Texas School Officials Plead Innocent in Corruption Case

Six people, including a Pharr-San Juan-Alamo (Texas) schools superintendent and two school board members, pleaded innocent on June 8 to a sweeping federal indictment alleging cash, trips, and gifts were swapped for votes on district construction and insurance contracts.

Superintendent Arturo Guajardo, school board members Roy Navarro and Evangelina Garcia-De Leon, her husband Ricardo De Leon, and contractors Arnulfo Olivarez and George Hernandez, told a federal magistrate they were not guilty of charges in a 22-count indictment unsealed.

A seventh defendant, Rogelio “Roy” Rodriguez, who already faced previous corruption charges relating to district contracts, was arraigned separately on the new charges last week.

All remained free on $100,000 bond pending a July 7 trial.

Federal investigators say the school officials took more than $600,000 worth of bribes that included payments of up to $210,000, Las Vegas trips, guns, prostitutes, and $14,000 worth of tickets to the NCAA Final Four.

The indictment charges all defendants with conspiracy to commit extortion, and the school officials are also charged with extortion. All counts carry a maximum prison sentence of 20 years in federal prison and fines of up to $250,000. The case is federal because the districts receive federal funds, officials have said.

Navarro and De Leon are expected to stay on the school board for the time being, despite U.S. Magistrate Dorina Ramos’ suggestion they step down. Ramos ordered them to abstain from voting on district contracts, an order Navarro’s attorney said he would appeal.

Guajardo is to finish the month remaining on his contract with PSJA.

Ramos told all to limit their contact with district employees and not discuss the case.