Taxpayers Funding Political Agendas: Veronica Escobar, A Case Study

A public policy agenda has been in the works in El Paso since at least 1998, if not before. The case Study of Veronica Escobar’s entrance into the political scene demonstrates this.

There are two ways to make public policy. The first, the one envisioned by the democratic process, requires building and cultivating political alliances to push forward a political agenda through the legislative branch.

The other, is to build a voter block that can be leveraged to push forward the proposed agenda. The problem with this option, besides that it is immoral to the democratic process, is that it requires recruiting and positioning a political block within the legislative branch in vote the agenda in. To do this one needs to recruit, cultivate and keep a candidate on the ready to stack the legislative branch to create the necessary votes for the legislation of the agenda.

Unfortunately potential recruits have families to maintain and therefore need income while awaiting the time to be used in furtherance of the agenda.

And there in lies the problem; most families need a career in order to sustain the family unit. While the career is developed the candidate can ill-afford to be distracted by political agendas. Further, the maturity that comes with developing the career usually makes the potential recruit mature to the point that the original political agenda is no longer relevant to them. Therefore they are no longer useful to the one pushing forward the agenda.

Let’s examine the case of Veronica Escobar.

1998
Ray C. Caballero forms Count Me In, Inc. for the purpose of increasing voter participation. Count Me In, Inc. later changed its name to Community Initiatives, Inc. Community Initiatives, Inc. then assumed the role of “umbrella organization” over Community Scholars, which was formed by Eliot Shapleigh and Mary Hull-Caballero, Ray Caballero’s wife.

Vincent Perez, of Bel Air High School, becomes a junior intern at Community Scholars.

Gannet Foundation, related to the El Paso Times, is among the original donors to the Community Scholars.

Community Initiatives, Inc., reports revenues of $18,209 on its IRS Form 990 with the majority, if not all, coming from public funds. Mary Hull-Caballero is the Executive Director.

On June 7, The Greater El Paso Chamber of Commerce issues a letter soliciting donations for Community Initiatives, Inc., the umbrella organization for Community Scholars. According to court documents, Community Initiatives, Inc. is “not well funded“, whereas Community Scholars is.

Between June 15 and 18, Community Scholars students interview representatives of Wells Fargo and Chase Bank regarding bank practices. On June 23, a Community Scholars student mails a questionnaire to Bank of America.

On July 30, the Community Scholars issues a report titled; “Four Prominent Banks in El Paso; Do They Invest Capital in the Local Economy at Rates Comparable to Other Markets?” Many consider this report detrimental to the working relationship between Bank of America, Chase, Norwest Bank and Wells Fargo and the local business community.

About this time, members of the El Paso Greater Chamber of Commerce balk at supporting Community Initiatives because Ray C. Caballero has stated that the funds raised by the Chamber would flow through to Community Scholars.

Some members of the Chamber propose moving Community Initiatives into the Greater El Paso Chamber of Commerce organization in order to continue to support the voter drive initiative while keeping the activities of Community Scholars separate. Ray C. Caballero declines and he files a lawsuit against the banks as a result of this, in 2000.

1999
Community Initiatives, Inc., reports revenues of $175,425 with the majority, if not all, coming from public funds. Mary Hull-Caballero is the Executive Director.

2000
On March 22, Ray C. Caballero files a lawsuit against Bank of America, Chase, Norwest Bank and Wells Fargo, alleging that they conspired to keep Community Initiatives, Inc., his company, from receiving financial support from the Greater Chamber of Commerce.

Community Scholars reports $134,612 in contributions with the substantial amount coming from taxpayer funds, most likely the school districts.

2001
Move El Paso Forward is organized as State County Specific-Purpose Committee with $100 in political contributions. Online campaign finance reports are incomplete prior to July 1, 2003. On July 2003; Christopher McGill, of the El Paso Municipal Police Officers’ Association, is listed as the treasurer and the entity is converted into a General Purpose Committee.

Community Scholars reports $215,358 in contributions with the substantial amount coming from taxpayer funds, most likely the school districts.

On May 26, Ray C. Caballero is elected mayor of the city. One of his major platforms is a downtown arena and the Border Health Institute.

On March 29, Eliot Shapleigh pushes forward a Texas Senate Resolution in support of Maria Calixtro.

On June 12, Ray C. Caballero assumes office and appoints Susie Byrd as one of his executive secretaries and Veronica Escobar as his press secretary, both at salaries paid for by the citizens of El Paso.

In December, Ray C. Caballero persuades city council to declare an area around Thomason Hospital a Tax Increment District (TIF) in order to create the Border Health Institute (BHI). The designation gives the city additional powers to take personal property via imminent domain. The BHI is now known as The Medical Center of the Americas.

2002
Community Scholars receives $132,767 in funding, largely, if not all of that amount comes from El Paso public school districts. The leadership of Community Scholars is: Pauline Dow, of Canutillo Independent School District as President, Michael R. Wyatt; of the Texas Rural Aid as Vice-President, Pierre Cardenas of the Government Employees Credit Union as Secretary and Mary Hull Caballero as Executive Director with a salary of $37,950.

2003
Move El Paso Forward has a total of $755 in political contributions and has spent nothing as a State County Specific-Purpose Committee. By July 2003, it has been converted into General Purpose Committee. It accepts the following contributions from; Ray C. Caballero for $5,000, The El Paso Police Officers Association for $1,000, felon Larry Medina for $1,000 and Bernardo Panetta for $5,000. The total contributions are $12,000, plus $755 it had previously.

Ray C. Caballero loses the mayoral race re-election and Veronica Escobar is appointed Executive Director of Community Scholars.

Community Scholars receives $170,800 largely from public funds through the school districts. The leadership at Community Scholars is made up of Robert “Beto” O’Rourke as President, Edna Gonzalez as Vice-President, Sandra Sanchez Almanzan as Secretary and Mary Hull Caballero as Executive Director at a salary of $31,220 of public funds for part of the year. Veronica Escobar is the brought in as the new Executive Director at a salary of $27,884. Jerome Green as the program director at $11,556.

Jose M. Landeros, now Vince PerezPublic Policy Advisor becomes a Community Scholar from Burgess High School. Jose M. Landeros and Jaime Abeytia, currently under indictment on state felony charges, become friends around 2011 and both are currently employed by Vince Perez, albeit Abeytia is currently suspended due to the pending charges.

Maria Calixtro, of El Paso Counts, is involved in allegations of impropriety at the El Paso Housing Authority in a letter submitted to the Office of the Inspector General of the Housing and Urban Development on February 15.

2004
Michael R. Wyatt files an appeal on behalf of Ray C. Caballero’s lawsuit against the banks with the Court of Appeals of Texas in El Paso. The lawsuit is eventually dismissed by the courts.

Community Scholars receives $163,578 in funding, the majority from school districts. The leadership is now: Robert “Beto” O’Rourke as President, Edna Gonzalez as Vice-President, Sandra Sanchez Almanzan as Secretary and Veronica Escobar as Executive Director now on a salary of $44,322 from taxpayer funds. Jerome Green continues as the program director on a salary of $27,599.

2005
On January 12, El Paso Counts is registered with the State of Texas Secretary of State, as of March 3, 2013 there are no officers listed for the entity with the State of Texas. The Registered Agent is Maria Calixtro, who is also listed as the Executive Director in the 2005 tax filing. The 501c, non-profit shows that it received $81,795 in contributions on its 2005 IRS 990 tax filing report. Its stated purpose is to help increase voter turnout by providing “email reminders to thousands of voters and help increase voter turnout”. El Paso Counts reports that it spent $40,000 in salaries.

Total expenditures for El Paso Counts in 2005 are listed as $79,495 paid to Stanton Street Technologies (owned by Robert “Beto” O’Rourke), Varay Systems (in part owned by Dee Margo) and Executive Director Maria Calixtro. The amounts were not further broken down. The IRS filing does not explain the apparent discrepancy between expenditures and income.

The board members of El Paso Counts are Carlos Gallinar, Lina Ortega, Michael Pletters, who married to Veronica Escobar, Queta Fierro, Carlos Flores, Jim Kelly and Steven Yellen.

Veronica Escobar announces her candidacy for County Commissioner; she is still employed by the Community Scholars with a taxpayer funded salary of $55,859. The Community Scholars receives funds of $226,389, largely from El Paso school districts. The leadership at Community Scholars is still: Robert O’Rourke as President, Edna Gonzalez as Vice-President, Sandra Sanchez Almanzan as Secretary and Veronica Escobar as Executive Director on a salary of $55,859. Jerome Green is the Program Director on a salary of $33,231

2006
Jose M. Landeros is employed by the Community Scholars as a Supervisor, he will eventually become friends with Jaime Abeytia and be employed at the county by Vince Perez.

Community Scholars receives funding in the amount of $222,527, largely from the school districts. The key personnel are: Sandra Sanchez-Almanzan as President, Veronica Escobar as Vice-President, Veronica Escobar was also the executive director for part of the year with a salary of $56,940. Claudia Cochran Miller is the Secretary, Sofia Larkin is the new Executive Director with a salary of $962 for part of the year. Jerome Green starts the year as program director on a salary of $31,49, and Kwadwo Achampong is appointed the new program coordinator for $615.

El Paso Counts reports receiving $34,342.37 in its IRS filing. It reports spending $44,224.72.

2007
Vince Perez is employed as a US Congressional Legislative Aide.

Veronica Escobar assumes the office of County Commissioner for Precinct 2.

Steve Ortega appoints Kwadwo Achampong to the Empowerment Zone Advisory Board.

Community Scholars receives funding in the amount of $218,997, the majority from the school districts. Key individuals again are: Sandra Sanchez-Almanzan as President, Veronica Escobar as Vice-President, Claudia Cochran Miller as Secretary and Sofia Larkin as Executive Director with a salary of $57,173. Kwadwo Achampong is now the Program Coordinator on a salary of $33,600.

The following were added as directors of Community Scholars: Gary Sapp; Treasurer and directors Jerome Green, Art Jordan, Gregory Taylor, Pauline Dow, and Jose M. Landeros.

El Paso Counts reports $26,500 in contributions and expenditures of $20,598.

2008
Move El Paso Forward reports $21,137.36 in contributions and $21,341.06 in expenses. Move El Paso Forward transfers its money on February 28 as follows: to Community Initiatives: $5,000 and to El Paso Counts: $7,709. There are no further reports after 2008.

Community Scholars receives $221,144, again largely from the school districts. The leadership is now: Sandra Sanchez-Almanzan as President, Veronica Escobar; as Vice-President, Claudia Cochran Miller as Secretary, Gary Sapp as Treasurer and Sofia Larkin as Executive Director on a salary of $56,500. Kwadwo Achampong is the Program Coordinator on a salary of $22,595.

The directors are: Jerome Green Jr., Art Jordan, Gregory Taylor, Pauline Dow, Jose M. Landeros, Jay Kleberg, Martin Morgades and Gabriela Gallegos.

2009

Community Scholars receives $210,001, largely from the school districts. They key individuals are: Sandra Sanchez-Almanzan as President, Gary Sapp as Treasurer, Adriana Dominguez as Secretary, Richard Pineda as Treasurer and Sofia Larkin as Executive Director for $62,150. Jose M. Landeros is now the new Program Coordinator for $26,100 from taxpayer monies.

The new directors are: Claudia Cochran-Miller, Jody Casey Feinberg, Morris Pittle, Mario Villegas, Jay Kleberg, Martin Morgades and Gabriela Gallegos.

2010
Community Scholars receives $212,359 in funding largely from the school districts. The leadership is now: Gary Sapp as President, Carol Smallwood as Vice-President, Adriana Dominguez as Secretary, Sandra Sanchez Almanzan as Treasurer and Sofia Larkin as Executive Director for $62,150. Jose M. Landeros is still the Program Coordinator for $32,960 from taxpayer funds.

The directors are: Claudia Cochran-Miller, Jody Casey Feinberg, Morris Pittle, Jay Kleberg, Gabriela Gallegos, Christopher Villa, and Richard Pineda.

2011
Vince Perez is appointed as Silvestre Reyes’ Communications Director.

On January 1, Veronica Escobar assumes the office of County Judge.

Community Scholars receives $225,042 largely from the school districts. The entity is led by: Gary Sapp as President, Carol Smallwood as Vice-President, Adriana Dominguez as Secretary, Sandra Sanchez Almanzan as Treasurer and Sofia Larkin as Executive Director for $62,150. Jose M. Landeros is the Program Coordinator for $32,960.

The directors are: Claudia Cochran-Miller, Jody Casey Feinberg, Morris Pittle, Gabriela Gallegos, Jennifer Walker, Christopher Villa and Richard Pineda.

2012
Vince Perez is appointed to handle the El Paso Independent School District‘s public relations by the interim superintendent at the suggestion of school board president Isela Castañon-Williams, at taxpayer funds while he waits to assume his public office.

2013
In January, Vince Perez assumes office and appoints Jose M. Landeros as Public Policy Advisor and Jaime Abeytia, as his Constituency Services/Outreach at the expense of the taxpayer. Jaime Abeytia shuts down his political blog after supporting the candidacy of Vince Perez for county commissioner. Jaime Abeytia is indicted on charges “display of harmful material to a minorand suspended by Vince Perez.

Now let’s take a closer look at some of these characters.

  • Kwadwo Achampong is appointed by Steve Ortega to the Empowerment Zone Advisory Board.
  • Jaime Abeytia, started his political blog circa 2010, is currently under indictment on a state felony charge and supported various candidates via his political blog.
  • Susie Byrd, Ray C. Caballero’s executive secretary and is currently on city council. She is a strong proponent of the downtown arena.
  • Ray C. Caballero, initiated the downtown revitalization and the Medical Center of the Americas public policy initiative, facilitated Susi Byrd and Veronica Escobar’s political careers directly and facilitated the creation of Community Scholars that have propelled Veronica Escobar, Jay Kleberg, Vince Perez and others into political positions of influence.
  • Mary Hull-Caballero is Ray Caballero’s wife and the first executive director of Community Scholars, an entity she started with Eliot Shapleigh.
  • Maria Calixtro, is the registered agent for El Paso Counts and was the subject of an El Paso Housing Authority complaint filed at the federal level.
  • Pierre Cardenas is a former Vice-President of Lending at El Paso Government Employees Credit Union and a contributor to the Community Scholars report; “The American Dream/El Sueño Americano”.
  • Pauline Dow worked at Canutillo Independent School District and Ysleta Independent School Districts.
  • Veronica Escobar, is the County Judge who has made over half a million dollars directly from taxpayer monies through the support of Ray C. Caballero.
  • Jody Casey Feinberg works at General Electronic in the sales of medical diagnostic imaging equipment. She is a member of the El Paso Del Norte Group. She is also one of the leaders of the No Recall Movement in support of not recalling Susie Byrd, John Cook and Steve Ortega.
  • Gabriela Gallegos is a Member of El Paso del Norte Group and an attorney with Vinson & Elkins.
  • Jay Kleberg, a former Community Scholars director, former employee of Verde Realty, Member of the El Paso del Norte Group, and lost to Dee Margo in the Republican primary for Texas State District 78.
  • Jose M. Landeros is Vince Perez’ Public Policy Advisor and friend of Jaime Abeytia. He was also involved in several aspects at Community Scholars.
  • Christopher McGill represented the El Paso Municipal Police Officer’s Association and was listed as Move El Paso Forward treasurer.
  • Larry Medina, federal prisoner no: 65787-280 is in prison for public corruption, has financially supported Eliot Shapleigh’s campaigns and publically supported the Ray C. Caballero public policies.
  • Martin Morgades is a member of the El Paso del Norte Group and is in the real estate business.
  • Robert “Beto” O’Rourke, is currently a US Congressman who has worked closely with Susie Byrd and Veronica Escobar and has financially benefited directly and indirectly from Ray C. Caballero entities. O’Rourke has acted in a leadership capacity at Community Scholars.
  • Vince Perez, is formerly a Community Scholar and currently on Commissioner’s Court who hired Jaime Abeytia and Jose M. Landeros.
  • Morris Pittle of Two Ton Creativity, sued the City of El Paso for non-payment on a controversial no-bid branding contract issued to him. Pittle was a long-time Robert O’Rourke campaign brand consultant. He is also a member of the El Paso del Norte Group.
  • Michael Pleters is married to Veronica Escobar and is listed as a board member of El Paso Counts.
  • Gary Sapp, is from Hunt Development Group and is involved with the Save the Asarco smokestacks group.
  • Eliot Shapleigh, started the Community Scholars with Mary Hull Caballero. He is a former State Representative.
  • Isela Castañon-Williams is board president of El Paso Independent School District (EPISD) and was the one who suggested that Vince Perez be hired by EPISD for public relations until he could take office.
  • Michael R. Wyatt, represented Ray Caballero’s lawsuit during the appeals process, served on the Community Scholars board and was Veronica Escobar’s campaign treasurer. Currently he works at the county on a taxpayer funded salary.

As we continue to deal with the current political shenanigans of the downtown arena and the city council’s attempt to discourage open records requests keep in mind who is pushing what public policy agenda. More importantly delve deep into the connections between those in prison for public corruption and those governing over you. Remember, there is evidence that Larry Medina was thanked for pushing forward political agendas. We just don’t know what it is that he he did for his benefactors.

Connecting the dots between those pulling the strings and those making public policy is purposely difficult. It is designed to keep you from clearly seeing whose agenda it is that is being served. There is a reason City Council is intent on keeping their deliberations secret and making open records requests more difficult.

Follow the money, that is the linchpin to discovering the true agenda

A breakdown of total monies by individuals and organizations:
Community Initiatives: $328,246
Community Scholars: $1,773,576
Move El Paso Forward: $12,755
El Paso Counts: $163,774.73
Veronica Escobar from Community Scholars: $185,005
Jose M. Landeros from Community Scholars: $92,020

Download the Veronica Escobar salary Infographic.

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