News 8 probe tracks over-billing at Las Colinas Entertainment Center

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by BRETT SHIPP

WFAA

Posted on December 1, 2010 at 11:36 PM

Updated Thursday, Dec 2 at 2:33 PM

NEWS 8 INVESTIGATES

IRVING — A News 8 Investigation into Irving's Las Colinas Entertainment Center has already resulted in a troubling discovery.

Irving city officials confirm they have been over-billed several thousand dollars on a portion of the project. That project is about to undergo a thorough financial audit because of our series of reports.

WFAA's investigation into the proposed $250 million Las Colinas Entertainment Center — consisting of a concert arena, restaurants and bars — has already raised serious concerns among Irving citizens and City Council members.

Hundreds of thousands of dollars in questionable, sometimes lavish expenditures have been incurred by the project developers, the Las Colinas Group, and their consultants.

Many of the expenditures paid for by the city should have been prohibited, according to some critics.

When News 8 began asking questions about the Las Colinas Group's invoices and expenditures a few weeks ago, we were curious as to why their office rent seemed so high. After several weeks of asking for a copy of the rental agreement, we finally got one this week.

The lease agreement between CBRE and the Las Colinas Group is thousands of dollars a month less than was being billed to the city of Irving.

The estimated overcharges add up to $30,000 — half of that wrongly paid by the citizens of Irving.

The leasing company, CBRE, says it is responsible for the over-billing, and will correct the error and reimburse the city and the Las Colinas Group.

But project opponents — led by former Irving Mayor Joe Putnam — say the over-billing has everything to do with the private partners being trusted with city money.

"My gut tells me that these are people that the city shouldn't be in business with, and you can't trust them on anything," Putnam said.

Even Irving Mayor Herb Gears, the project's biggest proponent, says Irving must tighten its oversight or the project.

An outside audit, prompted by our investigation, is already under way on an ambitious, now controversial project that has yet to break ground.

E-mail bshipp@wfaa.com

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