Friday, January 30, 2015




       Juan Osorio, Carmen Salinas, Pablo Montero, Mayrin Villanueva, Robert and Liz Avitia


By Juan Montoya
There is a saying in Spanish that addresses equal treatment under the law.
It is elegant and rustic at the same time. It states "O todos coludos o todos rabones," meaning that – with a tail or without one – everyone should be treated the same.
Late last year we got some leads that – contrary to his campaign promises – Cameron County District Attorney Luis Saenz had not destroyed the eight-liner machines he had confiscated from local arcades and salons. But – like his predecessor Armando Villalobos – we got indications that he had sold at least 400 of them to a buyer who put them to work in Starr County.
We found it hard to believe that Saenz had gone back on his word after he had promised an array of law enforcement agencies at the steps of the judicial wing of the county courthouse.
The members of the different agencies – the DA's Office, Cameron County Sheriff's Dept., county constables, the U.S. Drug Enforcement Administration, the Federal Bureau of Investigation, the Department of Homeland Security, the Texas Rangers, and police from the Brownsville, Harlingen and San Benito police departments and elected officials– listened as Saenz vowed not to do what his predecessor Villalobos had done.
On December 6, 2014, we filed our request for information and made it pretty simple. Tell us if you have sold any of the eight-liners confiscated by your office, who you sold them to, and how much did you get in return?
Or, formally: "Please consider this an open records request by the Texas Open Records Act.
I am requesting any and all documents containing information concerning the sale or transfer of 8 liner machines or other gambling devices which have been seized by the Cameron County District Attorney office during Operation Bishop from January 1,2013 to present. Please include name and address of buyer and price paid to this office."
That seemed  – to us, anyway – a pretty straightforward request. But just in case that our email would be swallowed by cyberdemons or the like, we sent three identical requests to D.A. Luis Saenz, Melissa Landin (Zamora), and Asst. DA Matthew Kendall.

On the very 10th day after our request was made (actually on Dec. 17, 11 days later) we got this in response: "Please find enclosed the Response to your December 8(?), 2014 Public Information Request. A hard copy will be sent to you via certified mail return receipt in tomorrow’s mail."
This was an  email from one Edward Adrian Sandoval, an Asst. DA we had never heard about informing us that he would be handling our request, but that he needed a mailing address so that he could communicate with us. Why, we wondered, did he require a mailing address if one had never been needed in the past? In other words, why snail-mail instead of email?
Now, we had been told by previously reliable sources in that office that the dragging out of the response of our info request was just a ploy to stretch out the process and stonewall us to the point of fatigue so that we would just tire of the game and go away. With the additional delay attributed to the holidays, we would be told, they said, that our request was vague, not specific, and "ambiguous."
Well, "Goooolly," as Gomer Pyle used to say, they were right on the mark.
This Sandoval finally emailed us the letter which said that "no responsive documents can be tendered at this time as your request is (ready?) ambiguous."
And, predictably, Sandoval goes on into saying that "although the DA's office spearheaded (his words, not mine) Operation Bishop, various different local law enforcement agencies have participated in the operation, made arrests, and seized contraband...The DA's Office has only effectuated some of the seizures.
"Under a plain reading of your request, it would seem you seek information /material of those seizures done by the DA's Office investigators," Sandoval wrote. Since we referred to Operation Bishop, he continued, it would appear to him that we were seeking information relating to the entirety of the seizures performed under Operation Bishop. So be specific, he hints, and clarify your request.
OK. We know a stonewall when we see one, and this is a good one. Sandoval wanted us to specify what specific machines (sweepstakes, eight-liners, computers, etc.) seized during which specific raid, on what specific date, and from what specific establishment, and by what specific law enforcement entity we are referring to.
In other words, a snipe hunt.
Look, what we wanted to know is did you sell any of the machines that you seized from gambling parlors here to someone else elsewhere so they could them to work just as they were before you seized them? And what did you do with the money? And how does this square with published statements attributed to the DA's Office that the machines would not be resold?
We had already spoken with a former DA's Office employee who said he had personal knowledge of the buyer and the profit made by the DA's Office on the sale.
Well, we had hit a wall and it was plain that Saenz did not want to divulge anything on the matter.
But thanks to intrepid blogger Robert Wightman, Saenz personally instructed Melissa On January 5 to deliver onto his hands a copy of a contract with Lowkes International for the sale of 400 machines with an option to buy another 105 for a cool $100,000. But, like Bill Clinton, the DA's Office says that they have not touched a penny of the loot yet. In other words, Saenz didn't inhale.
What was the difference between that coludo and us? And why the deferential treatment when they made us jump through the hoops on our request?
Whereas we got a stonewall letter from Sandoval, Wightman got the personal touch from Landin (AKA Zamora) and Saenz himself. Take a gander at the missive they sent him.
Addressing Wightman as "Bobby" is a nice touch, ain't it?
And it's not Ms. Landin, no, rather it's "Melissa." It's enough to warm the cockles of your heart.
And the speed in which they forked over the documentation (he is, after all, document-driven, he says) didn't compare with ours, regardless of the content of our request. It was from one day to the next with a personal touch for good measure.
So while Wightman claimed on January 5 that Melissa "gave me nothing," by the 6th he already had the goods from...Melissa.
Well, we'll take the information where we can get it. The contract to Lowkes may be one of many. Sanez said he had to do something with the machines because the Texas Water Quality Board prohibited  him from destroying the machines fearful that mercury or other contaminants might make their way into the water table. Hmmmm.
And the Brownsville P.D. was after him to make some space at the old Levi Plant where Saenz was storing the machines because he was just too successful in confiscating them and was running out of space.
Selling them, therefore, was the logical and pragmatic thing to do.
In fact, Saenz confirmed as much when I spoke with him at the steps of the Cameron County Courthouse.
"I just wanted to make sure they were out of my jurisdiction," he said.
This obvious manipulation of information to selected sources is too blatant for anyone to miss. What else is going on in that office that Saenz and Landin don't want us to know? Will we have to wait until they use "Bobby" again to get the proper spin on things? You go, boy!

Thursday, January 29, 2015


By Juan Montoya
Jaime and Vanessa Mercado (Weaver) had filed the case against their relative Griselda Mercado way back on January 11, 2013.
Like other people in the know, they had taken all the precautions to make sure they prevailed in their small claims cause when they filed in Justice of the Peace Pct. 2, Place 2 Erin Garcia Hernandez's court.
Their claim was titled 2013-GSC-000003, and filed in that court.
They had paid the perfunctory $800 bribe under the table for a favorable decision and were awaiting the result.
Sure enough, after the customary citations were issued, hearings set and the case entered into the civil docket, the court entered a judgement on their behalf on April 3, 2013.
Everything seemed to be working just as predicted. JP Garcia issued a default judgement on the couple's behalf and ordered an award for $5,486 plus 5 percent interest.
But then, the next day, April 4, 2013, former Cameron County District Attorney Armando Villalobos appeared on the scene saying that as the defendant's attorney, he had failed to receive a notice and asked JP Garcia to reset a hearing for 30 days from then. The court approved the motion for a rehearing and at the date set for a bench trial (June 4, 2013), it was reset for 45 to 60 days to compel discovery.
A little over a month later, on July 30, Villalobos field a motion to dismiss the case. On August 7, a final hearing was held and Villalobos was granted the motion to dismiss and told to submit the order. This he did on August 27, and the JP signed the dismissal.
The docket entries end there except for a note where a clerk writes that she could only see the file if JP Garcia granted her permission.
What happened?
On February 17 this year, Vanessa Weaver (AKA Vanessa Mercado, Vanessa Weaver Mercado) (2014-DCR-02228) and Maria Vela Silguero (2014-DCR-02231) will be heard in a district court.
The indictments handed down October 22, 2014., charge that these two women made cash payments to former JP clerk Liliana Cantu "for Justice of the Peace Erin Garcia, as consideration for the decision by the said Justice of the Peace Erin Garcia as a public servant, to wit: for a favorable disposition of a pending court case."
Cantu – JP Garcia's clerk – is charged with taking a cash payment from Vanessa Mercado as consideration for a favorable decision in a judicial proceeding, to wit: pending civil court case numbers 2013-GSC-000003 and 2013-GSC-000002. (Click on graphic to enlarge.)
At the time Villalobos appeared on the scene, he was under indictment for racketeering, conspiracy to commit racketeering and five counts of extortion.
A little more than a month later, on May 24, 2013, a jury convicted him of these charges.
On February 11, 2014, Villalobos was sentenced to 13 years in federal prison for his role in the bribery and extortion scheme.
Court watchers are anxious to hear what role Villalobos played in the Mercado (Weaver) case and why the neat bribery arrangement in Erin Garcia's court was overturned with his appearance.

Wednesday, January 28, 2015


(Ed.'s Note: You've got to admire Port of Brownsville Director Eddie Campirano's acquired skill of sleeping on his feet. Given the nature of the event – Brownsville Day at the Capitol – we really don;pt blame Eddie for taking the opportunity to catch a few winks as the rest of the crowd around him including our able state reps and our senator and a host of local elected officials stood rapt to the soaring oratory on the virtues and greatness of ol' Browntown. Doubtless, Eddie had heard it all before. In fact, he routinely uses some of the same adjectives and catchwords when the Brownsville Herald offers him a soapbox to extol the virtues of the port and the city. To the reader who sent in this abridged version of the photo, thank you and nighty night, Eddie.) 


(Ed.'s Note: We were surprised to see the three gentlemen in the photo filling up the Dumpster behind the Central Public Library to the brim with books destined for the landfill. We have been known to have a weakness for the written word, so naturally we inquired of the gents why they were throwing them away. After their initial mistrust, one of them said that the books were infested with silverfish and termites (?) and that the library management wanted to prevent the spread of the book-munching pests from the library's multi-million dollar collection. Granted, we don;t have X-Ray vision, but the ones we inspected on the top seemed to be new paperbacks. Once inside we were accosted by Juan Guerra, the Number Two Guy at the library and told that the books that were being thrown away had been donated by the public and that no books purchased by the library were included. We spoke to other people and they wondered why the books weren't donated to the county jail where they would infect nothing, or taken for recycling where silverfish would not be an issue and where they could have fetched a pretty penny and save space at the city landfill. Alas, that was not to be. So donors, beware. Inspect the books you give to the library or they might end up in the Dumpster.)    


By Juan Montoya
He labored mightily but at the end he succeeded.
If you thought the coup 'etat in Yemen was ugly, be prepared for the next meeting at the Brownsville Independent School District when the agenda item signed off by "Coach" Joe Rodriguez, Minerva Peña and Jose Hector Chirinos comes up for consideration. That item will be for the election of new board officers and the nominee for board president to replace Otis Powers is none other than former Porter High School pom-pom girl Minerva Peña.
Rodriguez and Peña had been fuming since the last meeting when a majority of the board (including Peña)  voted to extend the contract of current BISD superintendent Carl Montoya by a 4-2 vote.
Those trustees voting to extend the sup's contract for six more months to June 2016 were Otis Powers, Catalina Presas-Garcia, Peña and Carlos Elizondo.
Those voting against were Jose Hector Chirinos and Joe Rodriguez. Cesar Lopez was absent from the meeting.
Nearing the deadline to submit agenda items Wednesday noon, Rodriguez had gotten a "nay" from Catalina Presas-Garcia and Caros Elizondo to give Joe Rod the third signature and Chirinos jumped on the bandwagon.
Apparently, after Peña found out that Rodriguez was of another mind as was Chirinos and Lopez, she sought to bring back the item to reconsider the extension.
When the disaffected members found out that Powers and the superintendent had signed the contract extension instead of bringing the item back on the agenda, they decided – with the blessing of board counsel and eighth board member Baltazar Salazar – to do the next best thing; replace Powers and elect new board members.
What other plans they have (maybe reconsider the extension?) is yet to be determined. But once the new officers are seated, get ready for the ride.
Sources say that Assistant Superintendent for Curriculum and Instruction Bertha Peña, Employee Benefits/Risk Mgmt. Judy Cuellar, Assistant Superintendent Support Services Sylvia Atkinson, and Rosie Peña, in purchasing, are in the insurgents' sights.
This bunch is moving pretty fast to take control of jobs, insurance contracts, purchasing and staff assignments. In fact, they may be moving a bit too fast for some.  
These trustees might just want to consider that the disruption of the district that will ensue as a result of this upheaval might come back home to roost on election time, or raise the curiosity of some watchful law enforcement eyes.
It's noteworthy to note that Rodriguez has been on the BISD vendor list for years selling sports equipment. It is not far-fetched to think that with the pliant Minnie Peña as board president he will get the full run of the store. As for Chirinos, well, internal audits and the forensic audit found that he had been the vendors' sugar daddy when he was the director of the BISD Transportation Dept. The audits found that thousands of dollars in materials and supplies were missing, that he had purchased so many tires and other bus supplies and had them in storage so long that they deteriorated in the warehouse and had to be thrown away because they were unsafe to use on the buses. The district ate those losses.
Additionally, Chirinos oversaw the department which accrued over $2 million in unjustified overtime, making him the darling of the bus drivers' union.
Those two will be joined by Cesar Lopez, the former purchasing agent for the Mercedes ISD who is now a member of the Texas Buy Board, which chooses which vendors the district buys supplies and other services from.
And, of course, Miss Popularity Peña – guileless and challenged – is in hog heaven when sycophants make over her whispering flattering sweet nothings in her ear while the burglars are running out the back of the house laden with loot.
Like we said, if you thought the coup d'etat in Yemen was ugly, hold on to your wallet.


By Juan Montoya
Exactly a year ago to this day, City of Brownsville Mayor Tony Martinez unveiled an agreement between the city and Tenaska,  Tenaska Inc., an independent energy company based in Omaha, Neb., to buy an ownership interest in an 800-megawatt, natural gas-fired power plant that Tenaska plans to develop on 270 acres at FM 511 and Old Alice Road.
At the time, Martinez did not mention the cost associated with the deal that never went before the voters, and the only guesstimate the PUB ratepayers got was a vague mention of incurred debt. That debt, interestingly, forced Fitch Ratings to lower its rating for PUB bonds that made it more expensive to borrow money.
About the only indication Brownsville residents were able to get was from Fitch, the only player in the mix that was not gagged by Martinez or the energy company.
The Fitch Ratings report from March 2014 stated that the Tenaska project would add an extra $362 million to the roughly $200 million BPUB was planning to spend on capital projects through fiscal year 2017. The extra capital expenditures would be funded completely with long-term debt, according to the report.
Most of that debt will be paid by "small" rate increases, PUB spokesmen said.
Those "small" increases were approved in December 2013 during a special meeting of the Brownsville City Commission and the PUB members the ratepayers were never told why. They adopted upwards rate hikes that will see city residents pay a 36 percent increase in electric rates over the next three years, a 20 percent increase in water rates over the same period, and a 6 percent hike in waste water costs over two years.
Under the plan approved by both bodies, electric rates alone will go up by 14 percent by October 2013 and another 22 percent by October 2016. (Click on  graphic to enlarge.)

In Tuesday's Brownsville Herald, the newspaper reported that Tenaska had a final green-house gas  'Prevention of Significant Deterioration" permit from the U.S. Environmental Protection Agency.
The story also stated that for that $325 million in debt that the PUB ratepayers have been shouldering for more than a year and a half, PUB will get 200 of the 800 MWs that will be produced by the plant.
We're not mathematicians here, but it does seem like if the PUB ratepayers are paying $325 million of the $500 million cost, that they should be entitled to a bit more than one-quarter of the power produced, don't you think?
The report gratuitously also pointed out that Tenaska "demonstrated stewardship of Texas' invaluable historic landmarks with considerations for Palo Alto Battlefield Pak," according to EPA Regional Administrator Ron Curry, who said that Tenaska's agreement to "mitigation and minimization measures of more than $2.1 million " over a span of years to preserve and enhance the park."
That "mitigation and minimization" is nothing more than Tenaska using the eminent domain of the City of Brownsville to run the unsightly power lines and metal utility poles through the private property north of the battlefield.
But if they think that's going to be a cakewalk, they better be ready to shell out a lot more than the measly amount it is said they want to pay the owners for the use of about 30 acres of their proposed industrial park. One of the partners in that park just happens to be "un perro chato" named Abraham Galonsky. If the $2.3 million sale of his Casa Del Nylon to the city covering half a city block is any indication, Da Mayor might just have to put in a good word to the Tenaska people to open their wallets a little bit more. That $2.1 million might not go that far, after all.
The city and Tenaska have fought against the release of the actual costs and what obligations the ratepayers have in the deal by fighting to block the release of the details in court.
In July 2013, Alex Hinojosa Jr., president and CEO of HINO Electric Power Company, Hinojosa filed a Texas Public Information Act request for all documents related to the Tenaska-BPUB deal. BPUB’s attorneys requested a ruling from the state attorney general stating that the information Hinojosa is seeking is exempt from disclosure.
This blog and another party from Virginia had also filed the same request only to be met by PUB and Tenaska's objections to release the information.
The local newspaper reported then that in response to the Hinojosa request the PUB attorneys cited a section of the Texas Government Code permitting exemptions in the case of public power utility information that is “reasonably related to a competitive matter.”
They also argued that Tenaska’s “proprietary interests” could be impacted if the information were released.
The attorney general’s office issued an opinion — based on sample documents supplied by BPUB attorneys — that stated the information Hinojosa requested was indeed protected from disclosure under the Government Code.
In response, Hinojosa, through his attorney, Jason Maness, filed a “motion for mandamus” in state district court in a bid to get the attorney general’s decision reversed. Maness said the motion seeks a private review of the documents before the judge and puts the burden on BPUB to explain why they’re exempt.
Hinojosa said he just wants to get at how much the Tenaska deal — including attorney and consultant fees — is going to cost BPUB and its ratepayers.
“There’s a lot of things that are disclosable,” he said. “Not every single thing is a trade secret. We don’t want to see their trade secrets. The bottom line is how much are they paying?”
BPUB spokesman Ryan Greenfeld said the overall project cost and BPUB’s share are confidential since the project is competing with other proposed power plant projects elsewhere in the Rio Grande Valley. Releasing cost projections “would give advantage to competitors or prospective competitors,” he said.
If a Fitch Ratings report from March is any indicator, the Tenaska project would add an extra $362 million to the roughly $200 million BPUB was planning to spend on capital projects through fiscal year 2017. The extra capital expenditures would be funded completely with long-term debt, according to the report.
And so we – the PUB ratepayers – have been paying incredibly high utility rates for more than a year and a half and we don't even know how much the project will ultimately cost, what the share of debt between the private company and the city is, and why we are paying three-fifths of the cost and getting one-quarter of the benefits.
Does this make sense to anyone, city commission candidates?

Tuesday, January 27, 2015


By Juan Montoya
The word around City Hall is that Jude "The Obscure" Benavides, of UT-Brownsville precedence, has sent his Girl Friday from the Bike Barn to pick up an election packet for a run at the At-Large "A" seat vacated by Estela Chavez-Vasquez and contested so far by attorney Cesar De Leon.
Benavides, a toady for United Brownsville's (and former UTB president Julieta Garcia) is a true believer who has  drunk the Kool-Aid for Garcia's schemes in the past. If you thought Chavez-Vasquez used to roll over for Da Mayor Tony Martinez, Julieta, and United Brownsville's Carlos Marin, Benavides will only nod and ask "how high?."
We wondered when Da Mayor's candidates would rear their slimy heads and it looks like we didn't have to wait long. Will there be more jumping in the fray now that the money boys have shown their hand?
Benavides' claim to fame is that he is an Associated Professor of Hydrology and Water Resources with the UTB. En otras palabras, la vive regando.
One local officials who apparently did not pass the litmus test for adherence to the United Brownsville line is none other than Cameron County Treasurer David Betancourt who we hear will not get reappointed to the pro forma board of the Greater Brownsville Incentives Corporation (GBIC).
Betancourt was a "get along to go along" GBIC board member who didn't blink when he was asked to fund dubious studies by the United Brownsville crowd that lined the pockets of UB executive Director Mike Gonzalez's former cronies from Lyle, Texas, or those of Julieta's son Oscar Garcia Jr.
Betancourt voted to approve the GBIC's share who, in tandem with the Port of Brownsville and the Bronwsville Public Utilities Board paid nearly a half million dollars($454,592.08) for a plan for the industrial corridor, including the Port of Brownsville.
 Robin McCaffrey is the same person who worked on the City of Kyle Comprehensive Master Plan, under the name of Mesa. McCaffrey was hired when Mayor Mike/Miguel Gonzalez was still in office in Kyle. Gonzalez is now the executive director of United Brownsville, a rather tidy arrangement.
Betancourt also voted to fund the $185,000 contract with Jacob's Engineering "to identify funding to implement a part of plan.
The local representative for Jacob's Engineering is is none other Oscar Jr., the son of United Brownsville's Coordinating Board member Juliet Garcia. Garcia Jr. used to be the operations manager for Su Clinic Familiar, a facility run by Marin's wife, a doctor.
Why Betancourt fell out of favor with the United Brownsville bunch is not known. But he's served his purpose and he's out, we guess.
For now, however, United Brownsville commissioner Rose Gowen can rest easy. Commissioner Deborah Portillo will continue in the Brownsville Community Improvement Corporation. Portillo, a member of the three-chair United Brownsville triumvirate along with IBC President Fred Rusteberg and Tito Lopez, from the Port, will make sure that Rose "La Chisquiada" Gowen will continue to milk the BCIC for the implementation of bike trials that will somehow deflate the obese majority of our population. And we thought the New England Patriots had something new just as we thought Charlie Atkinson was goofy for pumping millions into the Sports Park!
Meanwhile, so far we have three candidates for Ricardo Longoria's District 1. Attorney Michael Gonzalez and college instructor Roman Perez have announced so far. The fight for Southmost is on and the looming issue will be the vote to giveaway Lincoln Park to the UT System before the heat forced Longoria to recant. If there had been no public outcry about that sale and the placing of the new park in front of the stinky sewer plant on East Blvd., Longoria would still be supporting the sale and the move.
As far as the mayor's race, it might be interesting to remind King Tony what happened to the Code of Ethics he promised the city residents when he took office. The appointment of city contract attorney Mark Sossi should have let us know that the promise was a gambit to keep the lid on future shenanigans. So far, no code.
If Benavides jumps in to do Tony's bidding, we'll have the best city commission money can buy, again!


By Juan Montoya
Yesterday, Monday, turned out to be a dark day in the political fortunes of Cameron County Precinct 4 Commissioner Dan Sanchez.
Sanchez, who has made no secret that he would like to be tapped as the next county judge after incumbent Carlos Cascos is confirmed in Austin and takes the oath to become the Texas Secretary of State, made few friends and probably wiped out his chances of acquiring the crucial three votes for nomination by his peers.
Dan's Debacle started, innocently enough, with his placing an item on the agenda asking the court to pass a resolution on behalf of Hidalgo County resident Jimmy Garza to be appointed as a representative (commissioner) of the southern region on the Texas Transportation Commission. Garza, a city commissioner for the City of Pharr, is trying to get Gov. Greg Abbott to appoint him on the commission which oversees transportation development in the state.
Why Sanchez – a Cameron County commissioner – would ask the court to pass the resolution for a resident of another county had the spectators whispering in the audience whether he realized what county he was representing.
Jimmy Garza, by the way, is married to Adrienne Peña-Garza, the daughter of state Rep. Aaron Peña, R-Edinburg, who recently invited George P. Bush to the Valley to learn more about the region, and Pharr in particular. Peña converted to Republican after serving as a Democrat.
Peña was also Rio Grande Valley representative for Lt. Gov.-Elect Dan Patrick when he was on the campaign.
George P. Bush was in the valley then to raise funds on behalf of Hispanic Republicans, a group he helped to fund. He was elected this past November as the Texas Land Commissioner in 2014 and took the oath of office January 1. He is the son of Jeb Bush, one of the top contenders for president in the GOP.
So anyway, Sanchez though he could swing the resolution on behalf of Hidalgo County's Jimmy Garza only to find out that he could not get a second to his motion from his fellow commissioners on the court. 
"All you could hear was the crickets," said a meeting participant. "The motion landed with a thud on the floor."
In fact, Pct. 3 commissioner David Garza has let it be known that he wouldn't mind being considered for the position himself. Garza, by the way, was just named as the latest recipient of the Texas Department of Transportation Road Hand Award. This honor is a TxDOT tradition to acknowledge those who have made major contributions to improving transportation in their community and in the state.
If anything, it may be Cascos who will have the Gov's ear in Austin when he decides who to appoint to that commission. We have the slight suspicion it won't be Dan's nomination.
Thwarted in that effort, other items on the agenda conspired against the Hefty One. He had another item for approval to pay for the January 20 trip to Laredo to attend a Veteran's Court graduation ceremony, a Feb. 2-3 to attend the Texas Association of Counties event at the Capitol, and wanted the court to approve travel for himself and Asst. County Administrator David Garcia to attend Brownsville Day at the Capitol January 27-29 with Brownsville commissioners Sofia Benavides and Alex Dominguez.
"Well, why are you going?," Cascos asked. "I can understand commissioners Benavides and Dominguez going, but why you?"
"Well, why can't I go?" Sanchez asked lamely.
The dialogue deteriorated from there on with Garcia wincing visibly in the audience and others asking whether Sanchez would also want to go Harlingen Day, San Benito Day, or RGV Day, too, on the taxpayer's dime.
As we said, Monday was not Dan Sanchez Day in Cameron County. 


By Juan Montoya
While the website of Mexican consul Rodolfo Quilantan in Brownsville issued a press release welcoming President Barack Obama's  Deferred Action executive orders to allow some 4 million Mexicans living int eh U.S.illegally to remain in this country, many local residents say that the Brownsville consulate has made that almost impossible.
Numerous callers and visitors to this blog have reported that the requirements by the Brownsville consulate to issue the Matricula Consular – a card that provides identification to Mexicans living here that allows them to cash checks, enter contracts or do business – has been denied them by rules at the consulate which now requires new, and onerous, documentation.
"Many people have come to me to complain that the consulate not only asks them for their birth certificates, but also for a number of other documentation and go as far as telling them to leave the country  make their applications in Mexico," said Francisco Sifuentes,  a community activist.
Sifuentes said that unlike his predecessor, Quilantan is requiring a montain-load of paperwork from applicants.
"All these people need is an identification card that will allow them to do business and cash a check," he said. "I though the Mexican consul was here to help his countrymen."
Quilantan, who fancies himself a scholar and associates with the local elite, has been roundly criticized here and in the Matamoros and Tamaulipas media, for not voicing objections to the mass deportations of Mexican minors or other undocumented in northern Mexico. The deportees are then easy prey for cartels who recruit the desperate individuals trying to make their way back.
One such mass deportation occurred during one of the sister cities "Hands Across the River" Charro Days ceremonies while the festivities were taking place.
Additionally, the influx of large number of these persons into Matamoros and Reynosa overwhelm the resources of these cities to assist them make their way back to their homes in Mexico's interior.
Instead, the consul and his wife have become the prime movers of Mexican folk art, using the consulate as a showroom to hawk their wares.
In fact, the pubic appearances Quilantan does make are usually to pose for photos with Border Patrol reps, local cities' elected officials and movie starts.
During the recent Taste of La Frontera food show hosted by the Mr. Amigo Association, it was instructive to see that both the consulates of El Salvador and Guatemala attended the event and the Brownsville consul did not.
"Quilantan es el muro de los Mexicanos en Bronwsville (Quilantan is the Brownsville Border Wall)," said a local immigration attorney.
Now, as many of his fellow countrymen are turned away when they apply for a Matricula Consular in Brownsville, that saying may ring truer than ever.

Monday, January 26, 2015


By Juan Montoya
In what has become blogosphere observers' most entertaining love-hate affair, the ongoing relationship between the Cameron County District Attorney's Office and blogger Robert Wightman has entered into yet another melodramatic turn.
This is better than "Yo No Creo En Los Hombres", they say, with Wightman playing the role of the scorned and wrathful partner.
Wightman, who has at one time or another called District Attorney Luis Saenz (and others) a "misogynist eunuch" ( a woman hater with no genitals) and "beyond stupid," has now been called to the service of the officeholder to counter reports that Luis has betrayed promises he made to the voters that he would stamp out 8-liners in Cameron County and not sell them back to gamers  as did his predecessor Armando Villalobos.
Instead, in his zeal to deliver the defense to assist with the DA's Office beleaguered public relations effort, the mercurial Wightman has instead further enmeshed that office by documenting the fact that the machines have been sold on at least one occasion (if not more) and may be operating in Starr County as we speak.
When reports surfaced that at least one first-hand source had negotiated the sale of 400 eight-liner machines to a buyer who had arcades working in Starr County, Wightman dug up a contract through his "inside sources" that proved exactly that. He posted the copy of a contract that the DA's Office had drawn up with Lowkes International,a gaming corporation with offices in Georgia and Las Vegas, Nev. with ties to local attorneys Carlos Masso and Rick Zayas.
The sale was for 400 confiscated 8-liner with an option for another 105 should the first sale go smoothly. It did, apparently.
From that revelation, thanks to the intrepid Wightman, we also learned that the DA's Office made a nice $100,000 profit in forfeiture cash paid by Lowkes plus whatever the other 105 eight-liners may have fetched. It went to fatten the DA's Office Forfeiture Fund from where the DA supplements the salaries of Saenz's favorite employees.
Other sources then indicated that Zayas, who has represented Rick Masso, nephew of Carlos, in cases brought by the DA's Office against him, had actually gone into business with Rick, who moved to Las Vegas (where Lowkes is also registered) but kept a business address here. Further probing from other quarters also revealed that Rick Masso is also the president of another gaming company, Southwest Arcades, where he is listed as president and Zayas as its registered agent.
When Wightman stumbled across the Zayas-Masso-Saenz connection, he grew livid that perhaps he was being played to run interference for the DA to counter the eight-liner sales revelations.
He criticized other bloggers for not finessing the information request game and filed his own. Now he's threatening Saenz – the county's top law enforcement official – with disclosing some document that he doesn't know exists if the DA's Office doesn't deliver the goods.
Well, we're in a fine pickle, aren't we?
That a disbarred attorney who was ridden out of Dallas on a rail now thinks he can blackmail the county DA if he doesn't knuckle under to his demands is not only ludicrous, it also shows what happens when you lie with dogs: you catch fleas.
We were surprised when over the weekend, we saw that Wightman had posted a picture that first appeared on Zeke Silva's Facebook page of Sanez and Silva with their mates at a horse race outside San Antonio where betting is allowed. The text posted purported to show them when they were still best friends and the caption said that Montoya had not been included in the picture because he had gone to the restroom.
This set off Wightman to no end and he accused Saenz of the "political rape" of Melissa Landin (formerly Zamora) the DA Office's public information officer/secretary because Saenz was taking Montoya along to bet on the ponies outside SA.
Well, guess what? Montoya was not in the picture because he was not invited and did not attend the event with Silva or Saenz. Instead, we all (including Luis) had a good laugh at Wightman's expense when he went ballistic in defense of his little buddy and inside confidante Melissa.
We could go on and on about people playing Wightman for a predictable fool, but why rub salt in the wound?
No hago dinero, pero como me divierto!
Something Wightman and other novice newsmen don't understand is that news gathering is a cumulative, evolving affair that results in a news product gathered to inform the public. It happened with the Watergate break-in that resulted in the resignation of Richard Nixon. It happened with the Pentagon Papers, George W.'s WMDs in Iraq myth, Defaltegate, and just about every other major news story.
Once a story breaks and other news gatherers start to dig on their own, the story grows legs and takes on a life of its own. Whoever wrote the first that set off the feeding frenzy is forgotten. What matters is that the news gets out to the public and that it be informed of its public officials' actions. There is no room personal egotism in that. There shouldn't be.
We're all  salivating to see what Drama Queen Wightman roots out on the DA's sale of the eight-liners. Go! Robert! Go! and quit getting played so easily by the bunch at the courthouse.
We gotto go. Ya no le creas a los hombres, Wightman. Vamonos. Ya va a comenzar la novela!


By Juan Montoya
It's an issue that has hung around the neck of every Cameron County Pct. 2 commissioner like an albatross since before Carlos Cascos filled that position. 
Cascos was saddled with the illegal subdivision when the streets were still rutted with mud, outhouses were the norm, rodent-infested and weed-filled ditches lined what passed as roads, and the resaca to the rear of the colonia served as the community cesspool and dumpsite.
Before Cascos, commissioner Mike Cortinas was content to let matters stand as they were since the county did not accept the subdivision, but came about as a result of City of Brownsville inaction in processing the plat application.
This kind of "benign neglect" dominated the county and city's attitude toward the colonia and it showed.
When Cascos came on board after defeating Cortinas, the rest of the county commissioners decided to forego their agreement to take turns accepting state grants and allow Cascos to receive the funds out of rotation so that improvements could come quicker to the colonia.
Still, even if the rest of the commissioners had agreed to bypass the grant rotation for all of Cascos' four-year term, it would not have been enough to address the needs of the subdivision.
Commissioners came and commissioners went and after Cascos, John Wood, then Ernie Hernandez inherited the mess. The latest officeholder facing this conundrum is commissioner Alex Dominguez.
In a sense, Dominguez is fortunate in that most of the major infrastructure (storm drains, gutters, paved roads, some street lighting, etc) has already been done by those before him.
But the problem with the trash and hazardous-material laden resaca contaminating the environment and the nearby irrigation waterways remains. Aside from the basic responsibility of the colonia dwellers for the trash that is dumped in the stagnant resaca, other players have to shoulder the responsibility to address the problesm.
In an interview with a local broadcaster, Dominguez said the residents should shoulder the load of paying the cost for the cleanup. But if one looks at it closely, it is asking the current dwellers to clean up for decades of dumping in that waterway.
The problems began, longtime colonia dwellers said, when years ago a local developer (Renato Cardenas) plugged the channel that connected the resaca behind the colonia to the resaca system that curves around it and makes its way around the city. With that avenue for its flow symied, the formerly flowing resaca tunred into what it is today; a stagnant cesspool of debris, trash, construction refuse, carcasses of dead animals and fish and a haven for rodents and disease-bearing mosquitoes.
"I've seen rats the size of opposums coming out of that resaca," said Mirta Boucourt, a resident who has lived there for more than 30 years. "It's grown beyond just a colonia problem. It has become a public health hazard issue and the city, state and the irrigation districts have done their best to ignore the problem. This isn't going away."
Although Boucourt agrees with Dominguez that residents should bear responsibility for dumping trash there, she disagrees that it's not a county problesm.
"Look at the work they're doing right now on street drainage," she said pointing out the gutters leading to the resacae that are clogged with garbage and organic material. "Where do you think the street pipes leading to the resaca are going to dump the water? Of course the county has a respponsibility to clean it up. After all, the water runoff that will be carried to the resaca by the pipes are being laid there by county workers."
Ideally, she said, a solution would be to connect the stagnant resaca to the main drain ditch that makes its way toward the Port of Brownsville and away from the city's resacas instead of letting it drain into the Irrigation District 1 waterway.
There is another danger to the public besides rodents and disase-bearing pests, residents say. When the water level rises in the resaca after a couple of inches of rain, the county has knocked over a dirt berm that allows the rising water to drain into the nearby irrigation waterway that is used by local farmers to give their livestock water and citrus farmers to irrigate their crops. There is no telling, Boucourt said, what heavy meetals or other toxic substances might contaminate the waterway as a result.
She said the residents' pleas to local state representatives and even complaints to the Texas Water Quality Board have gone unheeded.
"There are citrus orchards down there that use the water for irrigation and some farmers let their cows drink water from there," she said. "There is no telling whether there is mercury, asbestos from cosntruction materials dumped in there in the past, or even acid from old batteries that people threw in there. I hate to think that people will consume something that may have been contaminated with whatever is in that water."
Precinct administrative assistant Zeke Silva said that the county had tried to have a cleanup of the resaca but found it difficult to get access to the trash that is visible from the other side of the resaca.
"We have approached everybody, the city, the irrigation, the state, and they all say they don't have the authority to do this," he said. "It's going to take a combined effort to address this."
In the meantime, residents say that the Texas Department of Transportation whose drains feed the stagnant pool behind the resca from Paredes Line and Alton Gloor, the county whose street drains feed it, and the city, which surrounds the entire subdivision have all  been hesitant to get their hands dirty to address the issue to move forward.
"It's no use pointing fingers when the longer you do that the threat to the public safety continues to grow," said Boucourt. "Someone needs to take the lead on this. The residents are ready to pitch in and do whatever may be necessary to fix this. Whatever one may think, the need to fix this is not going to go away. It's desperately needed."
Dominguez said the county has no authority over the resaca, but only a responsibility to keep the water flowing.
“They don't have an easement, so (we) don't have any right to step on the property to effect any kind of clean up,” Dominguez said.
“It's not an easy issue to solve, but it's one that we're going to have to work together,” he said.
Boucourt, who has seen commissioners come and commissioners go and the problem remain, said time and the residents' patience – unlike the water in the rescaa – is running out.
"The candidates made a lot of promises," she said. "Now is the time to see what they can deliver."

Sunday, January 25, 2015


By Juan Montoya
The "crusade" against 8-liners ostensibly to fight cartel money laundering and the crime it breeds has turned into a Prohibition Era-style charade pitting the power of the state against old ladies and retirees playing a cat-and-mouse game with the minions of the Cameron County District Attorney to play the maquinitas on the sly.
And what started out as a public relations gimmick to get Cameron County DA Luis Sanez elected against Carlos Masso – who was painted as the protector and overlord of the 8-liners because of some of his family members' involvement – achieved its goal. Now, many are questioning whether the gimmick has run its course and it's time for the DA's Office to move on to serious crime.
So far, there have been no press releases or media splashes announcing any indictments of cartel defendants engaged in either money laundering related to the 8-liners, or of murders or kidnappings associated with the games.
For a while, it was all one could do not to see a televised report of investigators from the DA's Office, the Cameron County Sheriff's Dept., or a host of other law enforcement entities raiding some 8-liner operation somewhere and a parade of customers – a lot of them old ladies and retirees – paraded across the screen and the machines hauled off in tractor trailers by the lawmen. In fact, Valley News Central lists at least 17 such news reports. Among them was the arrest of former City of Brownsville Mayor Pat Ahumada and even a raid on the Port Isabel American Legion Post.
The cash seized during those raids eventually ended in the forfeiture fund of the DA's Office for him to use as he saw fit to fight crime.
DA Luis Saenz pulled out all the stops when he made the announcement April 13, 2013, in front of the Cameron County courthouse surrounded by elected officials and virtually every law enforcement entity in Cameron County.
The law enforcement agencies involved in "Operation Bishop" include 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.
In an interview, Saenz said that Operation Bishop was named after new Brownsville Catholic Diocese Bishop Daniel E. Flores since the clergyman complained about the establishments because he felt that they were diminishing the amount of money made in local parish bingo halls and church collection plates.
That dovetailed with law enforcement concerns about the salons being used as fronts from money laundering by cartels and inciting the type of crime like in Starr County.
"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."
Cascos has denied that the event took place, but stood among the elected officials when Saenz announced the operation. In fact, he had Saenz swear him in to take office as Cameron County judge despite the fact that he will be taking office as Texas Secretary of State once the Texas Senate confirms his appointment by Gov. Greg Abbott.
In the end-of-the-year 2013 interview, Saenz said Operation Bishop had cut down on the incidence of crimes associated with the illegal payments to customers. He pointed out at the time that just the day before there had been a holdup reported in Starr County where five men stormed the business and took purses and wallets from customers. They also made off with cash from the business.
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.
"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 added. “I look forward to the day I can run a steam roller over them.”
That's why it was surprising when – during the course of investigating a purported sale of 400 machines to a Starr County buyer – it was learned that the DA's Office had signed a contract with Lowkes International to sell the Georgia-Las Vegas, Nev. gaming corporation more than 500 machines. It was even more stunning to local political observers and law enforcement personnel when it was learned that Lowkes' representatives in Brownsville included attorneys Rick Zayas and Carlos Masso, his political opponent who Saenz had branded as pro-maquinitas.
Other sources indicate that many of these machines were sold to a Robert Cuellar, a major 8-liner operator in Hidalgo and Starr Counties. Some sources even pinpoint La Grulla, in Starr County, as a final destination for some of the machines sold by the DA's Office, where they assert the machines are being used.
In this case, there was no auction. Saenz personally approved the buyer and the sale himself.
Even though Saenz asserted that he included the caveat in the sales that the machines should be taken out of the State of Texas, the contract with Lowkes contains no such language. Saenz himself has indicated that he could not force the new owners where to take the machines.
"I wanted them to be out of my jurisdiction," he said.
Saenz's cyber megaphone cum apologist Robert Wightman states that it is not the DA's fault that he signed a contract without a clause forbidding the operation of the machines in the State of Texas as does the one in Henderson County.
The Henderson County contract, he states, contains the phrase: "PLEASE NOTE: Condition of sale requires that these 8 liner gaming machines not to be used or re-sold in the State of Texas. The buyer will be required to sign an affidavit. The buyer shall not have any conviction related to gambling or gambling related offenses."
Wightman recommends that Saenz fire the deficient Asst. DA who formulated the contract he signed. Would that be Matthew Kendall or Edward Sandoval?
At the heart of the matter is the money generated by the 8-liners. For example, the Lowkes sale netted the DA's Forfeiture Fund $100,000. And there are indications that ogther sales have occurred, but information requests have been turned down by that office on the grounds that inquiries on them is vague and "ambiguous" because it does not specify what entity made confiscated the devices, which machines, and the name of the buyer. The refusal to hand over the information did not specifically deny that other sales have been made and that the money went into the fund.
In his press conference where he introduced Operation Bishop, Saenz focused on this subject.
“The average eight-liner business generates thousands of dollars in revenue daily,” he said. “This is revenue known to benefit organized crime. This is revenue that doesn't benefit our community, because it’s not being spent in our community.”
He and Sheriff Omar Lucio have state din the past that the 8-liner industry generates at least $300 million annually. The money is known to leave the County and even Texas.
“When money stays in the community, sales tax revenue goes to your local governments and allows them to provide resources for you – better streets, more libraries, more services, etc. Let’s not forget job creation and sustainability,”
One group that does benefit from the seizure of cash and the money generated from the sales of the machines is the investigators and Ass. DA's in Saenz's office. Virtually all of the top personnel get a take from the forfeiture fund to augment their salaries.
For example, a cursory glance at the DA's salary schedule indicates that chief investigator George DeLaunay  gets $18,000 from the DA Forfeiture Fund. Asst. Prosecutor Gus Garza gets $16,000 and Pete Gilman gets $5,500. Rene Garza gets $1,500 and Chief Assistant Edward Sandoval gets an additional $1,5000 to add to his salary. Victor Cortez gets $8,000. The department's public information officer Melissa Landin gets $7,500 from the same fund. The list goes on and on. If someone doesn't get a cut of this fund, then he or she are probably not on the DA's favorites list.
The fact that the machines may have ended in Star County where they (according to Sanez, Homeland Security, the DEA, FBI, Rangers, etc.) are generating all kinds of cartel mischief like laundering money from drugs by the Mexican cartels, robberies and taking diaper and milk money from the poor bring up yeat another question.
If Saenz vowed to stamp them out in Cameron County, what makes Starr County different?
After all, after the downfall of Hidalgo County Sheriff Lupe Treviño, Saenz was named chairman Wednesday of the Southwest Border High-Intensity Drug-Trafficking Areas South Texas Partnership.
The Partnership consists of the Drug Enforcement Administration, the Federal Bureau of Investigation, the Immigration and Customs Enforcement/Homeland Security Investigations, the Internal Revenue Service—Criminal Investigations, the U.S. Border Patrol and the U.S. Marshals Service and the U.S. Attorney’s Office. Additional members include local, state and county law enforcement agencies from Bexar, Cameron, Dimmit, Hidalgo, Jim Hogg, Kinney, La Salle, Maverick, Val Verde, Webb, Willacy, Zapata and Zavala counties and (you guessed it)...Starr County.
Some of our readers have complained that the enforcement of Operation Bishop has been highly selective and say that even though they have called CrimeStoppers with tips on working 8-liner arcades around Brownsville, their calls have been ignored. They say that even though La Guera Michelada on frontage road in Olmito was raided recently, the one openly operating on the 9100 block of Fresno Street continues as does the one at the San Rafael Bar in the outskirts of Brownsville, the one on upscale neighborhood on San Marcelo in the Brownsville Country Club, and the Phoenix of the maquinita places at the corner of Dockberry and FM 511 operated out of a junkyard and faith healer (El Curandero). This last one was raided once and is back in business even though the DA's Office was provided information that the woman who ran the establishment used to send Moneygrams from a local Walmart totaling thousands of dollars daily.
"Dile a Luis que no sea mamon," said a man whose own 8-liner arcade near to the Curandero's place was raided and the machines confiscated.
"My sisters and my mom are always going to play las maquinitas," said a county worker. "They know where they can go play and no one bothers them. There's a lot of them out there."
A high-ranking official at the Brownsville Independent School District said her retired mother and her friends were angry at teh DA's Office because they enjoyed spending a few hours together drinking offee and trying their luck.
"She didn't spend over $20 with her friends and they are mad that Saenz has put a stop to that," she said. "She doesn't have the money to go gamble on the horse races like Saenz does or to go to Louisiana or Eagle Pass to the Indian casino."
And a local attorney was surprised when he learned from his daughter that his own mother went to play them in San Benito just last week.
"I don't want my mom arrested," he protested. "But they love to get together with their friends to hang together and play them. This thing has gone on long enough. Luis got elected. The campaign is over It's time he let it go."
This January 28, Saenz will be the main speaker at a CrimeStopper event and his speech, according to the group's program is "Do the Right Thing."
Will he?

Saturday, January 24, 2015



By Juan Montoya
They are there, where the blue-collar workers go,
The carpenters, mechanics, those who toil with their hands
All gravitate toward congales en la 14th, la marketa, to quaff a few...
Or more

Like in Carl's Chicago, the barrio boys are lured by ladies,
Painted ladies, hanging around neon-lighted doors
giving them the "c'mon bato" look

And like Ulysses' sailors, the shrimpers and the batos bite
and reeled inside, are fleeced and cleaned of their months' work
to exit, pennyless and drunk, filled with illusions
of rounded breasts, a flash of chocolate thighs, a furtive look...

(At a nearby table, the new girls giggle
as a sharp faced cantinera rifles through the old man's pocket as he sleeps)

Then, hog-tied and pig-drunk
they catch a ride back to the port (or to Southmost)
Head to Ithaca again
to toil, slave o'er the drink, o en el jale

And months from now, again, they'll crawl the pubs
congales, bars,
enticed by cheap perfume a brassy band, and neon lights
to drink, and dream and then...crudos in the sty again


By Juan Montoya
By any measure, the stay of Linda Castro Dragustinovis (AKA Cheezmeh poster girl) in county service was short-lived.
Brought on by defeated JP 2-2 Erin Garcia, she lingered on after incoming JP Jonathan Gracia took over at the beginning of the year. Now we hear that the new environment under the new officeholder wasn't quite to her liking and that – after chronic absences – they came to a parting of their ways and she is no longer with that office.
Many wondered how Gracia would take to the staff that he had inherited from Erin Garcia. Their Facebook pages depicted the pair as two party girls out on the town. When Erin hired Linda, many wondered whether she would last the six month probationary period required under the civil service system in the county.
Well, it appears now that Castro may have chafed under the new policies imposed by Gracia on his staff. After all, the investigation into potential bribery and selling of community services hours which form part of several indictments against a former JP 2-2 clerk allegedly to benefit Garcia resulted in indictment and the prosecution is still making its way through the courts.
For now, however, Gracia will have his chance to choose his own assistants and Castro will go on her merry way.

Friday, January 23, 2015


(Ed.'s Note: We ran into Southmost resident (and political activist, she says) Natividad (Nati) Arzola Friday and she took us to task for not finding us so that we could publicize her annual matachin tribute to the Virgin of Guadalupe. Now, we won't be so politically incorrect to hazard a guess at her age, but let's just say that Nati is well close or about four score years and still dances in the streets in honor of the Virgin. So, in order to make penance for our oversight of her event, here's a photo of Juan Diego and the Virgin at Guadalupe Church on Lincoln St. taken just today.)


("Perhaps we should move the White House down to the Rio Grande Valley," said Texas Sen. Ted Cruz in his response to President Barack Obama's State of the Union speech Monday at a conservative policy summit. "After all, there can't be more people climbing the White House fence than there are now. You know, when you go down to the Valley — and in Texas we have a nearly 2,000 mile border, the southern border — what you hear from people who live there, what you hear from law enforcement, from local elected officials, and by the way, Republicans and Democrats, is 'Secure the borders,'" Cruz said. "It's a basic, common sense issue.")

"Sen. Ted Cruz has been to Iowa four times in his tenure, the Rio Grande Valley of Texas once," James Moore, in @moorethink

By W. Gardner Selby 

Cruz, a Republican lawyer elected to the Senate in 2012, has been flitting in and out of Iowa, home to the quadrennial party caucuses kicking off each presidential election year. We were curious whether Moore's contrast holds up, especially per the infrequency of Cruz's forays to the valley, the region closest to the state’s southeastern border with Mexico.

'Anybody will tell you'

Moore, who was in McAllen when we talked to him, told us by phone that his claim -- meant to refer to Cruz’s time as a senator, he said -- was based on what Moore had heard while in the valley. "Everybody and anybody in the valley will tell you," Moore said, adding that Cruz had spoken at a club and then at a border park.

After emailing Cruz's office about the accuracy of Moore’s statement, we searched the Nexis database of news stories for accounts on Cruz trips to the valley and Iowa.

Let’s start with the Texas mention, then count Cruz trips to Iowa.

"Several" valley stops on Sept. 3, 2013

In Cruz’s nearly 15 months as senator, he spent a weekday in the valley, according to regional news stories. That day was Sept. 3, 2013, when Cruz spoke at a sold-out luncheon in Mission and a stop at the Anzalduas International Bridge in Mission, according to news stories posted that day by the McAllen Monitor and San Antonio Express-News.

Cruz spokeswoman Catherine Frazier told us by email that Cruz did three events that day in the valley--going to McAllen for a Department of Public Safety border tour and roundtable with landowners to discuss border/immigration policy and to Mission for a "Rio Grande Partnership" lunch.

Cruz, Frazier said, looks forward to more events in the valley, "one specific region in the state." "Since being sworn in," she said, "he has traveled to 38 Texas cities for 118 events."

Cruz also stumped in the valley before his election. According to a Monitor news story posted online Oct. 13, 2012, Cruz was featured at a weekend event hosted at a Mission club by the McAllen Tea Party Association. Nearly 250 people paid $25 each to attend, according to the article. Cruz said then: "We are campaigning all across the state of Texas. From the day we started this campaign nearly two years ago, we’ve gone 18 hours a day, 7 days a week, crisscrossing the state."

Moore told us the fact that his tweet didn’t say he was speaking to Cruz’s time as senator wasn’t significant, partly because Twitter posts are limited to 140 characters. A Moore commentary published by the Huffington Post a few hours after he wrote his tweet was direct about focusing on Cruz's Senate time. Cruz, Moore wrote, "has been to Iowa four times in the... months he has been in office but has made one appearance here in the subtropical region along the border."

Four Iowa trips

Now let's look north, where news stories indicate Cruz has been to the Hawkeye State four times since joining the Senate.

On Feb. 11, 2014, a Dallas Morning News news blog post datelined Washington, D.C., opened by saying Cruz "returns to Iowa next month -- his fourth trip in eight months, ensuring ongoing speculation about his 2016 ambitions." The newspaper made the same fourth-time-in-eight-months reference in its March 18, 2014, news story on Cruz’s appearance before the Network of Iowa Christian Home Educators.

And before?

Cruz made his initial senatorial trip to Iowa in July 2013, according to a July 19, 2013, Associated Press news story, giving a private speech to the conservative American Renewal Project and headlining a GOP fundraiser.

A commentary by Wayne Slater of the Morning News, posted online that day, said that when reporters in Iowa inquired into Cruz’s presidential ambitions, he demurred. "I've been in office all of seven months," Cruz said. "Prior to that, the last elective office I held was student council. It's been quite a whirlwind."

The senator’s second Iowa stop occurred Aug. 10, 2013 when he spoke to hundreds of evangelical Christians and social conservatives at a summit in Ames, Iowa, according to a news story posted online that day by the Ames Tribune.

Another Iowa stop, Politico reported, entailed Cruz stirring Iowa Republicans at an annual fundraising dinner Oct. 25, 2013 before heading to a pheasant hunt in the state. In an Oct. 26, 2013, news story, the Omaha World-Herald summed up: "This was Cruz's third visit to Iowa this year..."

The 'fair comparison'

On Cruz's behalf, Frazier said by email the "fair comparison to make is that the senator has been to Iowa 4 times and travels back to Texas almost every weekend."

Our ruling

Moore tweeted: "Ted Cruz has been to Iowa four times. Rio Grande Valley of Texas -- just once."

This is correct if limited to Cruz’s year-plus as the state’s junior senator, which is what Moore made clear in his subsequent blog post. We rate this claim as True.


(Ed.'s Note: It is said that imitation is the highest form of flattery, but really guys! We've kind of gotten used to local bloggers taking credit for "breaking" this or that story, and for our posts to appear in other cyberpages under a different heading or without attributing any credit whatsoever. But that latest post by Erasmo (and Linda) Castro's Cheezme page taking credit for the photos and post that we did over a two-day period is a bit much. We first posted the complaint on the obsolete street banners from one of our readers who sent us the photo (you know who you are) of the banners on Central Blvd. Then the following day we posted the photo that we took ourselves of PUB crews removing one from Boca Chica Blvd. (and now from Central Blvd. as well). Well, imagine our surprise to find out that it had been Erasmo and Linda's self-proclaimed CheezmeNation that had taken the photos and published them in the post instead of us! That, as Mrs. Frances Verner used to say, is rich. Below (in order of appearance) are our posts. And below that, are the posts published by the plagiarist duo taking the credit. Go figure. The thing that counts is that the out-of-date banners are no longer waving embarrassing all of us. Always look for the silver lining, we guess. Uno no sabe para quien trabaja!)


(The San Antonio Express-News published the editorial below demanding that Southside ISD superintendent Ricardo Vela be axed by the district and that the Texas Education Agency step in to stop him from doing his student teaching in his own district supervised by his own employees. Vela is taking an online course operated by none other than former BISD superintendent Noe Sauceda,who was fired from the district. The BISD recently promoted Dora Sauceda, his sister-in-law to Area Assistant superintendent even after she had left the Dallas ISD in disgrace over a phony moving company bill issued by a company in Brownsville.  The invoice from C&W Moving Company to cover the move from Brownsville  didn't exist and operated from the home address of her brother-in-law, Noe Sauceda."

San Antonio Express-News
SAN ANTONIO — Southside Indpendent School District District Superintendent Ricardo Vela's continued bending of the rules while trying to gain his state certification needs to be stopped.

He is making a mockery of the Texas public educator certification system, and his actions are an affront to certified school teachers and superintendents who play by the rules.

Vela, who lacks superintendent certification credentials required by the state, is seeking to fulfill one of the basic requirements, teacher certification, by doing his student teaching in his own district supervised by his own employees, San Antonio Express-News education writer Ala Malikm reported.

He is going through TeacherBuilder, an online program operated by Noe Sauceda, a former superintendent who was fired by Brownsville ISD in 2008 for hiring unqualified employees, among other things. That history raises other issues about whether Sauceda is qualified to supervise a rogue superintendent, but we leave that debate for another day.

In addition to obtaining teaching credentials, state law requires two creditable years of experience as a classroom teacher for certification as a principal, which is required for superintendent certification. It will be interesting to see how Vela plans to manage that while holding down a full-time job as superintendent.

Vela told Malik, “I’m going to do what I have to do to take care of what I need to do to get certified. If anyone has a problem with it, well, I’m sorry.”

What Vela is doing is wrong on many levels, and his failure to see the inherent problems is indicative of the lack of professionalism he brings to the job. He cannot be allowed to continue on his current path, making up the rules as he goes along.

There are no explicit rules prohibiting the actions he has undertaken because the circumstances are so absurd it is difficult to imagine that rule writers could have anticipated them. But the lack of prohibitions does not make it right.

The Texas Education Agency needs to step in. The agency this summer granted Vela a superintendent waiver with the stipulation that he make significant progress toward meeting the requirements. We are sure this is not what it had in mind.

In most cases, the local elected school board serves as a crucial component in the checks and balances system, but this district’s board — led by Loren Brewer — has repeatedly failed to abide by state rules in regard to hiring its superintendent.

The board did not include superintendent certification as a requirement for the job when it recruited Vela, and the district failed to file for a certification waiver for months after Vela was hired.

We urge TEA to pull Vela’s certification waiver, remove him immediately as superintendent of the Southside ISD and end this farce.

Thursday, January 22, 2015


By Juan Montoya
Last Tuesday, a majority of the board of the Brownsville Independent School District voted to extend the contract of superintendent Carl A. Montoya until June 2016 by a 4-2 vote.
Those trustees voting to extend the sup's contract were Otis Powers, Catalin Presas-Garcia, Minerva Peña and Carlos Elizondo.
Those voting against were Jose Hector Chirinos and Joe Rodriguez. Cesar Lopez was absent from the meeting.
What was not made public by the local daily was that teh extension was only for six months, since Montoya's current contract goes to the end of the year. The superintendent asked for the extension to finish out the 2014-2015 school year.
What was also not said was that not everyone was happy to see the contract extension even for that long. Those at the meeting said that one person who was shocked that Montoya had gotten the extension was none other than BISD general counsel Baltazar Salazar. Apparently, the overpaid, ($240,000 plus a 10 percent increase last year) underachieving, ethics-challenged legal eagle had told everyone far and near (including we hear, Montoya himself) that he would not get the extension.
When the trustees voted 4-2 to extend it, he nearly fell off his chair.
For much too long, Salazar has been the self-appointed eight board member of the BISD and has been allowed by the administration and (until now) a majority of the board to form policy through items placed for him on the agenda by pliant board members. When the subject of the superintendent's extension was discussed – even though he objected – he was told only to be told in no uncertain terms that his services were not required in what was, appropriately, a discussion and decision to be made by the elected board members.
We can understand why Rodriguez did not vote for the extension. He has made it known that he wants to bring his old pal Johnny I. Pineda back to the quarterback's spot with the BISD. Pineda, a former BISD teacher and assistant superintendent, also served as an interim superintendent for about  a year and a half before leaving for the Raymondville ISD.
With "Coach" Rodriguez back in the trustee saddle, it would be to his liking to have his old Stell Middle School physical education coach on the team.
A clue that this is where Rodriguez is headed was the hiring of Pineda's former CFO Lorezo Sanchez in BISD as a business consultant despite the fact that Sanchez is not listed among the consultants approved by the BISD's HR Department. Sanchez was let go by the Raymondville ISD board in May 2014.
After he left the BISD in 2007, Sanchez was first hired as a business consultant with the RISD back in 2008, but was ousted from his job in July 2011 by a board and then hired as the district chief financial officer a month later. The previous board, in a 6-to-0 vote in September of that year, hired him after he worked as business consultant for the district for the last 3-1/ 2 years.
Sanchez’s contract ended Aug. 3, 2011 but after he was rehired his salary was $71,000 plus benefits as a full time district employee.
At the time, Pineda was said to be elated by the RISD's board action.
“ I believe the school district, the staff and the community are united more than ever,” he said. “The district has been enjoying a good financial situation for the last 3 1/2 years.”
Neither Baltazar nor Rodriguez were pleased by the action of the majority in extending Montoya's contract to June 2016. Obviously, it spoiled their plans to being back the "old" team to BISD.
So that's why we are now hearing that Peña is now making noises about moving to rescind the extension to Montoya and justifying the action by saying that since Lopez was absent from the meeting it makes the extension somehow "illegal."
What really seems to have happened is that hapless Minnie did not realize that by voting with the majority to extend Montoya's contract, she upset the Rodriguez-Chirinos-Baltazar (the 8th board member) to give "Coach Joe" the free hand he wants to put his cronies back in control of the district's $500 million budget and its access to the lucrative patronage jobs for his favorites.