Ex-District Clerk's Former 'Right Hand Man' Testifies Sanchez, Jones Would 'Joke' About Corrupt Deals

EL PASO, Texas - Late Wednesday, April 6, 2011 Update He was once called "the right hand man" of former District Clerk Gilbert Sanchez. Then he pleaded guilty to corruption and child porn charges.

On Wednesday, Fernando Parra testified that Sanchez and former County Judge Luther Jones made shady, corrupt deals.

Sanchez is accused of conspiring with Jones to steer a county contract to Altep in late 2003 through 2004. Sanchez and Jones are being tried in federal court on two counts of conspiracy to commit mail fraud and deprivation of honest services.

Parra, a witness for the prosecution, said attorney Jones and Sanchez would meet with leaders of private company Altep and would even joke about the shady deals they allegedly schemed. Altep hired Jones in 2004 to handle a proposal for a potential multi-million dollar contract with the county to digitize records.

Parra said Altep representatives went to the district clerk's office in late 2003 when they found out Sanchez was considering finding a way to digitize county records.

Parra testified Jones soon became involved because his friend owned Altep. Parra explained that he met with Altep's Bud Moore and that together, they wrote the requirements for companies that wanted to apply for the contract to digitize records with the county of El Paso.

The purpose, Parra said, was to make it impossible for any other vendor to compete, except Altep. He said he, Sanchez, Jones, and Altep's Roger Miller and Bud Moore had meetings in which they plotted how to steer the contract toward the company.

He said Sanchez came up with the idea of adding a requirement that stated the companies had to be no more than 15 miles away from the courthouse, in case a judge needed a document immediately.

Altep, at that time, was steps away from the county courthouse. At last check, no one from Altep has been charged with a crime.

Earlier, a county official had testified that Sanchez's office had added that requirement in the request for proposals - the document that lists the requirements for companies seeking the contract.

Parra also described the relationships between Jones and Sanchez.

"They had a friendship and a relationship. When it came to the courthouse... he (Jones) would ask for special favors in the courthouse and other favors," Parra said.

Parras also testified Jones and former County Commissioner Betti Flores schemed together. "Mr. Jones aimed to advance particular interests, particular vendors and he would meet with her to promote those interests."

On Tuesday, Flores testified Jones offered her cash for her vote on the Altep contract.

Parra also said Jones schemed with Flores to get Parra a pay raise in 2003 - something Flores admitted to on the stand on Tuesday, as well.

Parra, who used to be the office manager for Sanchez, said he, too had a close relationship with Jones. The two met when Parra was building databases of voters to help local public office candidates. Jones eventually hired him to build these political databases.

"I would visit with him often, even when I was not working for him," Parra said. "I regarded him as a mentor as a paternal figure."

Parra also portrayed Jones as power-hungry. He said that on New Years Eve of 2003, when they were plotting the Altep contract, they went out for drinks at a bar on Cincinnati Avenue in West El Paso.

"We were recollecting that 2003 had been a good year for us. We had put a new mayor into office," Parra said. "He had basic control of the city and of the (city) council and said he'd have even more control if he secured the Altep contract."

Joe Wardy won the mayoral election that year. He has not been charged with a crime in this case.

Wednesday Afternoon, April 6, 2011 Story Former District Clerk Gilbert Sanchez used to dine out on a private company's Pensar's dime, running up a tab of up to $500 -- mostly of expensive wine, a witness testified on Tuesday in the federal trial of Sanchez and attorney and former County Judge Luther Jones.

The problem, federal prosecutors said, is that the company was seeking multimillion dollar contracts with the county to digitize the clerk's office's records and that Sanchez asked for campaign donations and a trip to San Diego in exchange for his help in getting them a contract.

Sanchez is accused of conspiring with Jones to steer a county contract to Altep in late 2003 through 2004. Sanchez and Jones are being tried in federal court on two counts of conspiracy to commit mail fraud and deprivation of honest services.

Witnesses for the prosecution on Wednesday painted Sanchez and Jones as corrupt and scheming. The defense has worked to portray them as men who wanted good public policy.

Altep is not the only company Sanchez and Jones are accused of conspiring with. At one point during testimony Tuesday, a businessman with Pensar, who also wanted a contract with the county said Sanchez plotted with the company at dinner on how to get the contract before Sanchez suggested they all go to a strip club.

Mark Munoz, who's prior company, Pensar, pursued the digitization contract with the county, said Sanchez had been the only public official who had accepted a courtesy invitation to dinner.

Munoz testified that Sanchez ran a $500 tab at Cafe Central and then suggested they all go to a strip club. They never went to a club, but according to Munoz, Sanchez explicitly asked for campaign donations in exchange for allowing them to help draft the requirements for the potential contract -- something illegal that would have given Pensar an unfair advantage. Pensar's Robert Munoz testified on Tuesday that Sanchez also asked for a trip to San Diego from the company.

Joe Lopez, who works in the county department that takes proposals and bids from private companies seeking contracts with the county, testified that Sanchez had added a requirement to the potential contract that discriminated against companies not located in El Paso.

Lopez said Sanchez had made it mandatory for the vendors who were seeking to digitize county records to perform the work in El Paso County, something Lopez said was illegal because the county can't exclude vendors based on location.

Audio recordings were played of a a June 2004 commissioners court meeting in which Sanchez tried to convince commissioners to award a contract up to $10 million to Altep.

Sanchez can be heard on the recordings telling commissioners that Altep was the lowest bidder. He also said Altep was the only company that would keep the records in El Paso.

Lopez told the court that the other vendors said they'd digitize the records in India or Guadalajara, Mexico.

Lopez testified he later looked at the proposals and that another company was the lowest bidder, not Altep. Lopez also said that the majority of the companies being considered for that contract said they would do the work in El Paso and that none of them had indicated they'd take the records to another country.

Lopez also said the district clerk's office had given Altep a spreadsheet of all of the proposals before commissioners even had the information - something considered unethical and against county policy.

"I had no idea what his intentions were or where he was going with this," Lopez said.

But the defense argued that Sanchez had never been trained on the bidding and proposal process and was not aware that giving that information to Altep was inappropriate.

Defense lawyers also said there was no written policy that prohibited Sanchez's assistant, Fernando Parra, from giving the spreadsheet to Altep representatives.

Defense lawyers, though, have argued Sanchez was just trying to modernize the district clerk's office and that Jones never explicitly bribed anyone but only advised them on good policy. In 2004, Jones was in charge of Altep's proposal for the county contract.

On Tuesday, former El Paso County Commissioner Betti Flores testified that Jones had given her a $2,500 campaign donation in exchange for her vote to settle a county lawsuit and sell 300 acres of land on the East Side, commonly known as the Catalina Land Deal, to a company he was affiliated with.

Flores also said Jones asked her to vote "yes" on a contract with Altep, a data-entry company that had hired Jones in 2004 to help secure contracts with the county. Flores said Jones offered campaign donations if she voted "yes" on a multimillion-dollar contract with Altep.

Gilbert Sanchez BioSalary As District Clerk: $85,156.District Clerk (an elected county position) from 2002 to 2010.His Number One Campaign Focus While Running For Office In 2010: Continue with ongoing projects of digitalization of the files/records that are in my possession and the collection of court costs, fines and fees that are owed to the citizens of El Paso County - mainly through the collection of attorney general child support cases.What Sets You Apart From Your Opponent? Eight years within the office, 20 years legal experience, military service (JAG), district court administrator, legal office manager and general counsel for the Internal Revenue Service.Describe A Moment That Changed Your Life: Becoming an elected official - the pros and cons that come with the office.(Editor's Note: Gilbert Sanchez bio information compiled from candidate form he filled out for KVIA while running for office in 2010 and Texas Tribune salary database)

Related Links:Link: Corruption Trial Day 3: Defense Hammers Ex-Commissioner Betti Flores Over Testimony, Plea DealLink: Corruption Trial Day 2: Former County Commissioner Betti Flores Testifies Luther Jones Offered Cash for Votes Link:Corruption Trial Day 1: Campaign Contributions Brought Up In Sanchez/Jones Public Corruption Trial

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