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Edinburg businessman pleads guilty in western Hidalgo County corruption case

A prominent Edinburg businessman pleaded guilty Wednesday to bribing a “high ranking” Agua Special Utility District employee.

Jaime A. Rodriguez, 57, of Edinburg — the former president of the Edinburg Chamber of Commerce and a former member of the Edinburg Economic Development Corp. board — pleaded guilty to a federal bribery and money laundering charge during a hearing Wednesday afternoon.

Rodriguez accepted a nearly $112,000 check from “Company A” in 2018, according to Assistant U.S. Attorney Roberto “Bobby” Lopez Jr., who is prosecuting the case. Rodriguez deposited the check and paid $55,000 to a “high ranking” Agua SUD employee.

“The reason that we’re here is because, every once in a while, we make mistakes,” said attorney Rick Salinas of Mission, who represents Rodriguez.

Rodriguez had no criminal record and the incident was a “singular event,” Salinas said.

Rodriguez is well known in Edinburg, where he served as president of the Edinburg Chamber of Commerce board from 2005 to 2006.

During the past two decades, Rodriguez owned and operated several businesses, including Mi Casa Primary Home Care and Rodz Bar & Grill in Edinburg.

Documents filed with the Texas Secretary of State’s Office also list Rodriguez as a “managing member” of Enviro-Lite Solutions LLC.

In 2017, when the La Joya Independent School District hired Performance Services Inc. to install LED lights at campuses throughout western Hidalgo County, the Indiana-based company subcontracted the job to Enviro-Lite Solutions.

Performance Services Inc. agreed to pay about $9.7 million to Enviro-Lite Solutions, according to a copy of the contract filed in a civil lawsuit.

Enviro-Lite Solutions received about $8.1 million before Performance Services Inc. terminated the contract in June 2018.

“ELS failed to furnish sufficient manpower, failed to manage its inventory, failed to meet safety standards and requirements, failed to manage and supervise its subcontractors, failed to pay subcontractors and suppliers, and failed to meet the Project Construction Schedule and completion deadlines,” according to a lawsuit Performance Services Inc. filed against Enviro-Lite Solutions in August 2019. “Consequently, PSI sent multiple notices of default to ELS. ELS failed to cure its default and performance issues under the Subcontract, and PSI notified ELS that ELS’s work was suspended and that PSI would be taking over the ELS Work.”

The case went to arbitration, and Performance Services Inc. received a $350,000 judgment against Enviro-Lite Solutions in April 2021.

What happened to Enviro-Lite Solutions remains unclear.

The company’s website no longer exists and records filed with the Secretary of State’s Office show that Enviro-Lite Solutions forfeited its “charter, certificate or registration” in January 2021.

John Phillips, the other managing member of Enviro-Lite Solutions, couldn’t be reached for comment Wednesday. A telephone number listed on corporate paperwork belongs to Rodriguez’s business, Mi Casa Primary Home Care.

The contract between La Joya ISD and Performance Services Inc. is part of a major federal investigation that focuses on corruption in western Hidalgo County.

During a hearing last week, former La Joya ISD school board Trustee Armin Garza confessed to participating in a conspiracy to steer contracts to Performance Services Inc.

“It was further part of the conspiracy that GARZA exerted influence over the employment of other co-conspirators, including Persons E-H, who were elected officials at other governmental entities,” according to the criminal information against Garza. “The influence was exerted to promote the awarding of contracts to Company D at said governmental entities. As part of the exercise of his influence, GARZA supported promotions or awarding of stipends to Persons E-H in exchange for their official votes or support of Company D’s energy savings projects at other governmental entities.”

Person E, Person F and Person G served on the Agua Special Utility District board. Person H served on the Mission City Council.

The criminal information doesn’t identify them by name.

All four worked for La Joya ISD — and voted to approve contracts with Performance Services Inc., which is identified in the criminal information as Company D.

Garza, meanwhile, received more than $234,000 in kickbacks.

Performance Services Inc. placed Jonathan Blackwell, who handled the La Joya ISD contract, the city of Mission contract and the Agua SUD contract, on administrative leave after Garza pleaded guilty.

“Performance Services, Inc (PSI) has no knowledge of any potential misbehavior by Jonathan Blackwell nor any other employee except for the information provided in the recent Federal Indictment,” according to a statement released by the company. “PSI promotes and lives by our Guiding Principles and Fundamentals and our culture is based on these beliefs. In 23 years of operations, there have been no accusations that PSI nor any of our employees have ever acted in an illegal manner on any of our past 604 projects. PSI has not nor will we tolerate any illegal behavior by our employees, partners, or subcontractors.”

The charge against Rodriguez involved Agua SUD.

Lopez, the federal prosecutor, said Company A paid $111,618.84 to JAR Group Development, a company Rodriguez owned.

Rodriguez deposited the check and paid $55,000 to Company B, which is owned by a “high ranking” Agua SUD employee, Lopez said. Rodriguez made the payment so Company A would receive favorable recommendations from Person B.

Lopez didn’t identify the corporations or Person B by name.

Salinas, the attorney who represents Rodriguez, said he knows who Person B is but couldn’t publicly identify him or her.

“I don’t want to compromise anything that they’re working on,” Salinas said. “And if it becomes public, I don’t know what this person is capable of doing.”

The charge against Rodriguez is punishable by a maximum of five years in federal prison.

“It’s a small and insignificant part of what is probably something much larger. No doubt in my mind — something big is coming,” Salinas said. “I would encourage all of those out there that are thinking they may have done something wrong to come over to the black building and talk to the guy that’s heading up the investigation for the FBI. These deals — where it’s a maximum sentence of five years — they’re not going to be around very long. Because, eventually, my prognosis is they’ll have enough people, they won’t need anybody anymore.”

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