Dripping Springs man pleads guilty to conspiring to misapply federal funds

A Dripping Springs man has pled guilty to charges that he falsified paperwork to apply for federal funding on a nonprofit's behalf and then received "consulting fees" from the nonprofit in return.

71-year-old Frank Rodriguez pled guilty to one count of conspiracy to misapply federal funds and to falsify records
in an investigation within the jurisdiction of an agency of the United States. He faces a maximum penalty of five years in prison. 

According to court documents, Rodriguez began to serve as a senior policy advisor to an Austin city official in April 2015 and had previously served as executive director of a local nonprofit and as a member of a City advisory commission.

In June 2015, while employed by the city, Rodriguez submitted an application on the nonprofit's behalf to a federal agency for Affordable Care Act navigator grant funding, where he falsely identified himself as the nonprofit's Chief Development Officer and authorized representative, according to court documents.

In September 2015, the nonprofit was awarded a grant as a result of the application, and shortly after, Rodriguez emailed an employee there, writing he wanted to make sure that they "were on the same page with respect to [his] fee" for the grant, which was "10% of the grant," court documents say.

Then in December 2015, Rodriguez emailed the employee a draft "consulting agreement," stating that he had drafted it to address "any issue that someone might have that the payments are for navigator grant work." Rodriguez was subsequently paid more than $20,000 in "consulting fees" between December 2015 and December 2016 after the execution of the "consulting agreement." Those "consulting fees" were in fact a commission on the federal grant in return for his preparation of the grant application, says the US Attorney's Office.

Rodriguez then continued to work on the nonprofit’s behalf while a City employee by, among other things, providing confidential City information to the nonprofit, recommending that the nonprofit receive continued City funding, and undermining the nonprofit’s competitors for City funding, says the US Attorney's Office. 

In 2017, the Auditor’s Office for the City of Austin commenced an investigation regarding Rodriguez’s conduct as a member of the City commission and as a City employee, according to court documents. In January 2018, during the 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. 

At a June 2019 City ethics hearing, Rodriguez testified falsely under oath that the money he had been provided by the nonprofit was reimbursement for previous expenses incurred on the nonprofit’s behalf, says the US Attorney's Office.

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