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Willacy County Scandal

'Tis the Season of Resignation in South Texas

February 2005  

‘Tis the season of resignation in South Texas ; Willacy and Webb say bye-bye to commissioners;

Bruni crowns Brunner commissioner

Manitas y manitos, I am chocked. It is apparently resignation season in South Texas . Willacy County commissioners José Jimenez and Israel Tamez resigned just after waiving indictment and being convicted on federal conspiracy charges for accepting bribes of about $10,000 in the awarding of contracts for the Willacy County Adult Correctional Center in Raymondville. The violation of the Hobbs Act carries a penalty of imprisonment of not more than 20 years and/or a fine not to exceed $250,000.

Decisions for the construction of the $14.5 million Willacy correctional facility began in June 2000. Both commissioners admitted to receiving $10,000 or more from corporate representatives involved in the design, construction, financing, maintenance, and management of the 500-bed facility. The payments, according to a factual summary signed by the defendants, were in exchange for providing the particular corporate representatives with advantages not available to others interested in and competing for the design, construction, financing, maintenance, and management of the facility.

The companies involved in the construction of the Willacy County facility include jail consultant Corplan Corrections of Argyle, TX, design-builder Hale Mills Construction of Houston, Aguirre Corp. of Dallas , and the Management and Training Center (MTC) of Utah , which manages the Willacy detention center.

No company has been named as a source of the bribes; however, the investigation underway by the Texas Rangers, the FBI, and the Willacy County Sheriff's Department continues. It is widely speculated that other individuals, including a third Willacy County commissioner, will face charges.

There are several very interesting sidebars to this story.

One is that Senator Eddie Lucio of Brownsville has been on the payroll of both jail consultant Corplan Corrections and MTC, the Utah firm that manages the Willacy County correctional facility as a consultant. Aguirre Corp. is also a client of Lucio's consulting firm. According to the Texas Ethics Commission, in 2003 Lucio received $25,000 or more from Corplan; $25,000 or more from MTC; and $10,000 to $24,999 from Aguirre.

If the names Corplan, Aguirre, and Hale Mills sound familiar, it's because they are. The three companies formed the team that built the Webb County Detention Center on Hwy. 83, the $23 million facility that was begun in late 1997 and sold to Correctional Corporation of America before construction was completed.

Former Webb County Commissioner Rick Reyes later became a consultant for Corplan and Hale Mills and worked with Corplan, Aguirre, and Hale Mills on a $1.5 million, 180-bed upgrade on the downtown jail in 2000.

Encinal residents are no doubt familiar with Corplan and Hale Mills, whom consultant Reyes brought to the table for the planning and construction of the $27 million LaSalle County detention facility which was completed last spring. Though Encinal residents waged a good fight against the 500-bed facility from the inception of the project in September 2002, the LaSalle County commissioners -- ignoring the detention center's environmental and quality of life issues that have taxed the small town's water and sewage infrastructure and doubled Encinal's population -- gave the project a green light.

Does this sound familiar: when you finish drawing those precinct lines, that's where I live?

It was chocking, a press conference at which the press was summoned but could ask no questions. The edict and the rules were High King Catorce (high as in the elevated, heavy-handed, and refined estilo of royalty -- as in folks clothed in vermin, I mean, ermine robes) as Webb County Judge Louis H. Bruni made the abrupt announcement that Precinct 4 Commissioner David Cortez had tendered his resignation for health reasons and that Cortez's daughter Cynthia Brunner would take over the post.

Speculation continues to swirl around the reasons Cortez gave for resigning and whether his daughter actually lives at an apartment complex on the 5100 block of San Francisco in Pct. 4. Though abounding evidence to the contrary exists that she may not live in Pct. 4, to which she swore by affidavit that she did -- a telephone listing at 8503 Mahogany Ct. in Pct. 3, the vote she cast in the November 2, 2004 general election in Pct. 3, a vehicle registered to her at the Pct. 3 address -- and despite County Attorney Homero Ramirez's observation to Judge Bruni that Brunner might still be residing in Ramirez's own Pct. 3 neighborhood, Bruni continues to support his appointment of Brunner. His support in statements made since the appointment, however, seems of late less than enthusiastic, waning a bit under the avalanche of public scrutiny.

His statement of January 27, 2005, “I think we've added another individual who will add more harmony to the court,” was downgraded on February 1, 2005 to “If the affidavit proves to be false, she will be removed from office. I hope there was no untruth in her signing the affidavit because it is very easy to be caught in a lie.”

As of February 4, 2005, Bruni averred, “Right now, I stick by the person I nominated.”

If Brunner does indeed live at 5120 San Francisco, she now resides next door to her father, the former commissioner who listed his address as 5118 San Francisco on the campaign contribution report he filed January 5, 2005. Cortez's campaign reports from 2002 and 2003 list an address of 5910 San Bernardo. 'Member when the former commissioner, too, didn't live at home but in an apartment in the precinct in which he was running?

5120 San Francisco, Apartment 20, is also the scene of an alleged assault tenant Cynthia Castro reported to the Laredo Police Department (Incident Number 03-13145) on April 23, 2003, naming landlord David R. Cortez as the perp.