Two enter guilty pleas in El Paso corruption case

Michael P. Tremoglie Jul. 24, 2012, 5:20am

SAN ANTONIO (Legal Newsline) - Guilty pleas were entered July 13 by an El Paso public relations consultant and a former Ysleta Independent School District Trustee in connection with the El Paso corruption investigation of ACCESSHealth Source.

The pleas were announced by United States Attorney Robert Pitman and FBI Special Agent in Charge Mark Morgan. ACCESS was a third party administrator of health care benefits for self-insured entities.

Between 1998 and 2007, it contracted with self-insured local (El Paso) government entities, including the County and three school districts.

Appearing before United States District Judge Frank Montalvo, Mark Schwartz, the consultant, pleaded guilty to one count of conspiracy to engage in racketeering activity. Linda Chavez, the trustee, pleaded guilty to one count of conspiracy to commit mail and wire fraud and deprivation of honest services.

Schwartz faces eight years in federal prison. Statutorily, Chavez faces up to 20 years in federal prison and a maximum $250,000 fine.

According to the San Antonio U.S. Attorney's office, Schwartz admitted that he executed the plot for former ACCESS President Frank Apodaca, former CEO of the National Center for the Employment of the Disabled, ACCESS owner Robert "Bob" Jones and ElPaso attorney Luther Jones to pay bribes to elected officials, including former El Paso Independent School District Trustee Salvador "Sal" Mena, Ysleta Independent School Board President Mickey Duntley, former El Paso County Commissioner Elizabeth "Betti" Flores, former El Paso County Commissioner Larry Medina and former El Paso County Judge Dolores Briones to perform acts in their official capacity which would aid ACCESS in securing and retaining lucrative health care management service contracts.

Chavez conspired from June 2004 to July 2005 with Schwartz, Apodaca, Luther Jones and Duntley to secure an Ysleta ISD healthcare services contract with ACCESS. She also admitted to conspiring to secure a YISD contract for legal services with a local law firm for Luther Jones and El Paso attorney David Escobar.

"Today's pleas send a strong message regarding the FBI's continued aggressive targeting of individuals in the El Paso community involved in public corruption. Nothing erodes the public trust more than those who illegally conspire to benefit from taxpayer dollars in order to line their own pockets," FBI Special Agent in Charge Mark Morgan said.

Both defendants remain on bond pending sentencing.

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