The Texas Rangers likely will investigate recent actions by Mart city officials, according to the city’s police chief, and an email made public Friday outlines text messages indicating the possibility of falsified wastewater logs, a social media conspiracy against a potential candidate for office, improper use of city equipment and other misconduct.

Mart police found text messages on cellphones belonging to Mart Public Works Director Steven Smith that appear to show conduct that is “criminal in nature, engaging in organized election fraud activity, harassment and release confidential information by City employee,” Police Chief Paul Cardenas wrote in an email sent April 10 to Mayor Len Williams, Mayor Pro Tem Tommy Roberson and City Administrator Kevin Shaffer. The Tribune-Herald obtained the email after submitting a public records request to city officials.

“I am compiling all the evidence necessary to give over to another law enforcement agency, so the investigation will be fair and impartial,” Cardenas said in a statement Friday. “The investigation may include other city officials that I will not name to protect the possibility of prosecution that will be forwarded to the Texas Rangers consulting with the McLennan County District Attorney’s Office.”

Police secured warrants April 8 for Smith’s personal and work cellphones after he became a suspect in a criminal trespass, criminal mischief and invasive visual recording investigation, according to the April 10 email.

The initial investigation was a result of reports around midnight April 2 of a prowler near Firewater Liquor Beer Wine, 420 E. Texas Ave., and vandalism to the business reported the next morning, including markings with gold spray paint and broken windows. The store is owned by Kollin Behrghundi, a candidate in the May 4 city council election.

Smith was seen in the area of the store and acknowledged during a voluntary interview he was in the area, but gave inconsistent reasons for being there, Cardenas said.

Cardenas wrote in the April 10 email that, based on the initial review of the phones’ contents, “I will be forwarding entire cellphone search warrant results to another law enforcement agency for possible criminal charges.”

He wrote that he was providing screenshots of messages indicating the following:

  • “A continuation of deceit with falsifying logs after the TCEQ inspection.”
  • “Potential enticement of money by private citizen to use city equipment to conduct non city related work on landlord’s property.”
  • “Possible use of city equipment for non city use.”
  • “The conspiracy to create fake Facebook account in order to harass, annoy and alarm potential candidates,” and the public release of a candidate’s spouse’s previous legal name change “with intent to influence election in negative way.”
  • “Unbecoming conversations” between Smith and a city councilman about residents, Cardenas and the police and fire departments.
  • “The video recording and photographs of fellow employees with intent to harm or interfere with employment.”

The screenshots were withheld from public disclosure to avoid interfering with any investigation.

The email does not provide details about the Texas Commission on Environmental Quality inspection it refers to, but a TCEQ inspector cited 18 alleged violations by the city based on a Jan. 8 visit to the Mart wastewater treatment facility.

In an interview with police April 5, before the phones had been seized, Smith told police he received “orders to conceal TCEQ violations by someone higher in the Mart city government,” according to the email. “PWD Smith stopped short of saying who ordered him to depose of sludge and the topic was stopped.”

Attempts by the Tribune-Herald to contact Smith, made more difficult by the seizure of his phones, were unsuccessful.

City Attorney Charles Buenger declined to comment Friday.

Williams, the mayor, said he could not recall the police chief’s email. He declined to comment when the contents of the email were described to him. Phone calls to Roberson, the mayor pro tem, and Schaffer, the city administrator, were not returned.

TCEQ spokeswoman Martha Otero declined to comment on whether there is any ongoing inquiry concerning the city of Mart. She said the allegations based on the January inspection have been referred for formal enforcement action, and the enforcement case is under development.

Kristin Hoppa has been covering public safety and breaking news for the Tribune-Herald since January 2016. She worked in Northwest Missouri covering crime-related issues before her move to Central Texas. She is a University of Kansas graduate.

Recommended for you