McALLEN, Texas (AP) _ After a year-long investigation into a $21 million bridge to Mexico that was never built, a Cameron County special grand jury has indicted one of the parties involved in the debacle for theft.
The grand jury's final report, released Wednesday in Brownsville, also said that while all of the money paid out by the Brownsville Navigation District was properly invoiced, some payments were made for services that were never received.
"There is no money that is missing or unaccounted for," the report said. "Those entities receiving the money have either forfeited any money found to be still in their possession or have been indicted for theft in a sealed indictment."
It is unclear when that indictment will be made public, revealing the name of the entity charged.
The grand jury focused on $2 million in "success fees" the district paid through its contractor even though Mexico never approved the bridge, which would have connected the Port of Brownsville with rail lines in Matamoros, Mexico.
Such fees were intended to reward the consultants for winning that approval from Mexican authorities, said Martin Arambula, the district's chairman. The district believed the appropriate Mexican authorities had given their approval when the fees were paid, he said.
But Mexico had not signed off and the project fizzled. The district and its consultant, Houston-based Dannenbaum Engineering, filed lawsuits arguing each owed the other money. The sides later settled.
The grand jury heard from 28 witnesses and issued eight subpoenas for documents.
The grand jury determined that of the $15 million Dannenbaum received for consulting and engineering, $9 million went to subconsultants and the "success fees."
"Although the propriety of any of these consulting fees can be questioned, the investigation did not reveal any criminal violations regarding the engineering services fees or the consulting fees," the report said. "However the grand jury did find probable cause to believe that the success fees were imprudently invoiced and imprudently paid, in that monies were paid without receiving the diplomatic note allowing construction to begin."
The grand jury blamed the imprudent payments on a lack of independent oversight and experience at the district, and failing to follow its own policies.
Arambula said the grand jury report confirmed the district's own independent counsel's investigation and the district has already taken steps to implement many of the recommendations.
"We're very glad we're putting closure on this," said Arambula, who inherited the issue when he joined the district two years ago.
Copyright 2008 The Associated Press.