A businessman who bribed a member of the Mission school board pleaded guilty Monday in the western Hidalgo County corruption case.
Antonio Gonzalez III, 43, of Weslaco wanted the Mission Consolidated Independent School District to approve a contract with Performance Services Inc., an Indiana-based company that specialized in energy savings projects.
Performance Services Inc. suggested that Mission CISD install LED lights and replace inefficient air conditioning systems to reduce energy costs. The project would result in a major payday for Gonzalez, who sold LED lights.
“As part of the scheme, the defendant communicated with Person B, Person C and a Mission Consolidated school board member, and reached an agreement to pay a bribe through Person B and Person C that would be utilized for the member’s political campaign,” said Assistant U.S. Attorney Roberto “Bobby” Lopez Jr., who summarized the bribery scheme on Monday, when Gonzalez pleaded guilty.
Lopez didn’t identify the middlemen, Person B and Person C, by name. The identity of the school board trustee also remains a mystery.
Gonzalez paid the school board trustee about $30,000 through Person B and Person C, Lopez said. In exchange, the school board trustee agreed to support the Performance Services Inc. project.
Performance Services Inc., though, wasn’t the only company that offered energy savings projects.
To give Performance Services Inc. an advantage, Person C provided Gonzalez with questions the Mission CISD facilities committee planned to ask during a meeting in February 2018. Person C also provided Gonzalez with an evaluation matrix.
Gonzalez paid $6,000 to Person B on Feb. 1, 2018. Gonzalez made a second payment on Feb. 13, when he and Person C “coordinated the delivery” of “approximately $19,000,” Lopez said.
“And the delivery occurred shortly after the Mission Consolidated Independent School District board member voted in support of awarding a contract to Performance Services,” Lopez said.
Gonzalez and Person C discussed a third payment in March.
“Hey, Tony!,” Person C said in a WhatsApp message to Gonzalez on March 2, 2018, according to an exhibit filed by the government. “I wanted to talk to you about the amount that we were given for the deal we had originally made. It was my understanding that the amount was going to be $30, upon approval. $10 from each of you. That’s what [Person B] had told me when we started.”
The amounts mentioned in the WhatsApp messages — “$30” and “$10” — represented thousands of dollars.
“However, we were only given $25. ($6, then $19),” Person C wrote. “As we get to the end of early voting and election day on Tuesday, obviously – we have to settle up all our workers and bills. Those $5 would come in handy. Do you think we could settle up on those $5? We would greatly appreciate it.”
Based on the timing of the WhatsApp messages, Person C apparently needed the money for a March 2018 primary campaign.
The only member of the Mission CISD school board who appeared on the ballot in March 2018 was Patricia “Patty” O’Caña-Olivarez, who ran for state district judge.
O’Caña-Olivarez couldn’t be reached for comment Wednesday. She hasn’t been arrested or charged with any crime.
Gonzalez agreed to make the payment.
“I can meet with you or [Person B] for it Monday morning,” Gonzalez wrote. “Half the battle so far. We need to make sure we get to determine vendors and make sure nobody interferes (CFO and attorney, who is with TASB, our competition).”
In all, Gonzalez paid about $30,000 to Person B and Person C.
Person A, a Performance Services Inc. employee, provided Gonzalez with part of the money.
“As part of the payments made by the defendant, Person A also provided the defendant with checks to cover portions of the bribe payments,” Lopez said.
In December 2018, more than nine months after Gonzalez made the last payment, the school board rejected the Performance Services Inc. contract.
The case against Gonzalez is part of a federal investigation that uncovered widespread corruption in western Hidalgo County.
Ten people, including two members of the La Joya school board, a La Joya school district administrator, two city of Peñitas administrators and a member of the Peñitas City Council, pleaded guilty during the past six months.
According to information released by the U.S. Attorney’s Office for the Southern District of Texas, they accepted more than $1 million in bribes and kickbacks.