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Businessman pleads guilty in western Hidalgo County corruption case

A manager at Aqua-Metric Sales Company pleaded guilty Thursday in the western Hidalgo County corruption case.

Jeremy T. Lancon, 47, of Waxahachie — the manager for meter services at Aqua-Metric — pleaded guilty to a federal money laundering charge Thursday morning.

Lancon admitted that he cut a corrupt deal with “Person A,” an employee of Performance Services Inc., in exchange for a contract.

Aqua-Metric paid a $15,000 “finder’s fee” to someone related to a former La Joya school board trustee. In exchange, Performance Services Inc. hired Aqua-Metric to handle part of an $11.6 million project at the Agua Special Utility District.

When asked how he pleaded, Lancon responded with a single word: “Guilty.”

Assistant U.S. Attorney Roberto “Bobby” Lopez Jr., who read the factual basis for the plea aloud in court on Thursday, didn’t identify the Performance Services Inc. employee or the former school board trustee by name.

“This is all news to me,” said Jim Adams, the general manager for Performance Services Inc. in Texas. “I had no idea any of that happened.”

The incident discussed in court doesn’t reflect how Performance Services Inc. conducts business, Adams said, and wasn’t authorized by the company.

“It’s totally against our code of ethics and values and way of doing business,” Adams said.

Lancon worked for Aqua-Metric in 2019, when the Agua SUD board approved Phase II of an $11.6 million “energy savings performance contract” with Performance Services Inc.

Person A, an employee of Performance Services Inc., talked with Lancon about the Agua SUD project, Lopez said.

Person A said Performance Services Inc. would contract with Aqua-Metric for the Agua SUD project if Aqua-Metric hired certain people, including “Person B,” who served on the La Joya school board.

Performance Services Inc., which also had an energy savings contract with the La Joya Independent School District, couldn’t pay Person B directly.

Lancon agreed. To pay those people, though, Lancon said the project cost would need to be inflated.

Person B and Lancon discussed a contract, Lopez said, and exchanged a series of emails.

They agreed that Aqua-Metric would pay Person B a “finder’s fee.” Person B, however, asked Aqua-Metric to make the payment to a relative instead.

Aqua-Metric paid $15,004.08 on Feb. 5, 2020, Lopez said.

While he admitted to making the payment, Lancon said he didn’t know all the details.

“At the time, I was not aware that the person the check was made to was a relative,” Lancon said.

The case against Lancon is part of a federal investigation that revealed widespread corruption in western Hidalgo County.

Lancon is the eighth person to plead guilty:

> Former Peñitas City Manager Omar Romero pleaded guilty to bribery and bankruptcy fraud charges on Nov. 10.

> Former La Joya school board Trustee Armin Garza pleaded guilty to conspiracy to defraud the United States on Jan. 6.

> Edinburg businessman Jaime A. Rodriguez pleaded guilty to a bribery and money laundering charge on Jan. 12.

> Former Peñitas City Councilman Alex Guajardo pleaded guilty to a bribery and money laundering charge on Jan. 21.

> Peñitas Public Works Director Andres “Andy” Morales pleaded guilty to conspiracy to defraud the United States on Jan. 21.

> Former La Joya ISD administrator Jose Luis Morin pleaded guilty to a bribery charge on Feb. 7.

> Former La Joya school board Trustee Oscar “Coach” Salinas pleaded guilty to an extortion charge on March 3.

All eight pleaded guilty to a type of charging document called a criminal information, which is typically used when a defendant is cooperating with prosecutors.

Esmeralda H. Solis, the president of the Agua SUD board, said that she supports the investigation and wants anyone who committed a crime to be held accountable.

“Our goal is to try and capture back what belonged to Agua SUD and what belongs to our residents and to our ratepayers,” Solis said. “Because that is what is right — and that is how it was supposed to be from the very beginning.”

After the factual basis for the plea had been read aloud, U.S. District Judge Randy Crane asked Lopez if Person B had already pleaded guilty — and, if so, why the government hadn’t identified him by name.

Lopez said Person B had pleaded guilty, but the government is concerned that identifying him by name would also identify the relative.

Lancon faces a maximum of five years in federal prison.

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