Texas Border County Democrat Pleads Guilty to Cash for Contract Scheme

Presidio County

A West Texas Democrat official admitted in federal court that he defrauded local taxpayers by taking bribes in exchange for voting to award a county contract to a particular company.

Lorenzo Padilla Hernandez, formerly Presidio County Precinct 3 Commissioner, pleaded guilty on Friday to one count of conspiracy to commit mail fraud, wire fraud, and deprivation of honest services, said John F. Bash, U.S. Attorney for the Western District of Texas, and El Paso Division FBI Special Agent in Charge, Emmerson Buie, Jr., in a joint statement.

Presidio County is located along the state’s western rim of the U.S.-Mexico Border.

Hernandez, 56, confessed that from August 2015 to June 2017, he conspired to collect approximately $19,800 in bribes from an undercover federal agent. In exchange for the money, Hernandez agreed to vote on May 9, 2017, to award a $300,000 Presidio County contract to a computer document management software company, which, according to Valentine Radio News, was a bogus firm created as part of the FBI sting operation in this case.

On June 29, 2017, Hernandez and his alleged co-conspirator Carlos Eduardo Nieto, a special projects coordinator for the City of Presidio and a trustee for the Presidio Independent School District, were arrested on federal fraud and bribery charges. Prosecutors unsealed a six count grand jury indictment that originally charged Hernandez with two counts of bribery concerning programs receiving federal funds, conspiracy to commit mail and wire fraud, and two counts of wire fraud and the deprivation of honest services.

“The individuals charged hold positions of public trust and will be held accountable. The FBI is committed to aggressively investigating allegations of public corruption and, where warranted, seeking appropriate federal charges,” said Buie at the time of the arrests.

Two weeks later, the Presidio County Commissioners Court sought permission to contact Hernandez by letter and ask him to voluntarily resign or take a temporary leave of absence. Marfa Public Radio reported that a Texas government code precluded the other commissioners from removing Hernandez from office. The disgraced commissioner finally submitted a letter of resignation in late October.

In 2016, Hernandez ran as one of two Democrat candidates for Presidio County Commissioners Court, according to the Texas Association of Counties. He was the incumbent.

On July 21, 2017, a judge released Hernandez and Nieto, on $20,000 bond each. The men were required to surrender their passports, wear GPS ankle tracking devices, meet regularly with parole officers, and submit to random drug and alcohol testing, among other conditions.

According to federal prosecutors, Hernandez continues to remain on bond pending sentencing scheduled for November 19, 2018. He faces up to 20 years in federal prison.

Co-defendant Nieto, 66, was indicted on one count of conspiracy to commit mail and wire fraud and one count of mail fraud and the deprivation of honest services. Federal prosecutors alleged Nieto solicited and received $8,300 in bribes for using his position and influence to secure the same computer company in this scheme. Nieto’s trial is scheduled for October 16. If convicted, he also faces up to 20 years in federal prison.

The FBI, with assistance from Homeland Security Investigations (HSI) and the Texas Department of Public Safety Criminal Investigations Division, investigated this case.

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