, the Harris County District Attorney and the ESD #11 elected board of directors, refusing to detail who is on the payroll, even though they are paid with taxpayer money.
The ESD Board has threatened to cut off money to CCEMS unless they turn over the records.
At a sworn deposition last week, CCEMS Executive Director Brad England detailed a plan to simply go around the ESD, even though they are responsible for handing out 911 contracts. England suggested he would simply go to the MUD Districts and get them to put a fee on water bills, like they did in the old days before Emergency Service District Boards.
“This guy thinks taxpayers will volunteer to pay twice as much for the same service just cuz,” says Wayne Dolcefino, President of Dolcefino Consulting. “The ESD needs to do his job, and show Mr. England who is in charge of 911 service. The CCEMS Board needs to stop the secrecy, because their games could jeopardize the ambulance service of half a million people.”
At the deposition, England claimed CCEMS could always find another territory to run their ambulances, even though all the paramedics are currently paid with taxpayer dollars.
“Mr. England clearly would rather lose the ESD contract than simply tell taxpayers exactly who is on their payroll and show them the records of how he spends their money,” says Dolcefino. “England was more than willing to convince taxpayers to raise taxes to help pay for the ambulance service. The CCEMS Board needs to decide who is more important, Mr. England or half a million taxpayers.”
Every month taxpayers write a check for $893,000 to the Cypress Creek Emergency Medical Services (CCEMS) for 911 service from Tomball to Spring. CCEMS makes millions more from that government contract, keeping the millions from the extra bills they send.
911 service is life and death and that is why taxpayers spend so much money on it.
Now CCEMS has a big decision to make. How much is a secret worth?
This morning, CCEMS Boss Brad England was told this month’s check was the last he would get unless the secretive ambulance service turns over the payroll record’s England wants to keep secret. He was also told Cypress Creek will not get another penny in the new budget unless they cough up the records.
This ultimatum comes as CCEMS has three lawsuits against the Texas Attorney General, and faces criminal charges by the Harris County District Attorney for violating charity laws. This week the CCEMS Criminal lawyer Dan Cogdell tried to quash a subpoena for the payroll records on the grounds it could incriminate the ambulance service.
Dolcefino Consulting has been battling CCEMS secrecy for more than a year, but records already show England wines and dines on money that could buy medical supplies.
“Cypress Creek is spending what must be hundreds of thousands of dollars to protect Brad England,” says Wayne Dolcefino President of Dolcefino Consulting. “Taxpayers won’t get that money back, and I applaud the ESD for finally seeing the light.”
In recent days CCEMS has argued that they do not need the government contract to sustain the charity, even though the $20 million budget is virtually entirely paid for by taxpayers through property taxes and medical bills.
Looks like Mr. England has a choice. Let the sunshine in, or good luck paying the bills.
Two months ago the Harris County District Attorney’s Office issued subpoenas for the payroll records of Cypress Creek EMS, the $20 million a year ambulance service for 500,000 residents from Tomball to Spring.
CCEMS has simply ignored the subpoena.
This morning, Harris County Assistant District Attorney Michele Oncken issued a deadline.
Turn the records over by September 23rd or face possible contempt charges. Cypress Creek has now told the DA they will now move to try to quash the subpoena they have ignored for two months.
The meter was running this morning. Criminal and civil lawyers accompanied CCEMS Boss Brad England to court today. England even refuses to tell the public his current salary, although a 2013 charity tax return listed the salary at nearly $180,000 a year.
CCEMS has released credit card records showing England’s lavish spending habits, including his apparent obsession of expensive meals at Perry’s steak house, even at night.
Cypress Creek continues the legal campaign to avoid telling the public who is paid with their tax dollars, and it is getting hard to keep track of how many people they are now fighting.
CCEMS now has three lawsuits against the Texas Attorney General. CCEMS has ignored requests from the Emergency Service District Board. Now CCEMS wants to keep the payroll records from the District Attorney.
The legal expenses must be skyrocketing. Money that should be used to buy bandages and medicine for taxpayers being used to keep secrets.
And you are paying the bill.
Last October, Harris County District Attorney Devon Anderson filed formal criminal charges against the Cypress Creek Emergency Medical Services for violating state charity transparency laws. Nearly two months ago, the same District Attorney’s office issue a subpoena for the payroll records of the ambulance service.
After all, taxpayers pay most of the salaries.
Cypress Creek has ignored the subpoena, and this week, Cypress Creek lawyers delayed another pre-trial hearing on the case. That makes eight times this court case has been delayed. It is set again for September 10, 2015.
Meanwhile, the ESD #11 Commissioners you elected to watchdog your money have demonstrated a bizarre refusal to actually do their job.
“It is time for all this pretty please with sugar on top stuff to stop,” says Wayne Dolcefino, President of Dolcefino Consulting. “The District Attorney ought to execute a search warrant today to get these records because these are the tax-payers records.”
Dolcefino Consulting has spent more than a year investigating the financially bloated ambulance service, from the expensive entertainment habits of the top administrator to questions about possible bid rigging in a lucrative medical billing contract.
“Taxpayers should not have to file lawsuits to see how their money has been spent, and the ESD Commissioners should be ashamed of themselves,” says Dolcefino. “CCEMS talks about all the awards it gets for great ambulance service, but they forget they would be out of business without this government contract.”
They also forget who is paying the bills. Why shouldn’t they stall, wasting tens of thousands of dollars of your money that should be spent on bandages?
If this was a game of chicken, it is pretty obvious who is winning!
You should remember that when you vote.
Big Jolly Politics writes a post about how Dolcefino Consulting wants to see Cypress Creek EMS public records — and panic ensues:
If you’ve followed the Fox 26 website then you know Cypress Creek EMS –with a budget of more than $20 million dollars to operate 15 ambulances for the District— is openly defying a ruling from the Texas Attorney General to tell YOU how THEY spend that $20 million in taxpayer money.
And if you read his blog then you also know Cypress Creek EMS is going to court this Friday to stop Dolcefino Consulting from seeing the public records and from getting Brad England, the head of Cypress Creek EMS under oath.