HIDALGO TEXAS, Texas (ValleyCentral) — A member of the La Joya Independent School District (ISD) Board of Trustees pleaded guilty to conspiring to defraud the United States government through a four-year scheme.
On Thursday, Armin Garza, a La Joya ISD board of trustees member, entered a guilty plea on a charge of conspiracy to defraud the United States that was brought against him on Wednesday.
According to court documents, Garza, along with several unnamed conspirators, was involved in a scheme where hundreds of thousands of dollars were laundered and illegally exchanged between several companies and local government officials.
Documents state Garza began the scheme in May 2017 when he agreed to award an energy savings contract with an unnamed company in exchange for bribes as a member of the La Joya ISD board of trustees. Garza further got more companies to join in the scheme to bribe him in exchange for work contracts with the district.
Additionally, Garza “exerted influence” over four elected officials at other local government entities by promoting the awarding of contracts to one of these companies. In exchange, Garza agreed to support these elected officials with votes.
Three of these elected officials received promotions or stipends as employees of La Joya ISD for their participation with Garza.
The companies involved issued checks to Garza totaling over $200 thousand in bribes early on in the conspiracy but were done in a way to “conceal the bribe and kickback payments,” according to court documents.
Garza and co-conspirators engaged in WhatsApp conversations to discuss their actions. According to court documents, they referred to themselves as a “cartel,” dubbed the conversation name “Chapo Enterprises,” and discussed details on the conspiracy.
Federal court charges were brought against Garza on Wednesday. He subsequently pleaded guilty on Thursday.
In agreement with the plea deal, Garza must forfeit $234,500, the total he is reported to have obtained during his involvement in the conspiracy.
The crime of conspiracy to defraud the United States carries a maximum punishment of five years in federal prison, however, in compliance with Garza’s guilty plea, the government recommends decreasing Garza’s punishment by two levels as stipulated in the U.S. Sentencing Guidelines.
Garza’s sentencing will take place on March 18.
At this time, the coconspirators, in this case, have not been named.