The Piti Vazquez Problem for Veronica Escobar

As you likely know, Veronica Escobar is running for Congress to take over the seat being vacated by her political ally, Beto O’Rourke, who is going after Ted Cruz’ seat. Escobar, like O’Rourke, evolved from the Ray Caballero-Jose Rodriguez-Eliot Shapleigh political faction. Escobar and cohorts have been using the Poisoned Pawns corruption scandal to build a narrative that they are above the political corruption. Veronica Escobar will run on the platform that she came into the County after the last two County Judges were convicted of public corruption and cleaned it up. Escobar will run under the banner of cleaning up the County. But she has a problem with Piti Vazquez.

I had the unfortunate experience of dealing with Piti Vazquez indirectly when I first entered the El Paso market. I was under the impression that things were different in the United States and government bids were fair and transparent. Boy, was I wrong!

In the mid 1990’s, full of excitement about what could be, I submitted a bid for a large number of computers for the County. My small company, although new to the U.S. market, had experience selling to the Texas government and thus we were government approved. My margins were razor-thin but because I manufactured my own IBM-compatible computers, I was looking for volume. Another government contract would increase my market penetration and my volume would go up.

I submitted my bid to the County and attended the bid opening meeting. My bid was last to be opened but I knew my price was unbeatable. I thought I had the contract in hand. But it soon became apparent that some Mexican company wasn’t going to get the County computer contract. This was before the bid-rigging scam of prior experience or best value schemes used today. It was more insidious then that.

Un-ceremonially, the County purchasing agent read my bid numbers out loud, and without missing a beat announced that my bid was rejected. Rejected?!? What?!?

My bid was rejected because somehow (I assume I know why but I can’t prove it) I didn’t get the notice that the County had changed the bid parameters and instead of unit pricing including monitors, they now wanted a unit price per computer and a unit price per monitor. I argued that I didn’t get the “updated” bid requirement, but that I was prepared right-then-and-there to separate the pricing out for them publicly. I was told that it was impossible and the bid was rejected.

The company that received the computer contract was partly owned by Jan Sumrall’s (former city council representative) husband. Their pricing was significantly higher than mine and had conveniently received the notice to separate out the computer and monitor pricing.

At first, I tried to argue my position and asked about the process to appeal the decision. I immediately came to understand that the fix was in. El Paso was no different than Juárez, except that in Juárez everyone understood the rules of the game while in El Paso everyone pretended they were all above the fray. It was dangerous in El Paso to play the game because if you were not part of the protected class you could be jailed for trying to play the game.

Piti Vasquez had been in charge of the County’s purchasing since 1978. Vasquez was an institution and he had the last word on how the County purchased goods and services.

In 2011, at the height of the public corruption scandals in El Paso, Veronica Escobar played the anti-corruption crusader by publicly taking on Piti Vasquez and having herself appointed to the County Purchasing Board. She replaced Willie Gandara who later went to jail for drug trafficking.

The relationship between Escobar and Vasquez was acrimonious at best. Piti Vasquez retired from the County on December 2012. There had been numerous rumors about purchasing irregularities at the County under Vasquez. The public corruption cases that dominated the community during that time involved numerous purchasing contracts at the County.

When Piti Vasquez resigned, Veronica Escobar spearheaded and supported a gag-order effectively shutting down any information about the reasons and settlement between Piti Vasquez and his resignation. Accountability was effectively shut down.

In 2014, Sunlight Enterprises, Inc. filed a lawsuit against the County for $3 million. The County had sued Sunlight over the failed $7.5 million Sportspark renovation project. Sunlight argued that the County had failed to properly provide the necessary direction and approvals to complete the project. Sunlight argued that Piti Vasquez had tried to have another company work on the project, insinuating that Vasquez had purposely sabotaged the Sportsplex project.

The case is still pending in court on a technical issue regarding whether a clause of notice in the contract is valid.

Because of the gag order about Piti Vasquez’ retirement, that Veronica Escobar supports, the taxpayers have no way of knowing what payments were made to Vasquez and answers to questions about irregularities at the County’s purchasing department for over 30-years remain unanswered.

During Vasquez’ tenure, the County saw two County Judges and various public officials accused and convicted of public corruption charges over many years. Most of those charges involved County purchases.

Veronica Escobar refuses to answer what she knows about Vasquez’ retirement. This is in addition to numerous other scandals involving Escobar. Scandals such as UMC and Jim Valenti, the El Paso Children’s Hospital, the long-time medical examiner among others. In coming weeks, we will be looking deeper into the County corruption scandals in Escobar’s part in them.

But as Veronica Escobar campaigns on the notion that she cleaned up the corruption in El Paso, she needs to be asked a simple question, why the secrecy behind Piti Vasquez’ retirement? What skeletons in her closet does Vasquez know about her that Escobar doesn’t want the voters to know? Keeping secrets about wrongdoing is just as corrupt as the corruption itself. Individuals go to jail for the cover up instead of the actual crime.

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