By Juan Montoya
A victim in a $3 million, "Ponzi scheme" has charged in a lawsuit that he and other victims were never paid restitution on properties that were bought with their money and later sold by then-Cameron County District Attorney Armando Villalobos.
Named as defendants in the lawsuit filed by Mike Irby, of Mercedes, are Cameron County, County Judge Carlos Cascos, DA Luis Saenz, former Asst. DA David Gonzales, and Brownsville attorney Fabian Limas who was the receiver for the victims of the scheme.
Irby says that some of the defendants reside in Cameron County and that the properties confiscated, forfeited, and sold are located in Cameron County.
According to the lawsuit, Richard Ferguson, the propagator of the Ponzi scheme, came to visit him at his home in Mercedes on January 2005 offering him the chance to invest money with an expectation of realizing a profit. Ferguson told Irby that he could secure government grants for a fee and a percentage of the grants he received. He told Irby that he was licensed to apply for the state grants and could therefore charge a fee for his services. He also told Irby and other investors that he had successfully secured grants for different business and individuals in the past.
Irby also charges that Ferguson told him that he could secure environmental feasibility studies for a fee that the state would then purchase for a significant profit.
Based on these representation, Irby said he invested $16,000 with Ferguson to acquire the grants and environmental studies. To date, Irby said, none of the grants or feasibility studies have been accepted or funded. He charges that Ferguson took the money for his own personal gain never intending to invest it.
In fct, in an exhibit he provided with his lawsuit, Irby shows that some 150 investors were biked by Ferguuson with sums ranging from as little as $710 to $325,000. The bilked cover everything from professionals to small businessmen and investment firms. The total amount documented by investigators indicated that Ferguson had induced them to invest $3,065,037.
Then, on February 2007, Ferguson was indicted for theft by deception also known as a "ponzi" scheme.
On March 2009, Ferguson pleaded guilty to theft by deception and was sentenced to 12 years in the Texas Department of Corrections and ordered to pay the $3 million in restitution to his victims, including Irby.
Between February 2007 and March 2011, Ferguson – as part of his restitution agreement – transferred title to numerous properties partly purchased with his $10,000 investment and transferred at least $1.8 million to the named defendants Cameron County, et al.
Irby further states that at least one of the forfeited properties was sold for $159, 000 to Orville and Cecilia Jackson, of San Benito by then-Asst. D.A. David Gonzales. Gonzales is now judge of the Cameron County Court-at-Law #1. Irby claims the property sale was improper because any sale of property that belongs to the county can only be transferred by the county judge after approval by the commissioners court and after placing the property for sale at public auction.
In all, Irby lists that the county sold at least 14 properties (including that sold to the Jacksons) for about $1,204,650. Some sold for more than $300,000 and the lowest paid the county $18,000.
Then, on September 2011, Ferguson – represented by attorney Gilberto Hinojosa – came before Judge Arturo Nelson for a habeas corpus seeking relief from his prison sentence and told the court that he had paid "full restitution" to the victims of his scheme. Representing the county was Rene Gonzalez.
The court found that Ferguson had "made full restitution" as previously ordered in the judgment and reduced his sentence to eight years on December 2011. During all this time, Irby claims, "Villalobos acted directly in these transactions and received personal benefits to which (he and others are) now liable."
Irby claims that the defendants should have known that none of the $1.8 million gained by the DA and the county with the sale of the properties that were purchased with the victims of Ferguson's "ponzi" scheme was never paid as restitution to him or the other victims. He charges the defendants with fraudulent misappropriation of funds.
Irby also charges that the defendants negligently misrepresented to the court that they would distribute all monies recuperated from Ferguson to the victims. Irby also charges that the defendants acted with gross negligence and conspired civilly to deprive him an other victims of the restitution ordered by the court. These actions constituted fraud and constructive fraud, Irby charges.
As receiver of the victims' restitution, Irby charges in his lawsuit that attorney Fabian Limas had a fiduciary duty to act on their behalf and did not. He charges that up to now Limas has not taken any action to recover their losses. He asks the court to order Limas to perform his duties and, if he fails to do so, to disqualify him and replace him. Irby claims he suffered actual damages not to exceed $50 million and seeks exemplary damages to be determined by a jury.
By Dr. Antonio Zavaleta
(This article originally appeared in the Brownsville Herald)
The selection of a
name or image to represent an institution or a sport’s team is not a
simple matter. This is primarily because satisfying everyone is close to
impossible. When a selection is made, even one that is unanimously
supported, those involved can only hope that most will not find the
selection offensive as with reference to a protected group or class of
University of Texas Rio Grande Valley President Guy Bailey announced the
university’s new mascot to the community. After careful consideration
and input from student groups and others, President Bailey made an
executive decision to present the Vaquero as the new mascot to the UT
System Board of Regents, who unanimously approved it.
I believe that President Bailey did a tremendous
job in selecting a concept that represents not only our geographical
area, but the history, culture and traditions of south Texas. The
selection of the vaquero truly shows his sensitivity and respect for our
home and region.
In fact, the area north of the Rio Grande to the
Nueces River is the oldest and longest settled area of Spanish Texas,
notwithstanding the long history of Native Americans here. By the 1600s,
tiny settlements of Spanish immigrants began popping up along the Rio
Grande. The Camino Real, King’s Highway, ran northward from Saltillo
through the middle of the Tejano heartland, vaquero country, up to San
Antonio de Bexar connecting the pioneers from the north and south.
These unique and resilient people came to be
known as Tejanos and they lived and thrived in this vast grassland of
the Wild Horse Desert for a hundred years before the Count of Escandon
established his series of lower river settlements in 1750.
Long before the creation of the cowboy, Tejano
vaqueros lived as small cattle ranchers developing traditions and
culture as well as becoming the origin of the cattle industry in Texas.
Vaquero families of men and women lived in the harsh region in jacales,
houses made of mesquite and brush, fending off Comanche and Apache
raids. The revered American icon, the cowboy, was shaped after the image
of the vaquero.
I am proud to have a vaquero tradition, culture
and history represent our university. There are so many opportunities
for UTRGV to develop new university traditions around this iconic
concept. For example, imagine the pride of a class ring with the vaquero
emblazoned on its side.
Dozens of Spanish words derived from vaquero
culture have been adopted into American English, demonstrating the
importance of the vaquero in American and Texas history.
The list of adopted words begins with the
quintessential “buckaroo,” a variation of the word “vaquero” often
reserved for a young cowboy. The vaquero cultural lexicon is essential
in modern English. For example, the vaquero worked on the “range,” a
word that morphed into “ranch” and the “ranchero” morphed into
The vaquero mounted his “silla,” saddle, to his
horse with a “cinche,” chinch. He used a “riata,” lariat also called a
lasso. The cattle were herded into a corral. Seasonally, he would
display his vaquero expertise at a competitive gathering called a rodeo.
What would our great Texas culture be without its rich vaquero heritage?
Vaqueros introduced many words for the
preparation of food like “barbacoa,” barbecue, in which the animal is
cooked slowly in a ground pit from the “barba” to the “cola,” from head
to tail. Pan de campo, camp bread and pan semita, Semite bread, are part
of vaquero food traditions. South Texas populations had a strong
admixture of the Jewish Sephardim in their Judeo-Catholic background.
The rich mixture of cultures includes a strong
influence of Basque farmers and sheep herders who settled in
northeastern Mexico along the Rio Grande in the 17th century. The
vaquero mascot brings these and many more aspects of our historic
culture into the educational equation that should be understood,
embraced and shared.
The vaqueros were experts at herding cattle
through the thorny scrub brush of south Texas called monte or chaparral.
They protected their legs with thick leather chaparreras the cowboys
call chaps. Vaqueros often encountered herds of wild horses in the brush
they called broncos. They protected their faces from violent dust
storms with bandanas. These sudden and violent storms were whipped up by
northerners in the winter they called nortes.
Finally, and maybe most importantly, the vaquero
serves as an archetypal image of the south Texas super hero as described
by Dr. Americo Paredes in his book about Gregorio Cortez, titled “With a
Pistol in his Hand.” The humble vaquero Gregorio Cortez was wrongly
accused of horse theft, perused by law enforcement, but escaped by
performing a series of super-human feats.
Cortina was from a wealthy river family. Family
lore recounts that he was asked by his mother to take his vaqueros to
recover their stolen cattle that had been driven northward to the vast
King Ranch. Even though Cortina was a patriot, the United States waged
war against him but he was never caught. Eventually he became governor
of Tamaulipas, and has the distinction of fighting with his vaqueros at
the Battle of Palo Alto and at the Battle of Puebla on the Cinco de
Mayo. He lived the life of a superhero in exile, not allowed to return
to his south Texas home.
The list of vaquero traditions and words adopted
into the vernacular is extensive. Imagine the university clubs and
organizations that will emerge by incorporating vaquero vocabulary and
culture on campus. Think of the youth groups that could be called the
buckaroos, developing cultural-historical curricula that will help
schoolchildren understand their rich south Texas heritage throughout the
Rather than finding fault in a name, let’s find
value in the heritage of the vaquero. UTRGV is off to a great start by
branding our mascot the Vaquero. Honoring the vaquero honors a blend of
traditions that make us unique and outstanding in the State of Texas. It
provides us with a real opportunity to see the value of bilingualism
and multiculturalism. Therefore, join in the yell, Go Vaqueros!
(Dr. Antonio Zavaleta is professor of anthropology at the University of Texas at Brownsville.)