Former tax office clerks allegedly violated code by giving illegal discounts

Two former employees of the Brazos County Tax Office turned themselves in earlier this week after authorities say they illegally gave people discounts on vehicle transfer taxes.

According to the Brazos County Sheriff's Office, April Arredondo, 36, of Bryan, admitted to processing about 50 fraudulent vehicle title transfers in ways that gave the person receiving the vehicle a tax discount. She told investigators she was compensated $20 to $50 per transaction.

Sonya Tijerina Munoz, 26, of Bryan, told investigators she submitted a similar fraudulent affidavit to Arredondo for her to process, authorities said.

Each woman bonded out of jail shortly after they were booked. They're accused of violating the Texas Transportation Code by providing false information. If convicted, each woman faces two to 10 years in prison and a $10,000 fine for the third-degree felonies.

According to a probable cause statement from the sheriff's office, who investigated the case with the help of the Texas Department of Motor Vehicles, county tax employees observed Arredondo processing title transfer applications while no customers were present, and that signatures may have been forged. Arredondo was terminated from the tax office in February when the employees reported what they saw, the report says. Munoz resigned her position in late spring.

The DMV investigator ran a report of the transactions Arredondo processed and found more than 30 transactions that were possibly fraudulent. The investigator noticed numerous transactions that were processed as gift transactions, which allows the owner of a vehicle to give that vehicle to a relative and claim a partial exemption from paying state sales tax for the vehicle. In the case of gift transactions, the seller and buyer both have to sign a gift tax affidavit and it has to be notarized. The investigator ran the names of both parties in each gift transaction in an attempt to verify whether they were relatives. If they weren't, the transaction was highlighted as possibly fraudulent, officials said.

The investigator also noticed times when Arredondo processed transactions in other ways so that whoever was receiving the vehicle could get a discount on the taxes, the report said.

Arredondo also told investigators that Munoz gave her a fraudulent gift transfer for a vehicle she had purchased, even though it did not meet the requirements of a gift transaction, which Arredondo processed, police said. 

Kristeen Roe, Brazos County tax assessor-collector, said the queuing system at the tax office is randomized, but she noticed that sometimes people would go to lines they weren't called to, suggesting they knew where to go to get the discounts.

Roe said in a prepared statement that the sheriff's office, Texas State Comptroller's office and the Texas DMV were immediately notified after it was determined that the transactions Arredondo processed required further investigation.

"The Brazos County Tax Office continues to cooperate fully with the Brazos County Sheriff's office in their investigation," she wrote.