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El Paso Texas: Former EPISD Superintendent Lorenzo García's Case Details Revealing: Luther Jones Linked To No-bid Contract
A $450,000 contract given to the lover of former El Paso schools Superintendent Lorenzo García was drafted by a former county judge convicted of public corruption, federal prosecutors said during a court hearing Friday.
Former EPISD Superintendent Lorenzo García's case details revealing: Luther Jones linked to no-bid contract
by Adriana M. Chávez \ El Paso Times El Paso Times

Related: Prosecutors say Lorenzo García guided contract with EPISD to girlfriend's company

A $450,000 contract given to the lover of former El Paso schools Superintendent Lorenzo García was drafted by a former county judge convicted of public corruption, federal prosecutors said during a court hearing Friday.

García is scheduled to go on trial June 18 on two counts of mail fraud, one count of theft or embezzlement concerning programs receiving federal funds, and one count of conspiracy to commit mail fraud. Prosecutors allege García devised a plan to steer the no-bid school district contract to Infinity Resources of Houston, owned by his girlfriend at the time, Tracy Rose.

During a status hearing on Friday in U.S. District Court, Assistant U.S. Attorney Debra Kanof said García became good friends with Luther Jones, who was convicted last year of conspiracy to get a multimillion-dollar digitization contract from the county, after García was hired as superintendent of the El Paso Independent School District in 2006.

They become such close friends, Kanof said, that the two referred to each other as "brother." It was Jones who drafted the sole source contract with Infinity Resources, and he also drafted an affidavit stating Rose was the guaranteed sole provider of the services provided under the contract.

On July 6, 2006, Rose signed an affidavit stating that her company was the sole-source provider of specialized data-driven materials for boosting student math scores in the state's standardized test. When a company is deemed as the sole provider for materials, it is able to bypass the competitive bid process normally required by school districts.

Prosecutors accuse García of being the mastermind behind a scheme to defraud the district by persuading Rose to seek the no-bid contract, which was drafted by Jones.

García has denied wrongdoing. His attorneys in court documents sought to shift some of the responsibility for the approval of the no-bid contract onto district lawyers.

García's attorney, Ray Velarde, said in a motion that his client simply sought to align elementary math curriculum with state standards. He said García recommended Rose as a vendor but district lawyers determined that the product and services provided by her company Infinity Resources & Associates met criteria to be a sole-source provider.

Jim Darnell, one of García's lawyers, declined to identify the attorney who cleared the contract. Most of the district's legal services are contracted to Mounce, Green, Myers, Safi, Paxson & Galatzan.

School district attorney Tony Safi said he disagreesÊwith the claim that his law firm determined the product and services provided by Infinity Resources & Associates met criteria for a sole-source contract. Safi also disagreed with any suggestion that his firm is responsible for the company receiving a sole-source contract with the district.

Kanof said during the hearing before Senior U.S. District Judge David Briones that although the contract was supposed to have been discussed between Rose and EPISD associate superintendent Liz Montes, they were actually acting as "surrogates" for negotiations between Jones and an attorney for the district, Clyde Pine.

But before Kanof could further discuss Jones' involvement with the case, she was stopped by Briones.

"I don't want to get into that," Briones told Kanof.

In April 2011, a federal jury convicted Jones and former El Paso District Clerk Gilbert Sanchez of conspiring from October 2003 to July 2004 to secure a multimillion-dollar digitization contract from the county for Altep, a company represented by Jones. The contract was never issued.

Jones and Sanchez were later sentenced to six years in prison. Both men are awaiting trial in a federal racketeering case that is scheduled to go to trial in September.

In the latter case, Jones, Sanchez and nine others are accused of using a scheme of bribes and kickbacks to obtain government contracts for Access HealthSource, a local health-care provider.

The nine others are former Socorro Mayor Willie Gandara Sr.; former Ysleta Independent School District board Trustee Linda Chavez; former Access President Frank Apodaca; former National Center for Employment of the Disabled spokesman Marc Schwartz; El Paso attorney and former city Rep. David Escobar; former Ysleta Independent School District Trustee Milton "Mickey" Duntley; former Socorro Independent School District board President Charlie Garcia; former SISD trustee and former Socorro Mayor Ray Rodriguez; and Larry Medina, who is a former city representative and former county commissioner.

On Friday, Briones considered a request by Velarde to move García's trial out of El Paso due to "extensive adverse pre-trial publicity." Briones said during the hearing he won't rule on the request until he sees whether a jury can be selected on June 18.

Near the end of the hearing, Kanof told the court of six statements García gave to FBI agents before his indictment last year. Three of those statements, Kanof said, may be relevant to García's trial.

Kanof also said she was hesitant to introduce them at trial because they are of a "sensitive and delicate matter," and if they are allowed in open court, could "impede other investigations" that may generate "another criminal complaint."

Kanof told Briones she wanted him to examine the documents and rule if they are relevant to García's trial. If they are, then Kanof would seek a protective order to keep them from defense attorneys, she said.

When Velarde angrily tried to argue against withholding the documents, Briones told Velarde, "My philosophy is you'll get everything."

About 200 people are expected to be called to jury duty on June 18 for García's trial.

Adriana M. Chávez may be reached at; 546-6117. Follow her on Twitter @AChavezEPTimes.

Reporter Zahira Torres contributed to this story.

© 2003 The E-Accountability Foundation