TWO BOARD TRUSTEES CHARGED WITH EXTORTION
By G. Romero Wendorf
The charges against two Donna ISD board trustees and an alleged go-between seem so outrageous, they boggle the mind. No way could three men of sound mind do something that would put themselves at such extreme risk – 35 years in federal prison – for a sum so paltry: $10,000?
But that’s the way the four-count federal indictment reads that was unsealed last Friday morning, naming Board Trustees Eloy Infante and Elpidio Yanez Jr. as the two Donna board trustees who tried to extort $10,000 each from the law frm of Perdue Brandon Field Collins & Mott LLP.
A third defendant, Juan Adrian Guerrero, a city of Donna employee, is charged with acting as the “bag man.”
The alleged crimes occurred between approximately February and May 2015.
In response to the arrests of the three men Friday and their appearance before a federal magistrate this Tuesday morning, the Perdue Firm released a formal statement referencing the case:
“In February 2015, one of our partners was approached by a Board member who made a request, he felt, was inappropriate and not consistent with the values of the Firm.
“Given the request by the Board member, our partner immediately sought guidance from the FBI. He followed the guidance of the FBI and assisted them in this matter"
“Two Board members and a private individual were arrested last Friday, November 13th. Given the present circumstances it would be inappropriate to discuss this further.”
The four counts
The four counts laid out in the indictment include Count One, Conspiracy to Commit Bribery and Extortion; Count Two, Attempted Interference with Commerce by Extortion; County Three, Receipt of a Bribe by Agent of Organization Receiving Federal Funds (Donna ISD); and Count Four, the same as Count Three.
The first two Counts include all three defendants. Count One carries a maximum sentence of five years. Count Two carries a maximum sentence of 20 years. Count Three (Eloy Infante) and Count Four (Elpidio Yanez, Jr.) each carry a maximum sentence of 10 years.
In the beginning
According to the federal indictment, both Infante and Yanez used their positions as Donna ISD board trustees to benefit and enrich themselves through “extortion and bribery.” And they used a middle man, Juan Adrian Guerrero, to help facilitate the crime by using him as their “bag man” to carry the cash from Point A to Point B (Infante’s house). Or from Point A to Point C (Yanez’s house).
They didn’t always use Guerrero, however, according to the indictment. Sometimes they would use him to pick up the cash, and on several occasions, they met with a Perdue representative in person (at a school-related conference on South Padre).
As laid out in the federal indictment, the conspiracy to commit bribery and extortion began on or about Feb. 8, 2015, when Guerrero met with a Perdue representative at a McDonald’s Restaurant (I’m Lovin’ It) in Donna and told him that his frm would lose the contract with Donna ISD (tax collections) if he didn’t pay Eloy Infante $10,000.
During a phone conversation on or about Feb. 27, 2015, according to the indictment, Guerrero told the Perdue rep that Infante didn’t want to deal with him (Perdue rep) directly, but wanted to continue using him (Guerrero) as the middle man.
That same day, according to the indictment, Infante’s fellow board member, Elpidio Yanez Jr., called the Perdue rep and asked him to obtain for him fve tickets for a comedy show that his son wanted to attend, and five Spurs tickets that he and Infante wanted to attend.
From there, the pair allegedly grew more reckless and more bold. According to the indictment, they met directly with the Perdue rep, demanding the remainder of the $10,000 bribe (each), because only $3,000 had been paid. They made a motion during a school board meeting to give Perdue a separate and new contract. They allegedly accepted cash bribes in their own homes.
So, if the indictment leads to a conviction, either by a jury trial or a guilty plea, the three men have just thrown away their entire lives, to a large degree; their reputations and their jobs; caused their respective families immeasurable emotional and financial grief and harm; and have lost their freedom for a maximum sentence of 35 years, and for what? Ten thousand dollars each, out of which they would undoubtedly have had to share some with Guerrero for the risk he was willing to take? Comedy show tickets? Tickets to an Aerosmith Concert, and two tickets to see Pop push the Spurs down the court?
Not only that, but based on Perdue’s public statement, which makes it clear that it was the law firm that first contacted the feds about the effort to extort 10 grand from them, Infante and Yanez would have to believe they weren’t at risk of exposure. As if it was going to be a simple slam-dunk that a respected law firm was just going to say, okay, here you go, 10k, see you later, but just make sure we keep our contract.
Who down here doesn’t know that the feds and the state have teamed up to create a public corruption task force, and the crime of bribery and corruption is being focused on like never before?
Not to mention the fact that there are two federal judges sitting in the federal court in McAllen who have made it clear the disdain they have for public offcials who turn corrupt.
It’s hard to believe two elected officials would risk so much for so little.
The pre-trial hearing is set for Dec. 18. Jury selection set for Jan. 5.
Monday, all three defendants were released from custody on a $50,000 bond. Each was required to pony up $1,000 cash. Standard prohibitions apply: they shall have no contact with one another or any potential witnesses; they shall not travel outside the southern district of Texas.
Attorneys representing the three defendants are: Keno Vasquez (retained by Eloy Infante); Roberto Yzaguirre, attorney for former Sheriff Lupe Treviño (retained by Elpidio Yanez); and Eric Jarvis (Juan Adrian Guerrero).
Facing the triple defense, no doubt, mounds and mounds of audio and surveillance video.
In the indictment, it is mentioned that the defendants worked in concert with some co-conspirators. Question is when will we discover who they are?