DALLAS — A federal indictment of former El Paso County, Texas, Judge Anthony Cobos implicates financial advisor Coastal Securities in a fraud scheme surrounding a $40 million bond refunding in 2007.
Coastal managing director Jorge Rodriguez won the financial advisory services contract for the county after providing county commissioner Dan Haggerty with $10,000 worth of basketball tickets and other benefits, according to the indictment.
Neither Rodriguez nor Haggerty has been charged with a crime. Haggerty, who is being treated for bladder cancer in Houston, has said that tickets to the NCAA basketball tournament were not a bribe.
Rodriguez has not commented on the case, but Chris Melton, a Coastal Securities executive vice president, told the El Paso Times that the company will be exonerated.
“We categorically deny the allegations contained in the indictment,” Melton said.
A majority of the current county commissioners have said that they expect to replace Coastal as financial advisor in hopes of restoring trust in the scandal-plagued county.
Two other former bond industry executives, Roberto “Bobby” Ruiz and Christopher Pak of the defunct Bear Stearns, have pleaded guilty to fraud charges in the Cobos case.
Ruiz, former managing director in the Dallas office, pleaded guilty in December 2007 and is free on $10,000 bond while awaiting sentencing. Pak, a former vice president of the Bear Stearns office in Dallas, is also awaiting sentencing after pleading guilty in December 2007 to engaging in a scheme to bribe an elected El Paso County commissioner.
More than 30 people have been indicted in the wide-ranging Federal Bureau of Investigation probe of corruption and bribery in city, county, and school district government that began in 2004. Those indicted include some of the county’s most prominent attorneys and businesses that were awarded contracts, allegedly in exchange for bribes of public officials.
Cobos is accused of taking cash bribes from financial service companies seeking to refinance $40 million of county debt in 2007.
Cobos, who was released from jail last week, remained the county’s top official, even after the guilty pleas of the Bear Stearns executives and Cobos’ own chief of staff John Travis Ketner.
Former county commissioner Elizabeth “Betti” Flores and former county judges Luther Jones and Dolores Briones were also indicted in separate schemes.
In the course of selecting underwriters, Cobos sought to replace First Southwest Co.’s Hector Zavaleta as financial advisor because Zavaleta’s “father did not contribute to [Cobos’] campaign for county judge,” according to the indictment. Zavaleta has since left First Southwest but has worked closely with the FBI as a witness in the case.
Haggerty allegedly negotiated with Cobos to have Coastal named as the new financial advisor, according to the indictment. After Haggerty received the gifts, Cobos made a motion in a commissioners meeting to name Coastal, and Haggerty seconded the motion.
The Dec. 14 indictment also names lobbyist Lorenzo Aguilar, who allegedly arranged three cash bribes of $1,500 each to Cobos.
“The citizens of El Paso County expect, and are entitled, to have their elected representatives make decisions on the basis of the merits of what they are voting on, not whether or how they can personally benefit,” said U. S. Attorney Robert Pitman in a statement.
The indictment describes a year-long conspiracy that began around New Year’s Day 2007. Among those who discussed the scheme were Raymond Telles, an El Paso attorney, and Antonio “Tony” Dill, an El Paso lobbyist and political consultant, both of whom have pleaded guilty to conspiracy charges.
At a March 12 meeting at an El Paso restaurant, Cobos allegedly asked Ruiz and Telles to make “additional campaign contributions to individuals running for El Paso City Council who were supported by [Cobos],” according to the indictment. The City Council candidates were not named.
On March 19, 2007, the County Commissioners Court authorized Zavaleta to begin working on the $40 million refunding to seek savings on interest cost.
On the same day, Cobos and other commissioners approved the hiring of Ruiz with Bear Stearns as the underwriter and Telles as the underwriter counsel. Several days later, Jorge Rodriguez with Coastal Securities allegedly gave Haggerty the basketball tickets “and other benefits valued in excess of $10,000.”
Haggerty allegedly agreed to vote to terminate the First Southwest contract if Cobos would support giving the contract to Coastal.
The commissioners voted on April 16 to terminate the First Southwest contract. On Aug. 20, Cobos made a motion seconded by Haggerty to award the financial advisory services contract to Coastal Securities.
During the course of the investigation, Haggerty often spoke of the need to clean up the bidding process.