Cypress Creek EMS: Taxpayer-funded employees pocketing cash

By Joel Eisenbaum - Investigative Reporter

HOUSTON - Channel 2 Investigates has uncovered a scheme perpetrated by publicly funded employees of Cypress Creek EMS that nets them extra cash while on the clock.

These employees collect paychecks funded by property tax dollars, and use equipment intended to fix ambulances.

Cypress Creek EMS will receive more than $15 million in property tax dollars this year, but also generates its own revenue through ambulance service billing, which is expected to be about $13 million in 2019.

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Over several days in December and January, Channel 2 Investigates witnessed a series of non-fleet vehicles being serviced inside the bays of the Cypress Creek EMS garage.

Invoices obtained by Channel 2 show that thousands of dollars in parts were purchased for non-fleet vehicles on the Cypress Creek EMS account. Some of those parts were paid for in cash, some of them were charged to one or more credit cards. It is unclear who foots the bill for those credit cards, but the purchasing account tracks back to Cypress Creek EMS.

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A KPRC2 employee was able to have front brakes put on his car at the garage for a cost of $105.

Maintenance manager, Tony Ghourley, a CCEMS administrator, would only accept cash for the job. The transaction was caught on camera.

Ghourley would not answer questions about the transaction when queried later by Channel 2 Investigates.

Cypress Creek EMS executive director, Bradley England, declined an on-camera interview request about the matter.

Through a spokesperson he sent a statement:

“Thanks for bringing this matter to our attention. CCEMS is conducting a thorough investigation and will take appropriate action,” England’s statement read.

The day after the original airing of our Channel 2 Investigation, Cypress Creek EMS posted the following letter on its website:

A RESPONSE TO CHANNEL 2 NEWS

February 11, 2019

"The impression created by the terribly misleading Channel 2 News investigation teaser over the past couple of days is that Cypress Creek EMS is knowingly misusing taxpayer funds in its maintenance department. Of course, this is untrue and Channel 2 News has been told twice that this matter is under investigation. Channel 2 News was informed when it contacted us that CCEMS is investigating and cannot comment until the investigation is completed.

"For the record, the true facts leading up to this are: First and foremost, for many years our mechanics have provided car repair and maintenance for CCEMS volunteers and employees at cost. This has been CCEMS' way of saving our employees money and saying "thank you" to our volunteers. This has never been a secret. At some point in time, unknown to anyone at CCEMS other than our mechanics, some of our mechanics began using the CCEMS maintenance facility to render repair services for a fee for people who were neither volunteers nor employees. To say this runs counter to CCMES' expectations of our maintenance department would be a gross understatement.

"CCMES only learned of this on January 26th of this year, slightly more than two weeks ago. However, rather than rush to judgment, CCEMS is investigating this alleged activity and when its investigation is complete we plan to refer the issue to the ESD 11 Commissioners with a full report. ESD 11 is the taxing authority with whom CCEMS contracts to provide ambulance and other emergency services. Then, and only then, will the actual facts of the CCEMS investigation be published. CCEMS will make full disclosure, in a public forum, when its investigation is complete. CCEMS will report to ESD 11 at the first public meeting thereafter.

"Second, until the first of this year, not one penny of taxpayer funds ever wen towards vehicle maintenance or any kind of maintenance. Prior to this year, none of the individuals involved in this matter were paid with taxpayer funds. That changed on January 1, 2019, wit ht he current fiscal year budget, when Maintenance salaries were added to the ESD budget. CCEMS will account for every dollar it finds was improperly diverted, assuming that actually happened, and make it right.

"Until the investigation is concluded, CCMES presumes innocence until the evidence shows otherwise, which is the obvious purpose of the investigation. Any suggestion or impression that CCEMS management knew of, or approved of, what appears to be misconduct by some number of CCEMS maintenance department personnel is completely false."

Greg Marwill
Board President
Cypress Creek EMS"

Questions that need to be answered

Cypress Creek EMS is essentially a vendor, contracted by an overseeing agency that collects, doles out, and supposedly monitors how the public funds are spent.

Harris County Emergency Services District No. 11 is charged with this task in the area served by Cypress Creek EMS.

“There’s definitely questions that need to be answered,” Kevin Brost, ESD11 board member said.

Brost said the latest revelation is among a list of serious issues with Cypress Creek EMS over the last several years.

"For the greater part of five years, the FBI, the IRS and U.S. District Attorney's Office have been looking into Cypress Creek EMS," Brost said.

ESD 11’s attorney also sent a typed response, stating the newest matter, uncovered by Channel 2, would be further investigated by ESD11.

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Late last year ESD11 commissioned a third-party forensic audit of Cypress Creek EMS. That auditor found administrators with Cypress Creek EMS relatively uncooperative during the process, as outlined in an executive summary.

The forensic audit also concluded that CCEMS used accounting practices designed to siphon maximum property tax dollars from ESD11, essentially overcharging tax payers.

 

The entire audit, obtained by Channel 2, is below. You can also click here to view it.

 

 

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