Longform

Lost in Translation

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Some outside observers say that Galindo has little political influence and that commissioners are merely being true to their penny-pinching natures. "I don't think he has much [influence]--but he thinks he does," says Pat Cotton, a Republican political consultant. "The Hispanic community is like that. They have lots of chiefs, but no tribe.

"One of the things I learned working with Parkland [hospital] is, Dallas County has a policy," Cotton continues. "They hire the lowest bid, period. They don't particularly care about quality. That's just the way it is. And they often end up spending more later as a result."

The commissioners voted to have the county purchasing department investigate the dispute between the judges and Tizoc's and put off any decisions until last May, when the issue was debated and put off again.

Galindo doesn't wish to dispel the notion that he has lobbied behind the scenes to keep the independents' rates down. "They should be paid less," he says. "They don't pay insurance. They don't have bonds. If they want the county contract, they can bid for it. That's been my argument."

Independent translator Lourie Reyes doesn't buy it. "Galindo's whole thing, whenever he's criticized, is, 'You're making it hard for a minority businessperson to make it,'" she scoffs. "Well, wait a minute. I'm a double minority. And he's one of the people making it hard for me."

Until late 1996, Reyes had been paid her normal interpretation rate of $50 an hour. But within six months of the time she left Tizoc's, she received a letter from the county auditor's office demanding that she return the difference between her rates and the statutory $100-a-day rate for translators hired directly by the judges. The charge, retroactive to the date she left Tizoc's, was about $3,600, which the county deducted from Reyes' subsequent invoices. Reyes responded by offering to accept the same rate as Tizoc's, but the county refused. Since then, Reyes figures, the difference between the $100 a day the county pays her and Tizoc's rates adds up to an additional $6,000.

"Galindo's got this massive effort going to knock out the independents, and he's got a lot of influence," she says.

Reyes left Tizoc's in March 1996, in part, she claims, because Galindo pressured her to double bill so that he could collect for her being in two courts at the same time. (Reyes says she never did it.) Although Reyes was the only person interviewed who was willing to put her name by the charges, several former Tizoc's employees also say they were pressured to submit questionable bills.

Here's how it works: When an interpreter is called to a court or to the jail, he or she fills out a voucher. The voucher lists pertinent information such as the date, the case, and the hours worked. According to both Galindo and county purchasing, interpreters are not supposed to collect for being in two courts at once.

While that may seem self-evident, Galindo says there was once a dispute over the matter. "There was a question in the beginning," he says. "We went back and forth with the auditors...But finally we agreed, and we don't do it now." (Galindo didn't respond to requests asking him to clarify how alleged double billing might be explained.)

Yet a sample of Tizoc's vouchers paid by the county for the months of September and October 1998 reveals a number of instances of double billing. For example, on October 15, a Tizoc's translator submitted a voucher showing that she was in the 363rd District Court from 9 a.m. until noon--and translating for the grand jury from 11:30 a.m. until 12:25 p.m. The next day, another Tizoc's interpreter submitted vouchers showing he was in the 195th District Court from 1 p.m. until 5 p.m., and on the same day interpreting in the jail from 3:30 p.m. until 4 p.m.

During a two-month period from September 15 through November 15, 1998, such double billings occurred no less than 13 times. And that's just on the vouchers on which interpreters' names and times were included; on a significant number of vouchers, no time or name was listed, making conflicts impossible to track down.

Mel Stepp, first assistant Dallas County auditor, says his department has no system in place to prevent or catch such instances of double billing. "Before we pay, we verify that the rate being charged is correct," Stepp says. "The court certifies the time. But we wouldn't catch that [when Tizoc's interpreters have billed for being in two courts at the same time]. Not unless somebody happened to remember it."

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Christine Biederman