A Hutto group that was supposed to attract business to the city is now the focus of a criminal investigation.
The former board of directors for the Economic Development Corporation is under a forensic investigation by the Hutto Police Department, the police chief confirmed at a city council meeting Thursday night.
Some of the accusations include lavish spending on trips, hotels, food and even NFL games.
“The former board spent hundreds of thousands of dollars on possible prospective clients on golf courses, expensive dinners, NFL games, Formula 1 races that landed nothing,” said Hutto Mayor Pro Tem Tom Hines.
Council members started looking into the board’s spending earlier this year and were met with opposition, according to Hutto Council member Nate Killough. When they started looking further into receipts, they found the board was spending tens, if not hundreds of thousands, of taxpayer dollars.
“$6,500 for a 3-day conference that included a VIP suite at MetLife Stadium in New Jersey for a football game between the Cowboys and the Giants. $4,500 for a conference in Alaska that included a train ride and a boat ride,” Killough described. “The kicker is that all of these business trips and expenses did not land a single closing of any deal.”
Tensions started to rise in Hutto when the council decided to replace the EDC board members, even leading to personal attacks against council members, Killough said Thursday.
“We’ve had to sit up here for a while, we’ve had to take arrows and rocks thrown at us publically and personally, and it has come to a point where enough is enough,” said Killough.
While it is not illegal to spend the EDC money, there are concerns about how and where the money was spent.
At the center of the controversy is the Hutto “megasite,” a plot of land between Hutto and Taylor with access to both water and the train.
According to council members, the former EDC Board spent $80,000 of taxpayer money looking into options for the property before selling the option rights to a brokerage firm representing a blind trust for $10.
The land is worth $8 million.
Now, the city has spent $275,000 of additional taxpayer money to get those option rights back.
“What scares me most is that we may have only seen the tip of the iceberg,” said Hines. “It’s a slippery slope from improper use of funds to illegal activity.”
Since replacing the EDC board with all new members in July, Killough says they have attracted at least two new businesses to Hutto without spending any additional taxpayer dollars.
The Hutto Police Chief tells KVUE the forensic investigation into the former EDC board could take several years.