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Bribery Scandal: Who has paid the taxpayers back?

Public corruption special

EL PASO, Texas - More than three dozen contractors and elected officials in El Paso were found guilty of exchanging bribes in exchange for favors in one of the most pervasive cases of corruption in El Paso County history.

May 2017 marks ten years since an FBI raid at the County Courthouse in Downtown El Paso forced a federal public corruption investigation into the public eye.

In all, 36 defendants were convicted and in total were ordered to pay more than $97.4 million dollars in restitution to the entities they swindled, from the federal government to the local school districts.

Between 2011 and 2013, they were fined or ordered to forfeit a total of more than $1.1 million dollars.

In December 2013, ABC-7 sent a Freedom of Information Act request to the Department of Justice, asking how much money the defendants had paid toward their restitution and fines.

The DOJ responded Feb. 10, 2014, acknowledging the request, but stated that the request needed to be sent it to the DOJ's Executive Office of the U.S. Attorneys.

Shortly after resubmitting the request, the E.O.U.S.A. replied in April of 2014, ultimately telling me that while it will be processed in the order in which it was received, but that it could take about nine months to process.

Nine months went by with no further contact from the federal government. In Jan. 2015, ABC-7 left three messages during a two week time span with the supervisor of the E.O.U.S.A. in D.C. The supervisor, Donna Preston, finally returned the call in Feb. 2015 and told ABC-7 that her office would call me when the request was ready.

In July 2016, two-and-a-half years after the original request was sent, ABC-7 received a large manila envelope in the mail full of documents, including a letter from the U.S. Department of Justice Executive Office for United States Attorneys. In the letter, the E.O.U.S.A. said the records sought by ABC-7 are, "exempt from the access provisions of the Privacy Act" and the government was partially denying my request.

The documents that were sent to ABC-7 consisted of more than 500 pages of dockets for each of the 36 defendants' cases, from indictment to sentence. It also included web articles of local news reports on the public corruption case -- including one from ABC-7.

The sections in the Privacy Act cited by the federal government as reasons for denying my request pertain to disclosures that "could reasonably be expected to constitute an unwarranted invasion of personal privacy." It did not explain why any convict should have an expectation of privacy. Both an appeal for the release of information and a request for an explanation from the U.S. Department of Justice as to why the Privacy Act is protecting the information were declined.

There was some indication from the federal government that defendants were paying up. Included in the documents were two letters: one stating that Robert "Bob" Jones, former head of the National Center for Employment of the Disabled, paid $19,788.29 in a garnishment of funds to the U.S. Attorney towards his restitution; another from the attorney of Milton "Mickey" Duntley, stating that the former trustee for the Ysleta Independent School District was paying $9,958.84 to the U.S. District Clerk.

ABC-7 then turned to the entities affected by the scandal, sending open records requests to the City Attorney, the County Auditor, and the El Paso, Ysleta and Socorro school districts, asking for records of restitution paid to them by the defendants.

Within days of submitting the requests, the five local entities turned over the information. While the city attorney told ABC-7 that it did not have any records of payments from the 36 defendants, ABC-7 learned that 10 defendants had paid $461,372.94 in restitution. It took more than three years to confirm that information.

That leaves $98 million in fines and restitution unaccounted for, and protected from release to the public by the federal government.

Before the report aired on ABC-7 at 10 on Thursday, former city representative and defendant David Escobar reached out to ABC-7 to say that he had also paid his $10,000 fine to the federal government and that he does "not owe a dime."


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