Former Val Verde County Chief Tax Appraiser Arrested, Indicted On Charges Of Inflated Reimbursements
DEL RIO - Texas Attorney General Greg Abbott’s Money Laundering Unit investigators presented evidence to a grand jury late last week, resulting in first-degree felony indictments against former Val Verde County Appraisal District’s Chief Appraiser, Buster Ross Vernor. The indictments alleged he illegally inflated reimbursements to himself for business-related expenses by more than $208,000, beginning in 1997.
Vernor, 48, was arrested this afternoon by Val Verde County Sheriff’s Office deputies at the Harlingen airport upon his return from a business trip. Officers transported Vernor to the Cameron County Jail for processing. He has been charged with two counts of theft by a public servant of over $100,000. Vernor is currently employed as an appraiser at the Cameron County Appraisal District office in San Benito.
The public places a lot of trust in our elected and appointed officials, and that trust certainly extends to vigorously protecting the public coffers, said Attorney General Abbott. We will continue to pursue this investigation to obtain a full accounting of the public’s money and see that justice is done.
The Attorney General’s investigators, acting on a request from District Attorney Fred Hernandez, allege approximately $99,000 in fraudulently inflated travel expenses reimbursed to Vernor, plus nearly $45,000 reimbursed to recoup his personal vehicle mileage. In both instances, the Attorney General alleges Vernor either significantly padded his cost estimates or billed the county for trips never taken. The State Auditor’s Office also assisted in the investigation.
Other reimbursements of more than $65,000 were for miscellaneous expenditures, such as data processing and office equipment and furniture. However, the reimbursed amounts appear to be far in excess of expenses incurred. The illegal reimbursements claimed for all categories total more than $208,000 above what would have been considered reasonable and apply to a period from January 1997 to December 2000. In the spring of 2003, the District Attorney’s Office asked the Attorney General to investigate Vernor’s past activities.
A conviction on a first-degree felony charge can result in confinement of from five to 99 years to life, and up to a $10,000 fine.