Three men from the same family have been arrested with conspiracy and other charges related to bribes and kickbacks regarding contracts and services at a South Texas school district and city the FBI announced today.
U.S. Magistrate Judge Dorina Ramos will preside over the appearances of Jose Guadalupe Vela, Jr., 64; Omar Leonel Vela, 35; and Michael Vela, 29, in McAllen on Thursday.
Michael Vela is the president of the Board of Trustees of the Progresso Independent School District (PISD) which receives over $1 million annually in U.S. Department of Education federal funds.
Conspired to obtain bribes…
According to the indictment, Vela used his control on the Board of Trustees to conspire with his father, Jose Vela, the maintenance and transportation supervisor of the school district and his brother, Omar Vela, the mayor of Progreso.
“The 10-count indictment alleges that from June 2004 until the date of indictment, the Vela family members conspired to obtain bribes and kickbacks from several service providers,” U.S. Attorney Kenneth Magidson announced Wednesday. “Those allegedly include a construction company and an architectural firm hired as contractors by the city and PISD, an attorney hired as local counsel to advise PISD and a company that supplied PISD and the city with electrical and plumbing supplies.”
They were arrested on charges of conspiracy, mail fraud, violations of the Travel Act, theft, and bribery, according to Magidson.
“It’s the barter system … You know, my back is itching. Scratch it,” a 2009 conversation with a the attorney involved was quoted by Jose Vela in the indictment. “Never had a problem with it.”
The indictment also indicates that in Dec. 2008, the attorney gave Jose Vela eight gift boxes of Scotch and later the three Velas received envelopes of money tot. Two weeks after, the attorney gave all three Velas envelopes with a totalling $1,100.
The attorney also paid for a hunting trip for Omar and Michael Vela and a weekend trip to South Padre Island for Jose Vela and his mistress.
Reward and retaliation
“The indictment charges that Jose Vela controlled members of the PISD Board of Trustees through a system of reward and retaliation,” Magidson stated. “That is, board members who voted as directed by Jose Vela were allegedly rewarded with bribe money, but those who did not follow his direction were faced with retaliation.”
A “construction company paid Omar Vela approximately $85,000 in bribes in order to be hired on projects in Progreso, including the construction of an elementary school, a school gymnasium and a municipal park,” Magidson’s release stated.
“The indictment further indicates that in 2008 and 2009, the attorney paid nearly $10,000 to the three defendants in order to be hired as local counsel for PISD.”
Indictment records allege that Omar Vela told the owner an electrical and plumbing supply company to “provide fraudulent invoices to PISD and the city of Progreso for products that were not supplied.”
Instructed to return the funds…
“When the invoices were paid, Omar Vela allegedly instructed the owner of the supply company to return the funds to Omar Vela as kickbacks,” the release states. “Through this scheme, Omar Vela is alleged to have stolen more than $14,000 from the city of Progreso and PISD.”
If convicted, each face up to 20 years in prison for mail fraud, five years for the conspiracy, 10 years for each of the bribery and theft involving federal programs, and five years for each of the six counts of violations of the travel act. All charges also carry a possible maximum fine of $250,000.