Looking forward to the future of journalism

FBI and police quiz San Antonio official who oversaw land development

Fernando De Leon, assistant director of land development for the city of San AntonioFor longtime observers of local politics, the terms “City Hall” and “FBI” conjure memories of a bribery investigation that snared former city councilmen Enrique Martin and John Sanders.

On Friday, FBI agents and San Antonio white-collar crime detectives showed up at the city’s Planning and Development Services department and seized a computer and files belonging to Fernando De León, an assistant director in charge of issuing land development permits. Authorities later questioned De León for several hours that same day at police headquarters downtown. De León was not arrested and he was released after the interview.

WOAI’s Brian Collister reported in February that San Antonio police were investigating building inspectors in the same city department. The inspectors check residential and commercial structures, and inspect things like electrical systems and plumbing. If the building isn’t up to code, the inspector is supposed to tag the flaw and the owner is supposed to fix it. The city is investigating whether inspectors took money to sign off on work that wasn’t up to city code.

Friday’s development added a new wrinkle to this story — it was the first sign that the FBI is investigating the city department. And De León oversaw land development, not building inspections. His name is tied to hundreds, if not thousands, of development plans that govern things like lot densities of subdivisions and tree preservation requirements. De León held an important position in a city that is grappling with the growing pains of urban sprawl. Here’s the city’s description of his responsibilities:

The Land Development Division is involved with the review and approval process of Master Development Plans (MDPs), Plats, Tree Preservation, Infrastructure, Traffic Impact Analysis (TIAs), and Zoning. The Construction and the Environmental Inspectors assist the Division in the field. The Land Development Division serves as staff to the Planning Commission, Zoning Commission and Board of Adjustments.

District Attorney Susan Reed said investigators are examining “irregularities in the permitting process” that De León oversaw.

I last bumped into De León in February when I was at Development Services covering the retaining wall collapse at the Hills of Rivermist. He’s a friendly, soft-spoken guy.

How did the FBI and San Antonio police team up? It appears they were initially conducting separate investigations of Development Services:

Officials said city and federal investigators “crossed paths” during two separate investigations of the department. The city got involved in October, when the Office of Municipal Integrity received a complaint about the four building inspectors.

When that office determined it was a criminal matter, it turned the case over to the city manager’s office, which in turn handed it over to the Police Department, officials said.

Meanwhile, federal authorities were quietly conducting their own inquiry. …

“We did cross paths,” [Police Chief William] McManus said. “We partnered up.”