Guzman, Sambrano plead guilty to conspiracy in South Texas corruption case
by David Crowder
Posted on January 5, 2009
El Paso businessmen Steve Sambrano and Ramiro Guzman, who once moved in the city’s most elite business and political circles, pleaded guilty to public corruption charges in South Texas today on the eve of their trial.
Sambrano, 49, owned SamCorp., a major El Paso construction company. Guzman, 62, was a businessman and well-known lobbyist who worked with officials in El Paso and Austin.
Both were indicted in March on charges of conspiring to defraud the Pharr-San Juan-Alamo Independent School District by giving things of value to school board members in an effort to bribe them for their votes.
In May, SamCorp apparently closed. [Is SamCorp Closed?, NPT May 21, 2008]
Also, the company was sued by creditors. [Bank seeks $4 million from SamCorp, Sambrano family, NPT July 29, 2008]
The two pleaded guilty to a single count of conspiracy to commit mail fraud in federal court in McAllen today at their final hearing before jury selection was scheduled to begin in their case Tuesday.
Their sentencing is set for April 3 in McAllen.
Asked if the guilty pleas were part of a plea agreement, Sambrano’s defense lawyer, Sheldon Weisfeld of Brownsville, said, “I really can’t discuss that right now.”
Asked if the pleas end the investigation, he said, “I believe so, at least in regards to Mr. Sambrano and Mr. Guzman.”
Guzman's lawyer, Joe Spencer of El Paso, would not comment.
The acting U.S. attorney for the Southern District of Texas, Tim Johnson, released a statement today saying Sambrano and Guzman pleaded guilty to conspiring to provide school trustees with items of value in exchange for their help in delivering school construction contracts to Sambrano Corp., commonly known as SamCorp. [Editor's note: The preceding sentence was changed at 6:20 p.m. Jan. 5, 2008, to reflect the correct names of the two who pleaded guilty.]
The illegal acts were committed in 2003 and 2004 when SamCorp was awarded contracts to build two schools and a maintenance building.
Johnson's statement says the items of value included tickets to a San Antonio Spurs game for three board members, clothing for two trustees, tickets to Houston Astros games for one trustee, tickets to an Oscar de la Hoya fight in Las Vegas worth $6,500 for various school officials and a "Final Four" package including game tickets and hotel rooms to the NCAA tournament in San Antonio worth $14,000 for one school trustee.
The conspiracy charge to which they pleaded guilty carries a maximum sentence of five years in federal prison and a fine of up to $250,000.
Judge Ricardo Hinojosa allowed both men to remain free on bond until their sentencing.
At least one district trustee has pleaded guilty in the case. Raul "Roy" Navarro pleaded guilty in November, according to a news release from the U.S. Attorney's office. [link]
To reach David Crowder, write to firstname.lastname@example.org or call (915) 351-0605
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