Ex-County Judge Dolores Briones, businessman Sonny Garcia sentenced in corruption cases

POSTED: 10:25 AM MDT Mar 22, 2013    UPDATED: 05:47 PM MST Jan 15, 2014 
EL PASO, Texas -

Two more pawns have fallen from an in-depth federal government investigation - a former county judge and an el paso businessman are heading to jail.

Businessman Ruben "Sonny" Garcia was sentenced to four years in jail and $1.1 million in restitution. Ex-County Judge Dolores Briones was sentenced to 30 months in jail and $36,000 in restitution.

Briones' Commissioners Court hired LKG, run by Garcia, to evaluate how the Border Children's Mental Health Collaboration used grant money.

The FBI said Garcia and Madrid billed the county for more than $500,000 dollars worth of work that was never done.

When asked by ABC-7 Friday outside the courthouse if she had any apologies to offer the community, Briones nodded her head but did not say anything.

In late July 2012, some El Pasoans received a letter in their email stating Briones took thousands of dollars in bribes because of her battle with breast cancer.

"In the ensuing aftermath of aggressive treatment, she encountered fog and gaps in concentration and cognition, experiencing lapses in judgment and struggling to process information. And emotionally, at times she found herself in deep dark places brought on by depression," states the letter. It comes in an email from a woman named Yolie Flores. Briones did not return ABC-7's phone calls or emails in late July seeking comment on the email.

In it, the friend asked for funds for Briones to pay back to the government for accepting bribes.

The feds said Briones cheated taxpayers of up to $30,000, when she accepted bribes to help LKG land a county contract to evaluate the Border Children's Mental Health Collaborative, a program that helped children get mental help without having to go to residential treatment centers. Briones in December pleaded guilty to embezzlement and conspiracy.

Federal document show Briones, in 2006, accepted twelve payments totaling $24,000 in exchange for her help steering more than half a million dollars in federal grant money to LKG enterprises.

Like the other defendants who've pleaded guilty, she has been ordered to report to a probation officer until she's sentenced, plus post bond, surrender her passport and not travel outside Texas or New Mexico without permission.

The letter states Briones at that time, faced financial insecurity because of her battle with cancer.  "All of this contributed to planting doubt in her mind about her ability to provide for herself in the future. These were private, secret concerns. But essentially, she felt pretty beat up and intimidated. As a consequence, she made choices she may not have otherwise made under normal circumstances."

According to ABC-7 archives, Briones was cancer-free in 2005, about a year before she took money under the table.

The letter also asked for character reference letters and a consulting job with a pay cap so Briones could get the maximum unemployment benefits. It also states Briones 'championed' the cause for the collaberative and implies she took the bribes to keep the program running. "In her attempt and haste to secure the program and get it off the ground, she made poor choices. What she did was wrong. Had she been in a clearer state of mind with her former capability to thoroughly think things through, she would have made other decisions consistent with her life-long record of service. She takes full responsibility for this horrible mistake and suffers deep remorse for her part in this," the letter states.

The friend who reportedly wrote the letter, Yolie Flores, did not return calls or emails to ABC-7 in late July seeking comment. Flores is listed as the Chief Executive Officer of Communities for Teaching Excellence, an education advocacy group based in Los Angeles.