Political Bribe Takers Beware

Author: Katherine LeChat

Editor’s Note: Because of the nature of the author’s employment, the author has requested that their real name not be used. This is part 1 of a two part series. Part 2 will appear in tomorrow’s issue. San Antonians are still reeling from the shock of having 13 federal and state indictments handed down over the past several weeks.  Those indicted include present and former city council members, community college trustees, school board trustees, attorneys and contractors.  They were indicted on charges ranging from bribery, organized crime, money laundering and bid rigging.

The first indictments came from the Feds who charged San Antonio City Council members Enrique Martin and John Sanders and attorneys Jack Pytel and Juan Pena with bribery. Pena is a partner in the law firm of Linebarger Goggan Blair Pena and Simpson, a law firm that specializes in collecting back taxes for governmental entities.  Pytel is a lobbyist representing the law firm.  The indictments alleged that the two attorneys paid $12,000 to the two city council members to assure that the law firm was awarded a city contract worth at least $1 million to collect overdue municipal court fines.  The city staff had recommended that the contract be awarded to an Austin firm which had more experience in collecting municipal court fines and which had promised a larger return to the city than had the Linebarger firm.  Nevertheless, the contract was awarded to the Linebarger law firm.

El Paso residents might remember several years ago that two law firms were competing for our city contract to collect back property taxes.  The Linebarger law firm teamed up with some local attorneys to form a new law firm called Delgado Acosta Spencer Linebarger Heard & Perez whose sole purpose would be to collect back taxes.  The other law firm, which was strictly local, lost the contract to the Linebarger firm.

The late Oliver Heard, known as the tax collection king, found his niche when he decided in 1979 to devote his law practice to tax collection.  Over the years by partnering with other law firms, such as the Linebarger law firm, his business turned into a multimillion-dollar operation with two dozen offices, over 600 employees and 1,600 contracts across the United States.  Heard and his partners were known for spending large amounts of money to secure and keep contracts. They hired political officials and the politically connected to lobby for them.  They also shelled out millions of dollars in campaign contributions to local, state and federal politicians.  Over the years, some of the politicians who accepted money from Heard found themselves in trouble, and although Heard was named as an unindicted co-conspirator in one case, he was never indicted himself.  Only now it seems are the Feds starting to investigate some of his tax collecting operations around the country.  The City of New Orleans awarded a lucrative tax collection contract to the Linebarger firm, which had teamed up with a former New Orleans mayor’s company.  That contract is currently the focus of an FBI investigation.

About a week after the federal indictments were handed down in San Antonio, District Attorney Susan Reed announced nine state indictments. Council member Enrique Martin, who had previously been indicted by the Feds, was also indicted by the state. D.A. Reed accused a previous City Council member, Raul Prado, who is currently running for a state representative position, of being the ringleader of a corrupt political machine that violated local zoning laws, influenced government contracts and infringed on voters’ rights.  The indictments, which also included current and former Alamo Community College Board trustees and a local high school principal, accuse the defendants of the attempted bribing of a current South San Antonio School Board trustee to win her support for an architectural firm that was bidding on a contract with the school district, the soliciting of bribes by a city council member to secure a city contract for an engineering firm, the soliciting of bribes by a city council member to secure his support for a zoning change for an auto salvage yard in his council district and the use of ACCD computer equipment for city council campaigns in violation of state election laws.  D.A. Reed said that current City Council zoning practices seem to invite corruption.

The San Antonio Express-News has two well-known investigative reporters, Rick Casey and Roddy Stinson, who write weekly columns, which have continually criticized the practices of City Council, the County Commissioners and the various school boards. When the first indictments were handed down, columnist Casey wrote that some were saying “What a sad, sad day for San Antonio”. He said that maybe it was a sad day for the indicted men and their families, but that it was a great day for the rest of the city.  He said that for those who watch City Hall, the smell of corruption had been growing stronger by the year. He was convinced that part of the reason for the corruption was that the city hadn’t had an indictment in 20 years.  Casey said he was celebrating the fact that the authorities are now aggressively going after corruption. He saw that as the first step toward changing the “business as usual” atmosphere at City Hall.

(The next installment will include the current troubles of Albuquerque’s mayor and how San Antonio and Albuquerque’s problems concern El Paso)