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Agua SUD may seek restitution in western Hidalgo County corruption case

The Agua Special Utility District may request nearly $57,000 in restitution from an Edinburg businessman who bribed a district employee.

During a meeting on Monday afternoon, the utility board authorized General Manager Roberto J. Salinas to request $56,618.84 in restitution from Edinburg businessman Jaime A. Rodriguez, who bribed a high-ranking Agua SUD employee in 2018.

First, though, Agua SUD must find out why the utility district qualified for restitution.

“What we do know is that the U.S. Attorney’s Office must have some information that suggested to them that we — being the district — might be entitled to restitution in that amount,” attorney Matthew R. Beatty of Austin-based law firm Beatty Navarre Strama told the utility board on Monday.

Beatty said Agua SUD needed that information to fill out a “Declaration of Victim Losses” form.

“Of course, we’d only submit that affidavit if we could find the evidence, the documents, to support whatever we’re requesting,” Beatty said.

The case against Rodriguez is part of an FBI investigation that uncovered widespread corruption in western Hidalgo County.

Assistant U.S. Attorney Roberto “Bobby” Lopez Jr. summarized the scheme in January, when Rodriguez pleaded guilty.

Agua SUD awarded a contract to “Company A” in 2018. “Person A” worked for Company A.

Person A caused Company A to write a check to Rodriguez for $111,618.84 in May 2018.

“Person A knew that from said funds the defendant would issue a bribe or kickback payment to Person B, who was a public servant and high-level official at Agua SUD, in exchange for Person B’s recommendations, future recommendations and exercise of discretion in relation to the governmental contract awarded to Company A by Agua SUD,” Lopez said.

Rodriguez deposited the check on June 4, 2018. Eight days later, Rodriguez wrote a $55,000 check to “Company B,” a corporation owned by Person B.

Lopez didn’t identify Company A, Person A, Company B or Person B — the “public servant and high-level official at Agua SUD” — by name.

More details surfaced during a follow-up discussion with U.S. District Judge Micaela Alvarez.

“This is a high-ranking official but not necessarily a board member, your honor,” Lopez said.

To clear up any confusion, Alvarez asked Rodriguez to confirm that he knew the identity of Person B.

“I’m not asking you for his name or her name, but you understand Person B to be a public official, a public servant, correct?” Alvarez said.

“An employee of the company, yes,” Rodriguez said.

After he pleaded guilty, the U.S. Probation Office sent a letter to Agua SUD about restitution.

“Our records indicate the Agua Special Utility District may be entitled to restitution in an amount of approximately $56,618.84 for monetary damages caused by the defendant with regard to the aforementioned count of conviction,” according to the letter.

The restitution amount is what Rodriguez kept after he paid Person B.

Attorney Rick Salinas of Mission, who represents Rodriguez, said the letter from the Probation Office is just part of the process.

“It’s not anything out of the ordinary,” Salinas said.

While the Agua SUD board didn’t know much about the case against Rodriguez, members authorized the general manager to submit the request for restitution — if restitution is warranted.

“We are going to follow up on that to find out if we are entitled to any,” said board President Esmeralda H. Solis. “But, at this point, we don’t have any further information on it.”

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