Sarah Ovaska, The Monitor (McAllen, Tex.), Oct. 16
McALLEN — A jury convicted two brothers — the former superintendent and school board president of the Santa Rosa school district — of extortion Friday afternoon for accepting a set of tires as a bribe from an undercover FBI agent who was posing as a contractor.
David and Guadalupe “Lupe” Vasquez were convicted of conspiracy to violate federal law, extortion and mail fraud after a jury made up of one man and 11 women deliberated for approximately 3 1/2 hours.
David Vasquez was the former superintendent and Lupe Vasquez was the school board president of the small school district in northeastern Cameron County. David Vasquez was also convicted on three additional charges of traveling out of state to commit the act of bribery.
Lupe Vasquez’s daughter received a set of free tires from FBI Special Agent Osbaldo Alaniz, who used the name Osbaldo Alacran during the nearly two-year undercover operation. Alaniz negotiated with the Vasquez brothers during numerous phone calls and meetings at bars and restaurants to receive a contract for school bus tires. Alaniz posed as a salesman for RW Liquidators, a Dallas-based business.
David Vasquez signed the $4,400 purchase order for 30 school bus tires and mailed it to Alaniz’s office.
No bid was ever put out, contrary to Santa Rosa school district policy that requires that three prices be sought for every purchase of more than $100, according to evidence put forth in the trial.
The Vasquez brothers were also accused of accepting a free trip to Las Vegas from Daniel Rodriguez, the head of Conceptual Realities Inc., and meeting with Rodriguez and Alaniz in New Orleans, where the group ate meals and attended strip clubs. Rodriguez also bought a plane ticket for a third Vasquez brother, Daniel Vasquez, at the request of David Vasquez, according to recordings of conversations played in court.
Rodriguez, who has not been charged but has been identified as a “co-conspirator,” took Alaniz under his wing and detailed how to bribe Rio Grande Valley public officials, according to multiple recordings of conversations between the two played during the trial.
The two brothers each face up to 20 years for the extortion charges and five years for the mail fraud charge. Punishment will be decided by U.S. District Judge Randy Crane, who presided over the four-day trial in his courtroom on the ninth floor of the Bentsen Tower in McAllen.
Crane scheduled sentencing for Jan. 11, 2005, and told the brothers to ready themselves for a prison sentence.
“You both need to prepare your affairs to start serving a prison sentence at that time,” Crane said to the two.
The FBI began a large-scale public corruption investigation in 1998, according to court testimony. After approval came from Washington, D.C., Alaniz was placed as an undercover agent from January 2002 to fall 2003. In addition, a squad of nine to 12 FBI agents worked on the public corruption investigation, according to statements made by agents during testimony.
Throughout the Vasquez brothers’ trial, prosecutor Larry Eastepp, Crane and FBI agents have alluded that the investigation may result in indictments of more public officials.
Aside from the Vasquez brothers, the only individual known to have been charged from the FBI’s public corruption investigation is Israel Sagredo, the former Alton city manger convicted in late August of extortion and accepting a $10,000 bribe. Sagredo’s sentencing is scheduled for Nov. 2 in Crane’s court.
David Vasquez’s attorney, Steven Price, questioned whether his client was the victim of overzealous federal agents.
“They (FBI) have been here since 1998, no charges, nothing (has) come to fruition,” Price said. “They’ve got a lot of pressure, a lot of pressure on these two guys.”