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Rodriguez pleads guilty to misuse of federal funds, falsifying records

Wednesday, January 12, 2022 by Jo Clifton

Frank Rodriguez, who served as a senior policy adviser to Mayor Steve Adler beginning in 2015, has pleaded guilty to conspiring to misapply federal funds and falsifying records “with the intent to impede, obstruct, or influence an investigation into a matter within the jurisdiction of an agency of the United States.”

According to a statement from the U.S. Attorney’s Office, Rodriguez, 71, faces a maximum of five years in prison. He is scheduled to be sentenced on March 24 and the court will likely require him to return any money he gained as a result of the scheme.

Rodriguez, who resigned from the mayor’s office in 2018, now lives in Dripping Springs. Prior to joining the mayor’s staff, he co-founded and directed the nonprofit Latino HealthCare Forum and served as the chair of a city advisory commission that voted on contracts, including those directly benefiting his nonprofit.

The Office of the City Auditor received a complaint about Rodriguez’s relationship with the nonprofit in 2017 and began to investigate. That investigation piqued the interest of the FBI and eventually led to the federal charges filed against him.

According to a complaint filed with the city’s Ethics Review Commission, auditors said they had “found evidence that while employed as a senior policy adviser for Mayor Adler,” Rodriguez had received more than $37,000 from the nonprofit for consulting services. The complaint states that Rodriguez assisted the nonprofit “to secure the renewal of contracts through the city of Austin including Restore Rundberg and (Affordable Care Act) enrollment as part of his consulting services. A portion of the consulting payments … came directly from funding from the city” to the Latino HealthCare Forum for the two programs.

City code requires the city auditor to hire an external party to investigate allegations of city code violations by a member of City Council, a member of Council’s direct staff, or the city manager. The auditor’s office hired two firms, HSSK LLC and the Gober Group PLLC, which conducted an independent investigation into the allegations about Rodriguez, both as chair of the Hispanic/Latino Quality of Life Resource Advisory Commission and as an aide to the mayor.

According to the U.S. Attorney’s Office, during the course of the original investigation, “Rodriguez drafted a letter to the city auditor that contained multiple false statements regarding his relationship with the nonprofit, and the letter was later finalized and submitted to the city auditor.” Not too long after that, at a June 2019 hearing before the ethics commission, prosecutors say Rodriguez “testified falsely under oath” that $20,000 paid to him by the nonprofit was actually reimbursement for money he had spent on the organization.

In 2019, the ethics commission heard the allegations and determined that Rodriguez had violated city rules regarding standard of conduct of city employees, disclosure of conflicts of interest, restrictions on providing representation of others, and ethics and financial disclosure regulations. The commission then issued a letter of admonition, finding that Rodriguez’s violations of city regulations were “minor or may have been unintentional.”

City Auditor Corrie Stokes recused herself from the investigation. Deputy City Auditor Jason Hadavi, who led the probe, provided the following statement to the Austin Monitor:

“The Office of the City Auditor was pleased to see that federal authorities relied on work related to our Ethics Review Commission (ERC) complaint against Mr. Rodriguez when supporting their case. It is affirming to see this issue taken so seriously at the federal level after similar issues were deemed to be ‘minor or unintentional’ violations by the ERC. Discrepancies in outcome like this are a great example for why the upcoming audit of the ethical structure and environment of the city is so important and timely.

“Our office appreciates the followup work done by the FBI and U.S. Attorney’s Office to bring accountability to this case. We also appreciate the hard work completed by our outside investigators when this matter first arose.”

When the Monitor reached out to Rodriguez for comment he referred us to his attorney, Gerry Morris, who declined comment. Mayor Steve Adler’s office also declined to comment.

The Austin Monitor’s work is made possible by donations from the community. Though our reporting covers donors from time to time, we are careful to keep business and editorial efforts separate while maintaining transparency. A complete list of donors is available here, and our code of ethics is explained here.

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