Federal Grand Jury Charges Three Others with Aiding San Antonio Businessman in a Scheme to Defraud Personal Injury Clients
Today, a federal grand jury returned a superseding indictment against 46-year-old San Antonio businessman Elpidio Gongora (aka “Pete Gongora”) and three other individuals for their roles in a scheme to defraud personal injury clients. Gongora also faces charges relating to evading payment of more than $1 million in taxes and attempting to hide substantial assets from the Bankruptcy Trustee. That announcement was made United States Attorney Richard L. Durbin, Jr.; Christopher Combs, Federal Bureau of Investigation (FBI) Special Agent in Charge of the San Antonio Division; William Cotter, Internal Revenue Service (IRS) Criminal Investigation Acting Special Agent in Charge; and, Judy A. Robbins, U.S. Trustee for the Southern and Western Districts of Texas.
The 17-count superseding indictment charges Gongora; his 48-year-old bookkeeper Rosa Ramirez of San Antonio; 47-year-old Juan Rodriguez of San Antonio; and, 53-year-old Ronald Higgins, former San Antonio attorney and current Sugarland, TX resident, with one count of conspiracy to commit mail fraud. Gongora is also charged with five counts of mail fraud, five counts of bankruptcy fraud, one count of tax evasion and five counts of aggravated identity theft. Ramirez is also charged with five counts of mail fraud and five counts of aggravated identity theft.
According to the indictment, from 2009 through 2014, Gongora, aided and abetted by Ramirez and Rodriguez, operated the law offices of several personal injury attorneys, including the Law Office of Ronald Higgins, in the city of San Antonio and elsewhere in Texas, Arkansas and New Mexico. The indictment alleges that Gongora and Ramirez stole money from these attorneys and their clients by failing to pay monies owed to clients under settlement agreements or to pay obligations for medical treatment and physical therapy after committing to do so. To carry out this scheme, the indictment alleges that Gongora and Ramirez fraudulently endorsed personal injury settlement checks and would hide from the attorneys their failure to pay clients settlement proceeds to which they were entitled. The indictment further alleges that Rodriguez paid money to individuals with insurance and tow truck companies for information pertaining to accident victims. The indictment also alleges that Higgins accepted money in return for allowing Gongora and Ramirez to essentially utilize his law license with impunity and exercised a complete and total lack of oversight.
In 2013, Gongora and his wife filed for Chapter 7 Bankruptcy in the Western District of Texas. The indictment alleges that, in relation to that filing, Gongora failed to disclose to the Bankruptcy Trustee that he owned personal assets that included a 33-foot Chris Craft cabin cruiser; a 29-foot 2005 Seaswirl boat; a 2005 Ford F-150 truck; real property located on Elm Valley in San Antonio; and, a residence located in Aransas Pass, TX.
The indictment further alleges that Gongora willfully attempted to evade paying over $1 million in taxes owed to the Internal Revenue Service for calendar years 2003 through 2005 and 2007 through 2013.
Gongora remains in federal custody after being arrested in April at the San Antonio International Airport. Court summonses will be issued for the other defendants. Upon conviction, conspiracy to commit mail fraud and mail fraud are punishable by imprisonment up to 20 years; bankruptcy fraud, up to five years; tax evasion, up to five years; and, aggravated identity theft, a term of two years.
These charges resulted from an investigation conducted by agents with the Federal Bureau of Investigation (FBI), Internal Revenue Service-Criminal Investigation (IRS-CI) and the U.S. Trustee’s Office. Assistant United States Attorney Bud Paulissen is prosecuting this case on behalf of the Government.
An indictment is merely a charge and should not be considered as evidence of guilt. The defendants are presumed innocent until proven guilty in a court of law.