A new report is accusing Department of Transportation Commissioner Victor Vandergriff of charging TxDOT for trips to the Texas Capitol, and pocketing money from auto dealers at the same time.
According to the Texas Tribune, Vandergriff made several trips to the state capital in 2015 to advocate for Berkshire Hathaway Automotive and it’s string of auto dealerships.
The company reportedly wanted to change the law prohibiting insurance companies from owning car dealerships at the time and chose Vandergriff to make their case.
This was not state business, however, as Berkshire Hathaway hired the commissioner, ultimately paid by one of their subsidiary companies to advocate for their industry.
Despite the personal account, investigators said they believe he still charged TxDOT for travel expenses, using state money to foot the bill for his tips to Austin.
When the Tribune looked into travel vouchers of government employees and internal correspondence for their investigation into the auto industry, they reportedly found Vandergriff regularly charged TxDOT while conducting business as a paid consultant outside of his job as commissioner.
After the investigation, Vandergriff acknowledged he used TxDOT dollars for non-agency work, saying he plans to reimburse TxDOT for at least three of the days he traveled to Austin, according to the Tribune.
He also said he’d stop charging TxDOT for hotels or meals during commissioned trips to the state Capitol.
Eventually, he seemed to defend his actions, saying he didn’t consider them a conflict of interest:
“I think the citizens of the state of Texas, the agency as a whole, have certainly gotten their money’s worth out of their time from me, given the little I’m paid for what I do,” Vandergriff said in an interview, referring to the $16,000 yearly salary he receives to serve on the TxDOT board. “I was here on business affecting my job as a [TxDOT] commissioner of the state of Texas.”
According to Brian Ragland, TxDOT’s chief financial officer, commissioners who engage in non-agency work while traveling for TxDOT can still be reimbursed for that work if circumstances required them to make the trip regardless of their other activities.
In other words, if a commissioner is already going to the capitol for TxDOT business, per state policy, they are still entitled to reimbursement for expenses incurred during side work, as long as the main reason they’re in the capitol is for agency business.
Vandergriff said in an interview with the Tribune he would correct his personal financial disclosure, something government employees, like himself, must provide to the Texas Ethics Commission, because it does not reflect his work as a paid consultant for the automotive industry.
This is a developing story.