DALLAS — A court document used in the guilty plea of former El Paso Independent School District trustee Carlos “Coach” Cordova suggests that some of the crimes he is accused of may have involved bond deals. Though details remain sketchy as to the actual events, the document mentions violations of federal law in Dallas and New York, as well as El Paso, over a 12-year period beginning in 1995. Dallas is headquarters to many bond advisory and underwriting firms, including First Southwest Co., the district’s financial adviser. Issuers typically travel to New York’s financial hub for bond pricings.Cordova, 80, pleaded guilty Wednesday to conspiracy to commit mail fraud, wire fraud and deprivation of honest services. The plea was the first by a former school district official in the widespread federal investigation of corruption among public officials in El Paso County. Two former county officials and an architect who worked for the El Paso ISD have also entered guilty pleas.The information filed in court Wednesday states that Cordova received cash in exchange for his vote favoring a vendor seeking business with the district.The information also mentions fraudulent use of the mail in sending “pricing trip letters, preliminary official statements, official statements, proposals, and other correspondence required as a result of contracts entered into between EPISD and the vendors.”The district’s last bond deal, for $98 million in June, was managed by Merrill Lynch & Co. and co-managed by Southwest Securities, UBS Securities LLC, Banc of America Securities LLC, and Ramirez & Co. None of those companies have been identified as targets of the investigation, which was revealed in a court document about a month before that bond deal.First Southwest served as financial adviser on the deal and continues to work in that capacity, school district officials said.Officials at First Southwest said they could shed no more light on the investigation than what has been publicly reported. “First Southwest has been assured that it is not a target of the El Paso public corruption investigation,” chief executive Hill Feinberg wrote in a prepared statement. “Integrity is important to the firm. We intend to cooperate fully with the federal government in connection with the investigation and want to see justice done.”Hector Zavaleta worked on the June deal as managing director for First Southwest. He has since resigned from the firm and has said through his attorney that he is cooperating with the investigation.Other bond industry executives who have left their firms since the investigation began include Roberto “Bobby” Ruiz, managing director of Bear Stearns & Co. and two RBC Capital Markets executives — Mel Schonhorst, managing director, and vice president Steven Fuller.All of those companies have said they are not targets of the investigation.Cordova, who had been a respected leader in the community until his guilty plea, resigned from the school board Aug. 29 along with another trustee, Sal Mena Jr.That month, an architect who had done business with the board, Bernardo Lucero Jr., pleaded guilty to helping to secure a fraudulent loan for one of Mena’s family members. At the time, Lucero was under contract to build the recently opened Hut Brown Middle School.In 1996, the El Paso school district board named the Carlos Cordova Middle School in Central El Paso after the board member. Cordova retired from the school district after 40 years as a teacher and coach. He is a past president of the Bowie High Alumni Association. After his plea Wednesday, he sent the board a letter that read: “As you may already know, I have pleaded guilty to conspiracy to commit mail fraud, wire fraud and deprivation of honest services. I am respectfully requesting that the school board remove the name of Cordova from Cordova Middle School. I believe this is in the best interest of the community and should be done as soon as possible.”El Paso ISD Superintendent Lorenzo Garcia said in a prepared statement that the district was “saddened” by Cordova’s plea, but that “we are also encouraged because we know that we have dedicated teachers, employees, parents and students.”
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