FBI Focuses on District Clerk Staff, Sanchez Says He'll Cooperate
by Rene Leon
Posted on June 14, 2007
County Attorney Jose Rodriguez announced late Thursday afternoon that the FBI had used his department’s offices to interview county employees as part of the bureau’s investigation into public corruption within several county offices.
The investigation stems from a recent guilty pleaby former top county aide John Travis Ketner to charges of conspiracy, corruption, and fraud. In his plea, Ketner named 17 individuals and two agencies as co-conspirators in a scheme to extort bribes in exchange for county contracts.
Rodriguez said he was approached by FBI officials who wanted to use space in his fifth floor office suite in the county courthouse as a neutral site to speak to employees of the District Clerk’s Office, which is housed on the first floor. He said around 15 or 20 district clerk employees were interviewed. He also stressed that employees of his office took no part in the interviews.
District Clerk Gilbert Sanchez said he spoke with Rodriguez and told him that he and his staff would be willing to cooperate with any investigation into the matter.
“I’m glad this is happening,” Sanchez said.
Sanchez stated that he was not at all involved in any illegal activity, though he acknowledged that he was the person alleged to be “John Co-Conspirator 3” in a document detailing Ketner’s four-count plea.
“The way it reads, yes, it is,” Sanchez said of being John CC3, who is described in the document as being “a county elected official assisted in his campaign efforts by ‘John CC1.’”
John CC1, the document states, “was an attorney licensed in the state of Texas and a solo practitioner with a small law office who was active in assisting individuals in campaigns for local elected office.”
Sanchez did not confirm or deny that the identity of the person alleged to be John CC1 is Luther Jones, a former county judge and former county attorney, though it is widely speculated it may be him. Sanchez did, however, confirm that Jones helped him in his campaign along with several other attorneys, though he said Jones simply served as an advisor.
Contacted by phone, Jones politely said he would not answer any questions, on advice from his attorney. “We follow the same policy as the U.S. Attorney’s office,” he said, referring to that office’s policy of not commenting on ongoing investigations.
Sanchez also acknowledged that Fernando Parra was “one of many” employees in his office that helped with computer and technical matters, but he did not say whether Parra was the person listed in Ketner’s plea as John CC4.
The plea alleges that John CC4 was responsible for maintaining the computer system at the District Clerk’s Office. It also states that he devised a method to manipulate the random selection of a court and judge for the filing of a particular case, done at the direction of John CC1.
A call made to Parra’s cell phone was answered but quickly ended as Newspaper Tree identified itself. A return call was directed to a voicemail box greeting that stated “Fernando Parra is not available.”
John CC4 is described as “a close personal friend of John CC1, who resided in an apartment owned by John CC1.” The description also states that John CC4 was a former employee of John CC3 (Sanchez).
County to Have Investigation of Its Own
At the same press conference, Rodriguez also announced that county authorities would launch an investigation of their own into the alleged illegal activities due to a high number of requests from the media and concerned citizens.
“I want to assure El Paso residents that my office takes the various allegations very seriously, especially because they could potentially undermine citizens’ confidence in their county government,” Rodriguez said in a prepared statement.
He stated that a particular concern of his office was the allegation that the court selection process was manipulated to influence the outcome of criminal and civil proceedings.
“The court system is the cornerstone of justice in our democracy,” Rodriguez said, “and we will take whatever steps are necessary to ensure that neither money nor other corrupting influences threaten its fairness.”
Rodriguez indicated that as the federal investigation continues his office will review any needed changes to the county bidding procedures, the Code of Ethics, and court case assignments.
Though there are many people speculated to be involved in the conspiracy, there has been no one else, to Rodriguez’s knowledge, who has been indicted.
If any county elected official is indicted, Rodriguez said, there would have to be certain procedures gone through before that person could be removed from office. “First you would have to prove violations of criminal conduct,” he said.
Rodriguez said that his office has been preparing for all possible outcomes to this investigation, including the removal of elected officials.
“As a legal office, we have to be prepared for any eventuality,” he stated. He said this preparation pre-dates the FBI investigation.
* * *
Rene Leon can be contacted at firstname.lastname@example.org, or at 351.0605
Most Viewed Stories
- Sex clubs and swingers in El Paso
- Police Blotter 2.12.09: Bank robber nabbed; FBI says powder sent to offices not harmful; first homicide arrest; top collision intersections; 17-year-old shot self
- ABC-7 reporter and photographer handcuffed, detained while covering I-10 wreck
- Police Blotter 2.24-27.09: Police officer charged with sexual assault; ex-detention officer charged with assaulting inmate; felons captured; motorcycle fatality
- Press Release: Franklin Mountains Wilderness Coalition Leads Effort to Prevent Quarrying Next to Franklin Mountains State Park
- Adrian Pena, accused of bribing a county commissioner, indicted again on $19 million EPISD contract
- Planned Parenthood of El Paso closure status: More than a half million in debt and a state investigation
- Chico's Tacos incident sparks protest and strong words from City Hall
- Chico’s Needs a Change
- Former NCED president and CEO Bob Jones negotiating guilty plea; third defendant wants reasons for wiretap