Penitas public servants convicted
McALLEN, Texas – Two local officials have admitted to their respective roles in a bribery scheme and will forfeit a total of nearly $1 million, announced U.S. Attorney Jennifer B. Lowery.
Penitas chief of staff Andres Morales, 41, Mission, and council member Alex Guajardo, 38, Penitas, pleaded guilty today. As part of the pleas, they have agreed to forfeit $739,910.71, and $202,000, respectively, which they retained as proceeds from the scheme. Morales also admitted to making false statements in connection with the purchase of a firearm.
Both men were convicted of participating in a bribery scheme involving the payment of bribes and kickbacks to public servants and officials. The payments were in exchange for official votes or recommendations in support of granting energy savings contracts at various Hidalgo County political subdivisions.
Morales and Guajardo admitted to receiving over $1 million and $275,000, respectively, and to paying thousands in bribe and kickback payments to others. Those included La Joya Independent School District trustees and an administrator in exchange for their official votes and recommendation of the projects.
In addition, Morales also pleaded guilty to making false representations in connection with a purchase of a firearm. Specifically, he falsely claimed on firearms form 4473 that he had not been convicted of a felony, which, in fact, he had.
U.S. District Judge Ricardo H. Hinojosa accepted the pleas and set sentencing for April 6. At that time, each faces up to five years in federal prison for the bribery-related conviction. Morales also a maximum five-year-term of imprisonment for the firearms offense.
Both men were permitted to remain on bond pending that hearing.
The FBI conducted the investigation with the assistance of the Department of Agriculture, Texas Department of Insurance and McAllen Police Department. Assistant U.S. Attorney Roberto Lopez Jr. is prosecuting the case.