Thursday, February 26, 2015

VOTE FRAUD COUNTS AGAINST HERNANDEZ POLITIQUERO

County 1: Jose Angel Garza, A/K/A Joey Garza, A/K/A/ Jose Garza
"knowingly possesed an official ballot or carrier envelope provided to Benita Casas, hereinafter called the voter, without the consent of that voter, and with the intent to defraud the election authority, by concealing the identity of the individual who assisted the voter with the ballot in the July 31, 2012 Cameron County Democratic Primary Runoff Election.

Count 2: "knowingly possesed an official ballot or carrier envelope provided to Maria Contreras, hereinafter called the voter, without the consent of that voter, and with the intent to defraud the election authority, by concealing the identity of the individual who assisted the voter with the ballot in the July 31, 2012 Cameron County Democratic Primary Runoff Election.

Count 3:  "knowingly possesed an official ballot or carrier envelope provided to Carmen Nuñez, hereinafter called the voter, without the consent of that voter, and with the intent to defraud the election authority, by concealing the identity of the individual who assisted the voter with the ballot in the July 31, 2012 Cameron County Democratic Primary Runoff Election.

Count 4:  "knowingly possesed an official ballot or carrier envelope provided to Jacoba Shepard, hereinafter called the voter, without the consent of that voter, and with the intent to defraud the election authority, by concealing the identity of the individual who assisted the voter with the ballot in the July 31, 2012 Cameron County Democratic Primary Runoff Election.

Count 5: "knowingly possesed an official ballot or carrier envelope provided to Augustina Treviño, hereinafter called the voter, without the consent of that voter, and with the intent to defraud the election authority, by concealing the identity of the individual who assisted the voter with the ballot in the July 31, 2012 Cameron County Democratic Primary Runoff Election.

His father-in-law Rafael Angel  Elizondo, 64, was slso indicted by the grand jury but Elizondo was said to be in New York and will be arrested and booked upon his return. The counts against him were being withheld.
The charges were brought against Garza and Elizondo by prosecutors with the Texas Attorney General's Office.
During the July 2012 runoff election for JP 2-2 between Yolanda Begum and Erin Hernandez Garcia, Garza and Elizondo were identified  as two of the Hernandez's most loyal politiqueros.
The same politiqueros and politiqueras identified with the vote-harvesting machine who delivered the votes to Ernie Hernandez's wife Norma, were identified by Begum in a lawsuit in 2012 for manipulating the mail-in vote of the elderly and mentally impaired. In a couple of cases, illiterate voters were said to have voted by mail.
In that primary, Hernandez Garcia had lost by some 500 votes and ended up winning with less than 200 during the runoff for which the indictments were issued.
In the graphic included here, the voter assistant who hauled in the elderly voters in rented vans for Hernandez is identified as Garza, who also signed his name on countless mail-in ballots. Yet, none of the voters interviewed by investigators recall seeing him or fellow politiquero and father-in-law Elizondo pick up their ballots at their homes.
Elizondo's name also appears on some of the mail-in ballots questioned by Begum.
In an independent investigation conducted by Begum and members of Citizens Against Voter Abuse (CAVA), it was found that a cadre of politiqueros and politqueras under the direction of Norma Hernandez had engaged in blatant acts of voter fraud involving the mail-in ballots and early voting by elderly clients of adult day-care centers. The group turned over their findings to the FBI who later contacted the Texas AG Office.
Begum also filed a lawsuit against Garcia in the 357th District Court and charged that her family and network of politiqueras like Margarita Ozuna, Garza and Elizondo – among others – used numerous illegal tactics to obtain votes in the runoff: discarding or altering mail-in votes intended for Begum; paying personnel at adult day care centers and nursing homes to allow drivers to take vans full of voters, many elderly or mentally disabled, and influencing their votes; taking mail-in ballots from voters; and offering meals and gift cards in exchange for votes.
Ozuna pleaded guilty on her charges involving the mail-in ballots and paid fines and performed community service, including a stipulation that she refrain from taking part in political activity for a year.
Garza has been used by numerous candidates for public office. In the graphic at left Garza is seen with Brownsville Independent School District candidate (and later winner) Cesar Lopez at one of his campaign functions.
During the Garcia Hernandez campaign for JP 2-2, Garza's name appears on voter assistant lists showing he was one of the operatives who hauled in the elderly voters from local adult day care centers in vans provided by the Hernandez camp. His name also appears on mail-in ballots collected by other politiqueras. When the elderly voters were asked if they knew who he was, to a person they all said they didn't and couldn't explain why his name was on their ballot envelopes as having collected the ballots.
The DA's press release indicates that the investigation continues, and more indictments could follow.

POLITIQUEROS IN HERNANDEZ HARVESTER MACHINE INDICTED

By Juan Montoya
A Cameron County grand jury has indicted two of the Hernandez vote-harvesting machine most loyal members on five counts of method of returning a marked ballot without the voter's consent.
Jose Angel Garza, also known as "Joey Garza," 37, was arrested last night and is being held on a $20,000 bond.His father-in-law Rafael Angel  Elizondo, 64, was said to be in New York and will be arrested and booked upon his return.
The charges were brought against Garza and Elizondo by prosecutors with the Texas Attorney General's Office.
The AG's Office had not released information on the specifics or voters in the charges but it is speculated that they arose from Garza's involvement in local elections. A press release by the Cameron County District Attorney's Office indicates that the five counts of tampering with a marked ballot against both men were committed on or about July 31, 2012.
During the 2012 runoff election for JP 2-2 between Yolanda Begum and Erin Hernandez Garcia, Garza and Elizondo were identified  as two of the Hernandez's most loyal politiqueros.
The same politiqueros and politiqueras identified with the vote-harvesting machine that delivered the votes to Ernie Hernandez's wife Norma, were identified by Begum in a lawsuit in 2012 for manipulating the mail-in vote of the elderly and mentally impaired. In a couple of cases, illiterate voters were said to have voted by mail.
In that primary, Erin Hernandez Garcia had lost by some 500 votes and ended up winning with less than 200 during the runoff.
In the graphic included here, the voter assistant who hauled in the elderly voters in rented vans for Hernandez is identified as Garza, who also signed his name on countless mail-in ballots. Yet, none of the voters interviewed by investigators recall seeing him or fellow politiquero Ralph Elizondo pick up their ballots at their homes.
Elizondo's name also appears on some of the mail-in ballots.
In an independent investigation conducted by Begum and members of Citizens Against Voter Abuse (CAVA), it was found that a cadre of politiqueros and politqueras under the direction of Norma Hernandez had engaged in blatant acts of voter fraud involving the mail-in ballots and early voting by elderly clients of adult day-care clients. The group turned over their findings to the FBI who later contacted the Texas AG Office.
Begum also filed a lawsuit against Garcia in the 357th District Court and charged that her family and network of politiqueras like Margarita Ozuna, Garza and Elizondo – among others – used numerous illegal tactics to obtain votes in the runoff: discarding or altering mail-in votes intended for Begum; paying personnel at adult day care centers and nursing homes to allow drivers to take vans full of voters, many elderly or mentally disabled, and influencing their votes; taking mail-in ballots from voters; and offering meals and gift cards in exchange for votes.
Ozuna pleaded guilty on her charges involving the mail-in ballots and paid fines and performed community service, including a stipulation that she refrain from taking part in political activity for a year.
Garza has been used by numerous candidates for public office. In the graphic at left Garza is seen with Brownsville Independent School District candidate (and later winner) Cesar Lopez at one of his campaign functions.
During the Erin Hernandez campaign for Justice of the Peace 2-2, Garza's name appears on voter assistant lists showing he was one of the operatives who hauled in the elderly voters from local adult day care centers in vans provided by the Hernandez camp. His name also appears on mail-in ballots collected by other politiqueras. When the elderly voters were asked if they knew who he was, to a person they all said they didn't and couldn't explain why his name was on their ballot envelopes as having collected the ballots.
The DA's press release indicates that the investigation continues, and more indictments could follow.

Wednesday, February 25, 2015

STRAW BID FOCUS OF $3.3 MILLION BISD INSURANCE AWARD

By Juan Montoya
When two companies bidding for the Brownsville Independent School District's $3.5 million  windstorm, machinery, and boiler insurance contract were excluded from consideration, the reason given was because they did not have the authority or permission to approach the companies already on board with  McGriff and Seibels and Williams of Houston, Texas, the broker for the district.
The other company besides McGriff who was rated by the district's evaluation committee was Bordon's Insurance, of Corpus Christi.
The district employees who made up the evaluation committee were Employee Benefits administrator Judy Cuellar, Payroll Administrator Kenneth Lieck, Warehouse Adm. Kent Wittenmore, CFO Lucio Mendoza, Finance Coordinator Mark Alaniz, and Belia Rodriguez, a representative from the purchasing dept.
They rated McGriff over Bordon's simply because the premiums were higher, and on two other subjective categories: professionalism and financial.
If they had looked closer, they would have noticed something curious. The companies listed by McGriff as making up their bid for the contract were the identical ones listed by Bordon's. So how did both companies – supposedly in competition with each other – end up listing the same carriers in their proposals?
(Click on graphics to enlarge).
The other two, the Klements Agency and Montlavo Agency, were declared non-bids by Employee Benefits administrator Judy Cuellar. and members of the district evaluation committee that included Cuellar, Payroll Administrator Kenneth Lieck, Warehouse Adm. Kent Wittenmore, CFO Lucio Mendoza, Finance Coordinator Mark Alaniz, and Belia Rodriguez, a representative from the purchasing dept.
The three BISD board members who head the insurance committee are Cesar Lopez, Jose Chirinos and Carlos Elizondo.
The two companies who were not considered, according to Cuellar, was because they did not have the authority or permission to approach the companies McGriff already had contacted to be in their bid. Many companies, insurance experts say, only allow one agent to approach them and will not consider any others.
At least one representative of the companies excluded, Greg Kelment, of Klements Insurance, said the set up in effect prevents other brokers or their agents to offer any bids because McGriff has already "tied up" the bids.
Was the Bordon's quote simply a ruse to make the district believe that there were two different companies bidding when in reality the same insurance carriers are listed by both with the only difference being the price that favored McGriff?
With both Bordon and McGriff's bids scoring identically in the minimum, professional and coverage categories, the evaluation committee based their choice between the two on cost, professional and financial qualifications. By that measure, McGriff was awarded a 100 and their straw company, Bordon's, a 86 rating.
The other two – whose cost and commission and inspection fees were much lower – were not even considered.

IS TIDE TURNING ON SAENZ'S ANTI-MAQUINITA GAMBIT?


Part 3
By Juan Montoya
Cameron County District Attorney Luis V. Saenz took office on January 1, 2013 riding the crest of a moral wave against eight-liner gambling establishments (maquinitas) under a cloak of religious morality using the catchy name of "Operation Bishop."
He then convinced his counterparts Willacy and Hidalgo County to follow suit and hound the operators of the establishments claiming they were dens of iniquity operated by ""seedy" individuals who were mere fronts for money laundering, crime and drug cartel activity.
On April 2013, and standing before the county courthouse, Saenz drew his line on the concrete against the maquinitas and vowed to confiscate the machines and use a steam roller to destroy them.
He said his naming of the operation after a catholic prelate was circumstantial.
"It got to me second hand that the bishop had visited our county judge (Carlos Cascos) and had implored on him to do something because his collections had fallen down on Sundays and that's understandable," he laughed.
"So when it came around to pick a name for the operation, we said, well, why not Operation Bishop? It was a catchy name and it just stuck. I am very proud of that...we started in April and within a matter of four or five months we had shut down the vast majority of them. I'm very proud to say that we were able to do in a matter of months what other administrations hadn't been able to do in years."
After months of positive newspaper and television coverage augmented by his own website and Facebook page that heralded the exploits of the maquinita raiders and showed customers (mostly elderly retirees) lined up and herded off to be booked for frequenting a gambling establishment, the luster is beginning to wear off.
Later, he added a wrinkle to the raids and sought to forfeit the property if owners allowed eight-liners to operate in their rentals.
Operators merely moved to the dirt-poor communities in Starr County or went underground to operate in eight-liner arcades that operate surreptitiously in unmarked gaming rooms. A county worker said his mother ans sisters play daily.
"They're everywhere," he said. "They don't see anything wrong is spending time with their friends and spending $20 to get together."
Likewise, a local attorney said that he head learned that despite Saenz's media blitz, his mother had let it slip that she went to Sane Benito where an eight-liner arcade was operating.
"I don't want my mother to get arrested for playing the maquinitas with her friends," he said.
Likewise, an elected official in a local school district said her retired mother and her friends were angry at Saenz for taking away their daily recreation at the maquinitas.
"They say the DA should be going after the real criminals, not them," she said. "They'll never vote for him again."
As if that wasn't enough, at least two local communities have cited the economic boost that the eight-liner arcades have brought to their poverty-stricken communities after Saenz and his Willacy County coiunterparts moved aggressively to drive them out of their jurisdictions.
La Joya and Sullivan City on the western part of Hidalgo County abutting Starr County where the maquinitas flourish have legalized the arcades and approved regulations for the eight-liner establishments.
The move may make Sullivan City more than just a pit stop between La Joya and Starr County. Both already have regulated eight-liners.
"Right now, with the way it is in Rio Grande, we've seen a lot of traffic," said police Chief Miguel Martinez, referencing the cars that speed through Sullivan City on the way to game rooms in Rio Grande City.
Martinez said police have talked to drivers from all over the Rio Grande Valley who travel to Starr County to play eight-liners.
"They've been coming all the way from Edcouch, Elsa,” Martinez said, adding that police stop many who don’t obey the speed limit. "They come from San Benito. Even from McAllen."La Joya, for example, collected more than $120,000 after approving regulations for eight-liners last year.
For a community whose total property tax revenue totals $762,000, having an establishment with $100 brings in  $403,700 every year. The city collects an annual $2,500 "amusement redemption machine premises permit fee" and a $300 quarterly fee from every game room, plus a $1,000 per-machine quarterly payment.
So far, the city has issued permits for 368 machines, according to city records. At least three paid cash.
For a little town with a limited property-tax base, that cash ain't nothing to sneeze at.
Sullivan City plans to hand out a dozen permits, which will cost $3,000 each, said City Manager Judy Davila. Along with the permit payment, Sullivan City will collect $1,000 per machine every quarter.
A legal eight-liner operation would pay the city a $3,000 permit fee, a $1,000 fee per machine every quarter and a $500 monthly fee.
Anyone with a permit may operate a maximum 100 machines, meaning a maxxed-out game room would pay the city $400,000 annually.
Has Saenz painted his future political career into a corner by aggressively prosecuting a past time that not only customers, but cash-strapped municipalities apparently want to continue? Carlos Masso, his opponent in the last DA's election, and who Saenz painted as pro-eight liner, is already aggressively seeking that post again.
With the maquinita momentum swinging against Saenz, will he continue to ride that sinking ship?
Next: When You Sleep With Dogs, You Catch Fleas..." 

Tuesday, February 24, 2015

POSSIBLE FBI INQUIRY INTO DELINQUENT TAX COLLECTOR?

(The Cameron County community was rife with rumors of an FBI raid at the local offices of Linebarger Goggan Blair and Sampson, the most prominent delinquent property tax collectors in South Texas. A reader sent us this article just published February 17, 2015. We don't know whether theere is any basis for the rumors, but there is no question that the firm has a choke hold on local government collection contracts and makes substantial donations in local political races.) 

By Blake Ellis and Melanie Hicken
CNN Investigative Reports
Over the course of a few months, a debt collector you’ve probably never heard of spends more money wooing politicians than most Americans earn in a year.
Linebarger Goggan Blair and Sampson has countless politicians -- from school board members to state lawmakers -- on its side. It takes them to fancy dinners and spends millions on their campaigns. It even puts current elected officials on its payroll.
These connections have paid off big time. For decades, the firm has beat out the competition, gotten some state and federal laws changed in its favor and landed lucrative contracts nationwide -- making it one of the favorite debt collectors for state and local governments across the country.
And nowhere is its political pull greater than in its home state of Texas. It all started here, when 1980s legislation paved the way for local governments to hire private attorneys like Linebarger to collect unpaid taxes and hit debtors with big fees. This sparked such a boom in the industry that it even led a group of former partners to name a hunting ranch after that part of the state tax code -- dubbing it 3348 Ranch.
Fast forward to today, and Linebarger is working for hundreds of local government agencies across Texas. It has won contracts to collect hundreds of millions of dollars a year from consumers for everything from unpaid parking tickets to overdue property taxes.
But getting all that business hasn’t come cheap.
“They’re just a big dog and have been that way for a long time,” said Craig McDonald, director of the nonprofit Texans for Public Justice (TPJ). “They have the ability through political connections and campaign contributions to squeeze a lot of competitors out of the market.”
Buying power
The firm doles out more on lobbying state lawmakers than some of Texas’s biggest corporate giants, including ExxonMobil, American Airlines and Halliburton, according to state records.
In a state known for limitless campaign donations, highly-paid lobbyists and political favors, Linebarger is one of the most politically-active businesses in Texas -- on both the state and local levels.
In a written statement, Linebarger told CNNMoney that it spent more than $1 million on lobbying in Texas over the past two years. Meanwhile, state records show that Halliburton, a much larger company, spent no more than $855,000 during the same period.
Linebarger and the partners that run the firm also have their hands in political campaigns across Texas.
Since 2000, the firm and its employees have spent more than $4.5 million on campaign donations, according to a TPJ analysis of state filings. And that doesn’t even count all of the local campaigns Linebarger donates to, which don’t end up in state campaign finance records.​
Some of this money was doled out as Linebarger lobbied for favorable laws, including “spearheading the passage” of 2003 Texas legislation that allowed collectors to add a 30% fee to unpaid court fines for things like speeding tickets, according to a Linebarger firm presentation. This law, which then-Governor Rick Perry signed, helped spur the firm’s massive growth beyond its original business of collecting unpaid taxes.
Meanwhile, many of the local elected officials who have received donations from Linebarger are the same people who choose whether to hire the firm.
In Hidalgo County, Texas, for example, Linebarger has given more than $20,000 to the county commissioners’ campaigns since 2012. In November, those same commissioners unanimously voted to hire Linebarger to collect unpaid taxes, despite the fact that a Linebarger rival offered to charge delinquent taxpayers a lower fee.
Linebarger said it would like to think the county hired it because it was better qualified for the job. Hidalgo County officials said they hired Linebarger in part because it agreed to help the county save hundreds of thousands of dollars on the cost of the tax software, which Linebarger also provides.
Others think something else is at play. “It’s the money that gets them what they want,” McDonald said.
To read rest of article, click on link: 

HAS BISD ADMINS LET FIRM "TIE UP" $3.4 MILLION CONTRACT?

By Juan Montoya
As the Brownsville Independent School District stumbles along trying to cover the tracks of administrators who have knowingly allowed one broker to monopolize the $3.3 million windstorm, machinery, and boiler insurance contract, the cozy relationship between McGriff and Seibels and Williams of Houston, Texas, may be costing the district more for the same coverage.
The policies are currently running on inertia on a 90-day basis after from January 31 after administrators acted on their own to continue the coverage and issued a $3.$3,277,604.54 million check to McGriff that was later returned because the signatures approving it were stamped and the contract had not been approved by the BISD board.
The contract snafu and the 90-day span has allowed critics to take a closer look at the arrangement worked out by the BISD with McGriff that has allowed that company to hold a virtual monopoly on the business at an economical disadvantage to the district.
Of the four companies who bid for the coverage, two, Bordon's and McGriff, listed the same companies as the carriers for the insurance. The other two, the Klements Agency and Montlavo Agency, were declared non-bids by Employee Benefits administrator Judy Cuellar. Administration evaluation committee members who participated in the decision included Cuellar, Payroll Administrator Kenneth Lieck, Warehouse Adm. Kent Wittenmore, CFO Lucio Mendoza, Finance Coordinator Mark Alaniz, and Belia Rodriguez, a representative from the purchasing dept.
The three BISD board members who head the insurance committee are Cesar Lopez, Jose Chirinos and Carlos Elizondo.
The two companies who were not considered, according to Cuellar, was because they did not have the authority or permission to approach the companies McGriff already had contacted to be in their bid. Many companies, insurance experts say, only allow one agent to approach them and will not consider any others.
At least one representative of the companies excluded, Greg Kelment, of Klements Insurance, said the set up in effect prevents other brokers or their agents to offer any bids because McGriff has already "tied up" the bids.
"If I was a board member, I would question why BISD has not had any alternative proposals over the past few years for a $3.5 million contract," he wrote in a letter to the insurance committee. "The current system of how the coverage is placed is the problem. Insurance companies will  only work with one broker at a time. Companies require detailed information from the clients to provide accurate quotes. McGriff has tied up the market by submitting detailed information about BISD's ran account prior to the Confidential Sealed Proposal (CPS) being released."
When another agent send in a submission, Klements said,  "they hear the market is already 'reserved or blocked' bu another agent. McGriff has the advantage of a captive customer, which in  my opinion has resulted in the BISD paying more for their property insurance than necessary."
An example of the tied in costs with McGriff was the $139,000 in brokerage fees and an additional $39,000 paid for "inspection fees," Klements wrote. With an average of $170,000 in combined brokerage and inspection fees, his company has submitted a bid that limited the fees in both categories to $15,000 each, saving the BISD an estimated $150,000 (Click on graphic to enlarge).
Additionally, Klements said his company's proposal included a 7 percent commission instead of the 15 percent McGriff charged, saving the district an additional $100,000.
During the January 25 insurance committee meeting, BISD board member Chirinos complained that the board was being put in a tight spot because the administration had not given the members enough time to mull over the limited choices and were being place in position where they had to reach a decision before the January 31 policy lapse, six days from the meeting.
"We have to have a plan B if we don't like the bids," he told Cuellar.
BISD general counsel Baltazar Salazar said the arrangement with McGriff amounted to the company having "a cornered market" and "tying our hands."
"The district is not given the option to go outside the McGriff circle," Salazar said. "McGriff has the market cornered."

WERE DA'S CRIMINAL FILES LEAKED TO TILT CITY ELECTION? ARE SILVA, MONTOYA AND "DUARDY" PART OF DA'S ENEMY LIST?


Part 2
By Juan Montoya
The May 11, 2013 City of Brownsville election for District 3 was a hard-fought campaign between three candidates: Debora Portillo, Rosalio "Leo" Rosales and Martin Sarkis.
In the end Sarkis and Portillo emerged as the top vote getters and were scheduled for the runoff election June 22.
Portillo finished ahead of Sarkis in the May 11th election, but didn't get more than 50 percent of the vote needed to win outright.
The winner would fill the District 3 seat of Melissa Zamora, who did not run for re-election.
Zamora (now Melissa Landin) had been appointed Public Information Officer by Cameron County District Attorney Luis V. Saenz and as such, serviced requests for information from the media and the public.
One of those requests were by local blogger and disbarred attorney Robert Wightman.
On May 31, 2013, at 11:04 a.m., Wightman emailed Zamora an open records request for the DA's copy of Sarkis' criminal file. He attached what records he had for Zamora to peruse and hinted that since the file was empty for the most part "this means there were back door negotiations. How do I get access to the DA's copy of the file – open records request – what? (see graphic)."
Those of us who have made open records request know that the DA's Office will usually drag their feet on inquiries and make them wait the full 10 days prescribed by law before they cough up any information requested.
Not so with Wightman's request. In a little over three hours, Wightman was invited to come by the DA's Office and "pickup" the materials he requested. 
A trove of more than 300 pages of emails acquired through a public information request of electronic communications between Zamora and Wightman indicates that he asked about the DA's file on the Sarkis' criminal case at 10:12 a.m. that Friday, that she asked him to file the information request at 10:54 a.m, that he filed it at 11 :04 a.m., and that she answered him at 1:31 p.m. that "I have the documents ready for pickup, Melissa."
Wightman was not only successful at acquiring a supposed confidential criminal file from Zamora, the emails also indicate that he sought files from that office related to accusations by Norma Hernandez against Zeke Silva, the criminal file of indicted politiquera Sonia Solis, the mugshot of convicted politiquera Margarita Ozuna, and counseled Zamora as early as April 16, 2013, on how to go about suing individuals and shutting down their social media "for internet harassment."
"Montoya,-Zeke and Duardy (Eduardo Paz-Martinez ) are never going away. No one will come to their defense..." he wrote her. "Duardy by his own admission is not selling books (or slow as he says) - no one will help Zeke - and Montoya will just hang himself without a defense. For Google to shut them down all you need is an order they have defamed you - you do not need damages - just a court finding these statements are false."
Was the release of defendants' criminal files legal, ethical, or permissible? And was the singling out of Zamora's "enemies" by Wightman in cahoots with the DA's Office a proper function of that office?
Was the release of the DA's Office Sarkis criminal file approved by Saenz? And was the release by Zamora of information known only to the DA, Sarkis and his defense attorney requested and released to affect the city election to fill her old seat on the city commission?

Next: Is Saenz Losing the Maquinita P.R. Game? 

  

Monday, February 23, 2015

MAQUINITAGATE: D.A. SAENZ CIRCLES THE WAGONS, ENEMIES LIST, WITHHELD DOCUMENTS, AND INCRIMINATING EMAILS



By Juan Montoya
Part 1
Those of us who grew up during the Watergate Break-In scandal years clearly remember that sordid episode in our country's history when an embattled administration hunkered down in a crisis management mode, sicced its agents after tis critics, compiled an "enemies list" and tried at every turn to withhold information that may have proven embarrassing to its actions.
The Watergate scandal eventually resulted in the resignation President Richard Nixon and spun off several books and the movie "All The President's Men" starring Robert Redford as Bob Woodward and Dustin Hoffman as Carl Bernstein, reporters of the Washington Post.
We now have a situation developing in the Cameron County District Attorney's Office where  clear pattern of crisis management via the public relations office has transformed the function of informing the people into a full-blown campaign to protect the image of the office holder on his quest for re-election and to discredit those who would question his performance.
DA Luis Saenz strode into office January 1, 2013 atop a crest of a crusade against the proliferation of eight-liner establishments (so-called maquinitas) which he said bred criminality and lent themselves to money laundering and siphoning of local residents' money to the drug cartels.
He painted Carlos Masso, his opponent in the Democratic primary runoff, as being in bed with "seedy" eight-liner operators. 
In a later interview after a year in office at the end of 203,  he said that the reason for "Operation Bishop," as he labeled the anti-maquinita crusade, was because Catholic Bishop Daniel Flores had complained to Cameron County Judge Carlos Cascos that the money his congregations spent on the maquinitas was affecting the church's bingo operations and offering plates' bottom line. Saenz said Cascos had conveyed the bishop's complaint to him and that the name sounded apropo to the operation against the eight-liners. (Cascos later denied this version, but Saenz said it did happen.)
Standing at the steps of the Cameron County courthouse on Harrison Street lather in April, Saenz, surrounded by elected officials and representatives of law enforcement entities including the DA's Office, Sheriff's Dept., county constables, the Drug Enforcement Administration, the Federal Bureau of Investigation, the Department of Homeland Security, the Texas Rangers, and police departments from Brownsville Harlingen and San Benito, vowed to steam-roll over the maquinita establishments.
"What made the difference was my decision to say 'we're not going to sell these eight-liners back to you. That's what had been happening. You would seize them today and in a matter of days they would make and agreement where they would resell them. What do you think they were going to do once they resold them? They would put them back. So when I put the word out that we're not going to sell them back to you that set off shock waves to the eight-liner community. Some of them started loading them up on their own and moving out."
Saenz also said that his new policy of not selling back the eight-liner machines back to the owners contributed to the success of the operation. In the past, he said that the DA's office under convicted Armando Villalobos would allow the owners to purchase them back at auction and then set up shop again.
Saenz added. “I look forward to the day I can run a steam roller over them.”
Well, we all know that was myth and just four short months later after Saenz made these statements he signed off on the sale of at least 505 eight-liners to Lowkes International whose agent was local attorney Rick Zayas. In fact, Saenz sold the Machines to Lowkes which has two subsidiaries in Brownsville, one of which lists Carlos Masso as its registered agent. The agreement gave Lowkes first dibs on an additional 150 machines at $150 per game. Saenz's office pocketed $100,000 for the first 505 eight-liners that went into his Forfeiture Fund from which he transfers funds for – among other things – to augment the salaries chosen employees in the department.  
How many other sales like it take place? 
After we made that public information request for any sales of eight-liners by the D.A.'s Office, we were stonewalled by Asst. DA Edward Sandoval who took the full 10 days to tell us our request was "vague" and "ambiguous" and that we would have to specify which machines we were talking about.
As the DA's Office scrambled to put out that brush fire, our post was criticized by a local blogger allied with DA PIO Melissa Landin. Where it took us a full 10 days plus to deny us the info, the DA's Office through Landin provided blogger Robert Wightman with the Lowkes contract and later the side agreements with other law enforcement agencies.
Stranding at the front of the courthouse, Saenz told us that his people (like Sandoval) had been "trained not to give up any information" when we spoke with him about the information request we had submitted. 
In fact, there had been lurking suspicions that Wightman had back door access to the DA's Office that other mainstream and social media did not.something both vehemently denied. We decided to make yet another another information request, this time for email communications between Saenz and Landin and Wightman. A few days later, we received a packet containing more than 300 pages covering from Jan. 1,2013 to Jan. 27,2015.
We, of course, did not receive what we asked for. What we got was one-sided record of missives ent by Wightman to Landin and none to Saenz. But even then, the contents were eye-opening and covered not only communications on sundry eight-liner raids, but also a variety of other subjects, including a campaign to spin events to favor Saenz and Landin. But other subjects had nothing to do with the provision of public information or the functions of the prosecutor's office and centered more around the manipulation of information for the public and ongoing court cases involving some of Wightman's relatives.

End Part 1...Next: You scratch my back and I'll stab yours..  






ARE BISD ADMINISTRATORS AND BOARD MEMBERS HAVING TROUBLE SLEEPING OVER $3.3 MILLION INSURANCE CONTRACT?

By Juan Montoya
Whichever way one looks at it, it is clear that the issue of the insurance coverage windstorm, hail, boiler machinery for the Brownsville Independent School District is not resolved.
The BISD trustees have never really voted to extend the coverage for 90 days with the current carrier,  McGriff and Seibels and Williams of Houston, Texas, but it has carried on by its own inertia. As far as many are concerned, the Competitive Sealed Proposal (CSP) is still active.
But board members obviously weren't satisfied that the bidding process was properly followed and only grudgingly allowed McGriff to continue after Chief Financial Officer Lucio Mendoza took it off their hands and took upon himself to exercise his "fiduciary" responsibility to protect the district.
The district went out for bids on December 10, 2014 and its coverage ran out January 31, 2015.
What we do know is that the lucrative insurance award was continued with McGriff after Mendoza decided it was his – not the board's – responsibility to protect the district.
He sent then-Superintendent Carl Montoya that opinion in a memo, Montoya approved it and – based on their decision, directed Purchasing director Rosario Peña to issue a Purchase Order and payment P238491 made out for $3,277,604.54. (Click on graphic to enlarge)
That came back to the district and then the administration opted for the 90-day extension for $1.3 million, or about 35 percent of the annual premium. This included windstorm coverage although the hurricane season doesn't start until June 1. Think about that.
The district will pay more than one third of the annual $3.2 million premium to McGriff, the same company that has held that contract for the past eight years without any competitive bidding. This, by the way, is the same company that the BISD took to court after its carriers had refused to pay the district for damages to its facilities after a hurricane. In emails releassed in the course of the case, insurance company executives make numerous racially discriminating remarks about the BISD and its administrators.
This year, McGriff was joined in the bidding by three other companies. One was Bordon's Insurance of Corpus Christi and the others were the Montalvo Insurance Agency of Weslaco and the Klement Agency of Prosper and Harlingen.
At an insurance meeting BISD's Employee Benefits/Risk Management administrator Judy Cuellar advised Klements and Montalvo that their were judges to be non-bids and cited an opinion by the Texas Attorney General's and one by the Texas State Board of Insurance.
The gist of her reasoning is that a school district can not just select one agent and then let him get the bids. One agent does not have enough markets etc and the district could not get the best deal they could.
This, of course, favored McGriff, who had gone out ahead  ahead of the bid in November. They contacted the markets that would write windstorm insurance in Cameron county for a school district   (roughly 30 companies). The prior year, they had 13 companies sharing the risk already, so it is not too much of a stretch for McGriff to to get the market locked up ahead of the other competitors. BISD attorney Baltazar Salazar even opined that McGriff has a monopoly on the windstorm insurance contracts locally.
That is not all that doesn't pass the smell test with McGriff and Bordon's bids.
Competitors noticed that both McGriff and Bordon's listed the exact companies in their bids. The Bordon quote, they deduced, was just a ruse to be able to say another quote was turned in. The quotations match exactly, except the premium is higher with Bordon. McGriff, they suspect, knew that their position was in danger and had a plan B in case BISD, just did not want to do business with them.
The board also learned through public comments that McGriff was charging an extra 180,000 – 220,000 per year on top of their commissions. It is estimated that they got paid about $570,000 on the BISD account the 2014-2015 school year. They supposedly went out for bids on November 3, 2014 and turned in their quote on November 20, – $570,000 for 17 days of work is not all that bad.
The real issue is that the state requires that school districts purchase their coverage by going out for bids, or purchasing through an interlocal contract such as the one BISD has with the Texas Cooperative Purchasing Network (TCPN). But even then, the role played by McGriff as both a risk manager for the district and an agent receiving commissions from their client has been prohibited by the state insurance board.
The State does not allow an Agency/Agent to act in a dual capacity as both a Risk Manager and an Agent receiving commissions on the same line of business. The agent if acting as a risk manager represents the client and is paid by the client with signed disclosure forms. An agent that places insurance business, is paid commission and is an agent the insurance company.That move is also seen as bordering on the illegal.
Cuellar went into great detail about first having the TCPN quote from McGriff and who made the decision to utilize the TCPN – yet left her name out of any decisions and acted as a mouthpiece for all the actions without attributing under whose authority she was acting.
TCPN has a contract with McGriff for Risk Management Services ( Risk Manager). The State of Texas has an insurance license for this and they also have one for an agent. McGriff holds both. The Risk Manager is hired by the customer (BISD) and is paid a fee for their work. They represent the customer. An agent represents the insurance company – they are paid by the insurance company by commission.
TCPN does not sell insurance, nor do they hold any type of insurance license to sell insurance. It is speculated that since McGriff could not secure the votes, they figured to go to plan B: Use the TCPN and say they went through a interlocal government contract to buy the insurance. That way, they don’t need a vote. BISD attorney Baltazar Salazar stated that no laws were broken. But if TCPN is not authorized to sell insurance and McGriff is  acting like an agent, and yet is authorized to be a risk manager, then the entire purchase is invalidated.
If the BISD administration and McGriff have used the TCPN subterfuge for the past three years, it is obviously an attempt to bypass the bidding process.
The Texas Dept. of Insurance quotes from this in Bulletin B-41-07 making it clear that McGriff may have acted illegally in its dual role. http://www.tcpn.org/Contracts/R130801/Signed%20Contract%20P.pdf
Obviously, many questions still remain on how it came to be that the BISD administrators (and some board members?) may have deliberately steered the $3.3 million contract McGriff's way not just this year, but also in the past. If that is the case, some people may have trouble sleeping these days. 

TROUBLE HAS DOGGED ESCO MARINE'S RICHARD JAROSS

(Ed.'s note: Following our post on the closing of Esco Marine shipbreakers at the Port of Brownsville, one of our four readers sent us this link to a Pulitzer Prize winning series into the industry published in 1997. We thank the contributor for remembering the series and include the link at the bottom of this excerpt to read the entire series.)

By Gary Cohn and Will Englund
Baltimore Sun Staff

When the U.S. Navy began its great sell-off of surplus ships in 1991, Richard Jaross was among the first to see an opportunity.

He began dismantling Navy ships at a California scrapyard, where workers were exposed to lead and asbestos. He came to Baltimore to help put together the ill-fated Coral Sea project. He then set up a scrapyard in Wilmington, N.C., but the state shut it down for mishandling asbestos, polluting a river and contaminating the soil with oil and lead.

Troubled history: "It's not like we're running around like wild men trying to break the law," says Richard Jaross. But his trail of legal problems is typical of the shipbreakers. (photo by Perry Thorsvik: Sun Staff)

Troubled histories, it turns out, are not uncommon among the shipbreakers to whom the Navy has entrusted its ships. Among the others are:
Andrew Levy: His company managed a maritime union retirement plan in the 1980s and lost more than $20 million, according to the U.S. Department of Labor. A federal court permanently barred him from managing private-sector benefit plans. He later became involved in the Coral Sea project and in a scrapping operation that was closed down in Rhode Island.

*Kreso Bezmalinovic: Before he got into shipbreaking, he pleaded guilty to paying off a government inspector. Later, he was convicted on federal fraud charges involving asbestos-abatement companies he controlled.

*Emilio Sanchez: A South Texas businessman with many interests, in 1994 he tried to negotiate in Mexico two stolen U.S. Treasury checks -- each made out to him for $10 million. Never prosecuted, he has bought the scrapping rights to several Navy ships since then.

*Kerry L. Ellis: The owner of a Baltimore company scrapping the Coral Sea, he tried to fool any inspectors who came around. Prosecutors finally caught up with him, leading to his conviction in May for mishandling asbestos and dumping oil and debris into the Patapsco River.

Kerry L. Ellis, owner of a Baltimore scrapping firm, was convicted of mishandling asbestos and dumping debris into the Patapsco River. (Sun Photo 1995)
The shipbreaking industry, which involves about a dozen key operators, has left a dismal record of spills, accidents, deaths, lawsuits, bankruptcies and indictments at ports across the country.

"The history of ship scrapping in the United States in the past five years has been terrible in all ways," said E. Grey Lewis, a former Navy general counsel. "The people involved in it are one-night stands. They've been indicted or they've had to flee the area. And, of course, the United States Navy is now on notice that these people are not obeying the law."

The negligence at the scrapyards has been abetted by the Navy's and Defense Department's lack of vigilance. There is virtually no meaningful monitoring of the shipbreaking industry. Prosecutors and regulators from a disjointed network of agencies sometimes have stumbled upon violations at individual scrapyards, but the Defense Department agency that administers
the scrapping program has done little to address its failings.
That agency, the Defense Reutilization and Marketing Service (DRMS), said it has raised standards for selecting scrappers. But critics say that is hardly enough.
In 1994, Jaross went to Wilmington, N.C., to scrap more Navy ships. He had promised to set up a model yard, but what he delivered was far different.

Emilio Sanchez, a South Texas businessman, bought scrapping rights to Navy ships; two men were killed on the project.(photo by Perry Thorsvik: Sun Staff)




One worker was killed, another seriously injured. A minesweeper sank. Asbestos, oil and lead contaminated the site. Oil spilled into the river.
It was next to impossible to keep track of the people and companies involved in the scrapping operation. Over two years, at least 16 companies and partnerships had a financial stake in the ships or the yard.

In July 1996, the state finally shut the operation, forcing the Navy to reclaim 12 ships. If it hadn't been for anonymous tipsters, state officials said, they never would have known of the problems at the yard. DRMS, the Defense agency, had turned up some of the violations, but it didn't alert the proper enforcement agencies.

"They sell a ship ... then all hell breaks loose," said F. Browne Gregg, whose company participated in a scrapping venture. "They literally lose control of the ship."
To read the rest of the article, click on link: http://www.pulitzer.org/archives/6146

CAN DOLPHINS AND TURTLES COEXIST WITH LNG?

By David Robledo
Ft. Worth Weekly
I’m kayaking the bay that separates Port Isabel and South Padre Island when a large dorsal fin breaks the water. Another fin surfaces, and several more. My heart skips a few beats.
 And it looks like I’m surrounded … by one of the Lone Star State’s most lovable economic resources, a tribe of bottle-nose dolphins that inhabit Dolphin Cove, a rocky and deep sanctuary that slopes to the Port of Brownsville’s 45-foot-deep cargo-ship channel. Hundreds of sightseers visit this cove each summer day, hoping to get a glimpse of these animals that live at the southernmost tip of Texas’ most-visited beach.
The dolphins seem happy and ready to play. Anglers wade a few yards away on a sandy shelf that quickly drops off to become the cove’s edge. One fisherman hooks a fighter as I paddle past him.
There aren’t many places in the world where people can be surrounded by archaic wildlife and habitat as they are on this beach that helps etch the United States’ southwestern boundary. There are even fewer such places juxtaposed with notable restaurants, bars, nightclubs, and hotel and condominium rentals like those of South Padre Island.
The combination of natural attractions and first-world amenities has been a lucrative one on this island, which leads the state in per capita revenues generated by regular tourism, nature tourism, sport-fishing, and hotel-motel taxes. These revenues are hugely important to the economic zone that the island is a part of, a region that routinely posts the nation’s highest poverty rate.
Precisely because this area is poor, corporations that want to ship liquefied natural gas from the port of Brownsville — the Valley’s largest city and the nation’s poorest of its size — have found eager audiences for their sales pitch about the jobs and prosperity that their industry could bring. Government agencies and quasi-public corporations have already spent millions, and plan to spend upward of a billion dollars, to create infrastructure here for LNG development, including a power plant, a pipeline, a deepened ship channel, and highway spurs.
But those job-creation claims appear to be overblown, and while the LNG locomotive is picking up steam, authorities and industry spokespeople are sidestepping the question of damage to the environment and to the existing tourism economy that could far outlast any jobs that will be created.
If the public entities involved were to take the money they are spending to underwrite LNG export development and simply give it to the 1,000 or so employees who might end up with semi-permanent jobs, those workers would be millionaires.
To read the rest of the story, click on link: http://www.fwweekly.com/2014/09/10/the-other-end-of-the-pipeline/

Sunday, February 22, 2015

ESCO GOES BELLY UP, DEFAULTS ON $31 MILLION LOAN

Channel 5 News
PORT OF BROWNSVILLE - The wait continues for more than 200 employees who were sent home from work without pay Monday.
Esco Marine Inc. ceased operations citing low metal prices. A civil lawsuit filed against the company, though, reveals it defaulted on a multi-million-dollar loan.
“The company continues to work on solving a means of getting everyone paid or coming up with a means to get everybody paid,” said Arnie Tyler, a manager with the company.
Tyler would not speak about the lawsuit.
The 32-page lawsuit claims Esco owes Callidus Capital Corporation of Canada more than $31 million from a loan.
The suit claims that "by June, 2014, Esco was in extreme financial and operational distress." The company got the loan as they searched for someone to buy the business.

THE MARTINEZ-SOSSI SCHOOL OF DECEPTION: NOW YOU SEE IT...

By Juan Montoya
The agenda items first posted by the City of Brownsville secretary on Dec. 7, 2012 for the city commission meeting to be held Dec. 11 seemed innocuous enough. Only one item was set for an executive session and that was :
A) Discussion pursuant to Section 551.086, of the Texas Government Code, regarding a proposal for
power from a specific generation project, including costs, pricing information, and evaluation
assistance connected therewith.
The meeting was a joint meeting of the city commission and the Brownsville Public Utilities Board. Only a smattering of PUB and city employees and all the city commission except for commissioner Melissa Zamora, who was noted absent. The meeting was scheduled for 4 p.m. on a Tuesday.
After the commissioners emerged from the executive session at about 4:30, they proceeded to consider the items in open session.
In short order, they open and closed two public hearings within a few minutes and voted to pass them unanimously before the sparse attendance.
What the taxpayers didn't know (and the mayor or commissioners didn't tell them) was that within less than half an hour, they had been obligated to fund a $325 million gas-fired electric plant that they would pay with huge electric and wastewater rate increases that will continue rising into 2016.
That was included in the (also innocuously worded) ordinance allowing the PUB to "provide for upwards adjustments of electrical, water and wastewater service rates fees and charges.
And so, in none fell swoop, the residents of the city were saddled with a huge financial burden which they will pay through utility rate increases.
The first inkling that the residents got about this was the January 11 article in the local newspaper announcing the deal between Tenaska and the city for a $500 million, 800 electric Megawatt generating facility to be built north of the city and financed by PUB for $325 million in debt to be paid by the higher utility rates.
Of those 800 MWs, the city was entitled to 200 MWs and Tenaska would look for customers for the other 600 MW.
 How the ratepayers of PUB were to be indebted for more than half the cost of the plant and receive one-quarter of the power was never addressed. What did emerge later was that the Fitch Rating downgrade of PUB bonds citing ratepayer "fatigue."
PUB ratepayers are now paying for the plant through "small" increases, never reported by the Brownsville Herald until recently. The commissioners adopted rate hikes that will see city residents pay a 36% increase in electric rates over three years, a 20% increase in water rates over the same period, and a 6% hike in waste water costs over two years. Under the plan approved by both bodies, electric rates went up by 14% by October 2013 and will go up another 22% by October 2016.Efforts to find out the details of the city's and Tenaska's obligations to each other has been kept secret because both the PUB and the private utility claimed to the Texas Attorney General's Office that divulging more information would damage their "competitiveness" and "confidentiality." As a result, no one (except for PUB, the city commissioners and Tenaska) really knows what we're in the hook for.
The same thing happened with the proposed sale of prime city real estate that included Lincoln Park to the University of Texas System. The item at the February 25, 2013 meeting read (innocuously enough): D) ACTION on Resolution Number 2013-015, authorizing the donation of a 55.43-acre tract of land to the University of Texas System, designating signatories, and dealing with related matters. (Mayor A. Martinez and Commissioner R. Gowen).
That passed with only commissioner Zamora voting against. Commissioner Jessica Tetreau-Kalifa was absent.
There was no mention that the city was offering to "donate" the 48-acre plot of land upon which Lincoln Park stands and that all they were asking was for the cost of removing the amenities which were put there at a cost to the taxpayers of the city. The item (nor the discussion according to the minutes) never mentioned that the site the mayor and commissioner Rose Gowen wanted to place the new park was directly across from a sewage plant.
By the time alarmed citizens took notice and a lawsuit was filed in court, the deal had been done and it was too late. Yet, city contract attorney Mark Sossi had the gall to tell the court that it was just an item to authorize the city to "negotiate" with the UT System. He failed to mention that the day before the commission meeting, the UT regents had accepted the city's offer to give the park for a fraction of the estimated fair-market value of the land.
This lack of transparency has been the hallmark of the Martinez administration and the majority of the commission. Apparently, what they don't know won't hurt them, they feel.
We are still waiting for the code of ethics ordinance the mayor promised on his first day on the job. Given the track record at ramming his agenda through the city commission and saddling the city residents with the costs of his grandiose projects., it's doubtful we ever will.
After all, remember who he put in charge of drafting that code of ethics? Would you believe ethics-challenged Sossi?

Saturday, February 21, 2015

JESSICA OF BROWNTOWN TO THE RESCUE....NOT!!!

"Three commissioners have already publicly stated they oppose the sale: Jessica Tetreau-Kalifa, John Villarreal and Ricardo Longoria. Jessica has never voted to sell the park while both John and Ricardo reversed their positions after hearing the public outcry at the October 30th town hall meeting. Can the wishy-washy Longoria, running for re-election against Roman Perez and Michael Gonzalez, be trusted to honor his commitment?"
Jim Barton in MeanMisterBrownsville blog

By Juan Montoya
Mayoral candidate Erasmo Castro chose Lincoln Park as the launch pad for his run at the office.
And Cameron County District Attorney Luis Saenz – sensing a groundswell of popular protest to aid his 2016 candidacy – half-heartedly sued in court to try to prevent the city commission from selling it to the UT System at below market value.
District 2 city commissioner Jessica Tetreau-Kalifa, also sensing the issue to be the lightning rod to the May 2015 elections, made it a very public affair to have the city secretary correct the city commission minutes of February 25, 2013 that she was absent from the meeting and did not vote to give the UT System the park at bargain prices.
The minutes of that meeting also reflect that the commissioners' actions also included the relocation of the park (for a second time).
The correction of the minutes by Tetreau left the impression that she had been the paladin of resistance to let the UT System have the park. She also pointed to the Feb. 5 meeting where the minutes reflect that she abstained from voting on the issue.
In the Feb. 5 meeting, the minutes reflect that commissioner Melissa Zamora moved to authorize the donation of the Lincoln Park property and another 21.5-acre tract.
Voting "aye" were Zamora, Mayor Tony Martinez, and commissioners Estela Vasquez, rose Gowen, Rick Longoria and John Villarreal. Tetreau abstained without any reason given.
At the Feb. 25 meeting, the minutes reflect that Gowen made the motion that the property "be donated" to the UT System if a downtown site was selected for the campus UTB campus (now UTRGV) and was seconded by commissioner Villarreal.
Voting "aye" were Martinez, Gowen, Longoria and Villareal.
Voting against ( in a flip flop of her previous vote where she made the motion to donate it) was then-commissioner Melissa Zamora. Tetreau and Vasquez were listed a absent.
Now, taken in this context, we find the protests by Tetreau, Longoria and Villarreal that they are against the donation, sale, conveyance, etc., self-serving at worst and disingenuous at best.
Even before the Feb. 5, 2013 vote was taken, the city commission had already responded to the UT System's call for Requests For Proposals for property for a university site as early as October 12, 2012 where they placed the park on the barrel head for donation to the UT System. The response to the RFP (http://issuu.com/jtirsun/docs/cob_rfp_no.reo_09_04_2012_bor) clearly stated that Lincoln Park was in the incentive package for the UT System to stay put at the current site. That, of course, was not the only incentive in the package. Other offers included:
* Greater Brownsville Incentives Corporation - $2,500 to $5,000 for every University job associated with UTB's location downtown
* Brownsville Economic Development Corporation - BEDC will contribute tax revenue from increased sales, mixed beverage, and parking meter taxes to UTB for public realm improvements downtown
*Brownsville Community Improvement Corporation - BCIC will provide funding and/or subsidies for "quality of life" projects, including cultural and athletic amenities in greater Downtown Brownsville
* Brownsville Metropolitan Planning Organization and BCIC - MPO and BCIC will increase bicycle infrastructure, including the extension of city hike and bike trails to better connect the UTB facilities with surrounding downtown neighborhoods and amenities
* Public Utility Board - PUB will provide reduced utility rates for new UTB buildings that are built to LEED accreditation standards
* Brownsville Metro - Brownsville Metro will increase their bus coverage area to better serve UTB's campus and to increase service frequency to UTB campus facilities
All the city commissioners knew about the offers they had made to the UT System included in the response to the RFP. As the commissioners gear up for reelection (Tetreau, Longoria, and Martinez with Vasquez gone) they are exhibiting a very selective memory in remembering that they signed on for the wholesale giveaway of the assets of the nation's poorest city to a oil-and-gas wealthy institution.
On the other hand, when members of the city's Parks and Recreation Board asked Parks director Chris Patterson in early 2013 what the city was planning for Lincoln Park and he informed them of the move to donate it to the UT System, they told him in no uncertain terms that they were dead set against the idea.
Former members say that the board had spent large amounts of money to make the park elderly and handicapped accessible only to have the city give it away. Later, when Gowen made her pitch to get them on board, they also sent her packing.
Tetreau's protest that she is standing up to the university and for the little man rings hollow given the fact that when she could have taken that stand, she was AWOL or hid behind an abstention, in effect, a dereliction of her duty as her constituents' representative.
The rest of the incumbents in this election are no better.

Friday, February 20, 2015

LOS BLUZANOS ROCK THE HALF MOON TONITE


A PROMISE IS A PROMISE; HERE YOU GO BORRADO

(In our previous lifetime we used to work with a county road and bridge supervisor named Joe Cuellar (El Borrado) who lived for a time in northwest Washington state and got to know the Native American culture from meeting the people there. La raza called him "el Borrado" because Joe had greeniss-blueish eyes, a not too common trait among local mexes. For a long time Joe has been after us to publish a cartoon ridiculing the current crop of anti-immigration Know Nothings. Well, today's the day Joe. Here you go!)

GRACIA'S "STRATEGY" RESULTS IN INMATE DYING IN JAIL

By Juan Montoya
The man who died of a heart attack after failing to post a $10,000 bond ($1,000 in cash from commercial bail bondsman, $300 from the county's Pre-Trial Release department, or $0 on his lawyer's surety) instead spent seven months at $40 a day compliments of the taxpayers instead of being released pending his trial.
Jose Miguel Pecina was booked into the Cameron County jail on charges of continuous family violence and interfering with an emergency call. His bond was set at $10,000.
He was jailed March 26, 2014. He died seven months later on Oct. 28.
According to District Attorney Luis Saenz, he should have never been incarcerated.
Pecina could have requested a personal recognizance bond if no case had been filed against him within 15 days of his incarceration, according to the Texas Code of Criminal Procedure. However, since his attorney never requested it or asked the court or the Pre-Trial Release Dept. (PTRD) for assistance, he languished behind bars until his death.
"We were never contacted by his lawyer or any member of his family," said PTRD director Kevin Saenz. "We were never notified about it."
“At some point it falls on their lawyer to keep up with the case and to do what they can for the client,” Saenz said. Saenz said Pecina should have requested the personal recognizance bond. He would have been released from jail on April 26.
As it turns out, it was all part of a grand defense strategy by Pecina's attorney – and new Justice of the Peace 2-2 – Jonathan Garcia. Gracia told a local broadcaster that keeping Pecina in jail was actually a good thing.
“When you're part of the system, everyday that you're incarcerated actually counts towards credit for time served if you're later found guilty on that particular charge. Sometimes you'd like to be able to gain credit as opposed to posting a bond and getting out of jail and finding out later that you're going to have to go back into jail,” Garcia said.
Garcia said he has used that strategy before. He said he was waiting for the case to be filed by the police and district attorney's office so he could use those facts.
The code states that if an inmate is charged with a class-B misdemeanor and no case is filed within 15 days that person is entitled to a personal-recognizance bond. For a class-A misdemeanor, inmates are eligible after 30 days. For a felony charge the inmate must wait 90 days.
But as far as the district attorney is concerned, it is a dead issue and he simply reviewed the case and will not be taking any action.
So that elicits a few questions such as:
If Gracia was allowing his client to serve time on the charges so that he could claim credit for them afterward, did he assume his client was guilty? Does this mean that he (as defense attorneys are supposed to) didn't have a presumption of his client's innocence? If so, isn't Gracia acting, not as a defense attorney, but rather as a judge and a jury and accepting punishment from the system before even going to court?
Either way, Pecina died a lonely death behind bars when he could have died among his own. No one, of course, knew he was going to die of a heart attack while incarcerated. But how many other grand defense strategies count on the taxpayers of the county to not only pay for an inmate's defense, but also ask that the taxpayer provide their clients' board and keep while they remain in the custody of the county?
At seven months (7x30= 210) time $40 @ day, that equals to $8,400 that the county taxpayer shelled out for Pecina's keep plus whatever Gracia got as a court-appointed attorney.

YES PEDRO, BOBBY SAYS HE'S GOING AWAY...AGAIN

T
This is the way a blog dies (again and again and again) not with a bang, but with a whimper.
We don't know how many times it's been that we've heard blogger Robert Wightman say he's had enough of the morons in this city, but this time it's really, really, really true, he says.
But Wightman doesn't leave before hurling a few invectives, showing us his titillating tattoos, hurling a few choice insults our way,  and hinting at some secret knowledge that leads him to believe that the whole city and county reek of corruption. In his last post,  (be still my beating heart!), he accuses his buddy Cameron County District Attorney Luis Saenz and the DA's Office, BISD trustee Catalina Presas-Garcia, Lucy Longoria, myself, and the whole ball of wax of unspeakable (and unprovable, it would seem) acts of corruption. He also thinks the $3 million (instead of the $14 million he and his buddy Rick Zayas claimed they would get) from suing HealthSmart will go toward school supplies for teachers. Actually, a good chunk of the cash, as Zayas so correctly stated (and Wightman reported) will go to the lawyers. We will miss his naive idealism.  He leaves with this:
"For a long time, I kept the BV going until Healthsmart settled. Well it has settled, but Healthsmart is in financial ruin so the exact terms of payments are still being worked out. I held for years while being subjected to endless defamation by Presas-Garcia and Luci Longoria through their paid drunk Juanito. In the end BISD may only get about $3 million. But to the teachers – $3 million in extra school supplies in meaningful. Cata Presas-Garcia paid Juanito to claim the entire lawsuit was nothing more than a way for the attorneys to get rich. What else could she say – she worked with Healthsmart to defraud BISD out of millions.
I have so many files on my desk which need processing. The evidence of corruption at the DA's office, the city and BISD continue to come in. I cannot do both - processing the criminal complaints and working the BV."

We don't quite know why there toward the end Wightman embraced the $325 million PUB debacle with Tenaska, unless it's one of those confidential matters that require a certain amount of discretion for all interested parties. Who knows?
To paraphrase a quite: "Old bloggers never die, they just kind of whimper away."
Well, we're from Missouri, and you have to show us if something is true. Until then, we leave you with the quintessential Mexican goodbye song (we know he claims Nicaraguan descent, but, hey, a Latino is a Latina is a Latino, right?). Adios, Babushka! Tocame Las Golondrinas!

POPULAR MEXICAN NOVELA ACTRESS SUCCUMBS TO CANCER

By National Public Radio

Popular Mexican actress Lorena Rojas has died of cancer at age 44.

Rojas was born Seydi Lorena Rojas González in Mexico City and got her big break in the 1990s with the telenovela Alcanzar Una Estrella. She later starred inAzul Tequila, El Cuerpo del Deseo and Pecados Ajenos.Her most recent telenovela was Rosario.

She also moved into films, such as Corazones Rotos, and stage in the musical Aventurera. Earlier this year, she'd put out a children's album called Hijos Del Sol, inspired by her daughter Luciana.

Rojas had been battling cancer since 2008. She died on Monday in Miami.

Thursday, February 19, 2015

PICTURES AT AN EXHIBITION: BATTLE IN TAMAULIPAS






(Ed.'s Note: Gun battles have been raging across the border in Matamoros and upriver all the way to Reynosa as warring factions fighting for control of the drug and other illicit trades try to wrest control of the region. From El Control on the northern side of Matamoros to Lucio Blanco on the south, frightened residents report an almost continual war between the factions and the military which usually waits until the skirmishes are done before engaging the survivors. Buses and other vehicles are sued as road block by the different gangs to ambush the other side. In Lucio Blanco, a report of a grisly find of two bodies in a refrigerator fueled concerns of those who have missing relatives. Meanwhile, the bullet-riddled car suspected of belonging to two Brownville men missing since Feb.2 was found parked in a colonia in east Matamoros. Authorities and relatives fear the worse.)

ZENDEJAS; A TRAIL OF RESIGNATIONS AND BUYOUTS

By Juan Montoya
This past Monday the members of the board of the Brownsville Independent School District unanimously voted to hire Dr. Esperanza Zendejas as an interim superintendent to replace Carl Montoya who departed to take over San Antonio's Judson ISD.
In doing so, they said she would stay on until they conducted a nationwide search for Montoya's replacement.
Now, Zendejas, who has family in Brownsville, was the BISD superintendent from 1992 to 1995 when she left to seek greener pastures elsewhere even though she still had three years left in her contract.
Zendejas came to Brownsville in 1992 from Desert Sands Unified School District in Southern California.
After leaving Brownsville she landed a job with the Indianapolis Public Schools in 1995 that lasted another three years until she was replaced with her assistant superintendent for facilities management. At the time, a news account of her departure indicated that she had a "bankrupted relationship" with the board there.
When she left, she said that the board's support for her reforms had been "lukewarm."
The Indianapolis board paid her $158,100 – a year's salary and benefits – for her early departure.
It's a pattern that has followed her since.
In San Jose, California, Zendejas resigned two years before the end of her contract with the East Side Union High School District over criticism of her management style. According to Zendejas’ contract in San Jose, she made $225,000 a year. The board also paid her a portion of her salary when she left the district.  She continued working for the district as a consultant until Jan. 31, 2011 and collected a monthly payment of $14,000 (about $168,000 a year) plus benefits, according to the consulting agreement
At the Alisal Union School District in Salinas, Calif., Zendejas left in 2010 but stayed on as a consultant with the district paying each administrator $168,000 a year to do the same job.
Now the BISD has her until they find another candidate. With the board's support, will she endear herself to them and land the gig again?

U.S. PRESIDENTS HAVE HAD PROFOUND IMPACT ON S. TEXAS

By Juan Montoya
Readers to this blog already know we have a penchant for history and how it has shaped our little corner of the world.
This past Presidents' Day we were almost tempted to publish the following post but – we admit it – we were too lazy to slog through the research on a national day off. So here goes.
Our corner of the world has been impacted deeply by the events happening east of the Mississippi ever since the original 13 colonies started eyeing the land west toward the "South Sea."
After the United States' acquisition of 828,000 square miles (2,144,000 square kilometers or 529,920,000 acres) of France's claim to the territory of Louisiana in 1803, things started to get even more intense.
France controlled this vast area from 1699 until 1762, the year it ceded the territory to Spain.
Under Napoleon Bonaparte, France took back the territory in 1800 in the hope of re-establishing an empire in North America. But that never happened and then President Thomas Jefferson bought the the huge piece of real estate for pennies on the acre.
The Spanish crown was never really comfortable having such an expansionist country on its eastern and northern border, especially when settlers from the U.S. started streaming across the Sabine River and into present-day Texas.
In 1819, the U.S. and the Spanish crown signed the Adams-­Onís Treaty sometimes referred to as The Florida Treaty. It was signed in Washington on February 22, 1819 and ratified by Spain October 24, 1820 and entered into force February 22, 1821.
The treaty was named for John Quincy Adams of the United States and Louis de Onís of Spain and renounced any claim of the United States to Texas. It fixed the western boundary of the Louisiana Purchase as beginning at the mouth of the Sabine River and running along its south and west bank to the thirty-second parallel and thence directly north to the Río Rojo (Red River).
Despite the treaty, Adams, when he became president, offered at least three times to purchase Texas from Mexico, which had gained its independence from Spain in 1821.
On all three occasions, Mexico turned down the offer.
Andrew Jackson, who had his differences with Adams, nonetheless agreed with him on the matter of annexing Texas to the United States. But while the treaty was in effect, Jackson could only encourage settlers and provide them with the wherewithal to settle in Texas and make its settlement by Anglo illegal liens a fait accompli. Under the "Texas formula," these settlers would pledge allegiance to Mexico, establish a colony, and then ask the United States to come to their aid when their "rights" were violated.
This happened in 1836 – a scant 17 years after Adams signed the treaty and 15 after it went into effect.
James K. Polk, a Jackson protege who made the acquisition of Texas and California the main goals of his administration, in fact, used the justification of protecting the settlers from Indian attack to send Zachary Taylor from Ft. Jesup in Louisiana to the Nueces River to "secure" the border.
When he sent the military to the mouth of the Rio Grande in 1846 , the expected confrontation took place and the Mexican War which resulted in Mexico's loss of half her territory ensued.
Palo Alto and Resaca de la Guerra in Brownsville were the first battles of that conflagration that ended in 1848 with the Treaty of Guadalupe Hidalgo.
Few would guess that the battle sites that Brownsville school kids visit portended such important consequences.
Present at the battles near present-day Brownsville were two future presidents, Taylor and Ulysses S. Grant. Taylor was a Whig and the last thing Polk wanted was to have him become a war hero, which he did, eventually gaining the presidency. Grant was a lieutenant then and ended up being Abraham Lincoln's most important general for the Union in the upcoming Civil War.
In fact, Lincoln was not in agreement with Polk on waging war against Mexico. He went on the floor of the U.S. House of Representatives demanding that Polk point to the spot where Capt. Seth Thornton and his men had been attacked and whether the people there had ever considered themselves U.S. citizens.
For his troubles, Lincoln – dubbed "Spotty Lincoln" by the opposition press – was a one-time U.S. representative and he was voted out of the Congress, especially after some of his constituents died in some of the battles inside Mexico.
Presidents since have had an impact on our border. The latest has been the decision by federal Judge Andrew Hanen that President Barack Obama's executive orders to defer deportation action against some 5 million people here illegally are beyond the scope of his executive powers.
Will Hanen's decision be nullified by an appeals court?
Whatever the outcome, this area continues to be impacted by the actions of presidents in far-off Washington, D.C.  

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