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Mayor and two sons jailed for Texas pay-to-play scheme

The former mayor of Progreso, Texas and his two sons have been sentenced following their convictions for a bribery scheme that involved the local school board, the U.S. Attorney’s Office for the Southern District of Texas said.

Brothers Omar and Jose and father Michael Vela were charged, along with Jesus Bustos, based on their participation in a scheme to create a “pay-to-play” public contracting system in Progreso.

On Monday, U.S. District Judge David Hittner sentenced Jose Vela to twelve and a half years in federal prison.

Omar was sentenced to 10 years in prison, Michael Vela to almost 6 years, and Orlando received a 10-month prison term.

The Velas pleaded guilty to conspiracy and bribery involving programs receiving federal funds, while Bustos pleaded guilty to conspiracy, U.S. Attorney Kenneth Magidson said.

Omar was the mayor of Progreso at the time, Michael was the president of the Progreso Independent School District Board (PISD) of Trustees, Orlando was a risk manager for PISD, and Jose was PISD’s director of maintenance and transportation.

From 2004 through 2013, PISD received more than $1 million per year in federal program grants and funds from the U.S. Department of Education. To obtain contracts from PISD or from the City of Progreso, contractors were required to pay bribes to the Velas, court documents said.

In addition, Jose Vela controlled the PISD School Board by rewarding board members who voted as he directed with bribe money. Omar and Michael Vela assisted their father by gathering bribe payments from contractors and delivering the payments to him, and were rewarded with a portion of those monies.

Jose, Omar and Michael together collected more than $300,000 in bribe payments.

Bustos, a local architect, admitted that from 2004 through 2013, he paid bribes and kickbacks to obtain architectural contracts for his architectural firm IDEA Group LLC on public projects in the area.

In addition, from April 2009 to December 2012, Omar Vela instructed the owner of a plumbing and electrical supply company to provide fraudulent invoices to PISD and the City of Progreso for products they did not provide. When the invoices were paid, the owner returned the funds to Vela, resulting in more than $14,000 in kickbacks.

Bustos will be sentenced August 27.

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Julie DiMauro is the executive editor of FCPA Blog and can be reached here.

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