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Official Mistakes, Misconduct and Corruption
Former El Paso County Commissioner Betti Flores pleaded guilty to six counts of conspiracy to commit mail or wire fraud by trading her votes for money, according to an announcement by U.S. Attorney Johnny Sutton Friday. Flores could face 20 years in Federal prison and a $250,000 fine for each count.
The guilty pleas come less than a moth after John Travis Ketner, former chief of staff to the county judge, pled guilty to two counts of conspiracy to commit mail fraud, one count of conspiracy to commit wire fraud and one count of conspiracy to commit bribery. Ketnerís admission implicated 16 other county officials, individuals and companies, including Flores.
Speaking to reporters with the El Paso Times, County Commissioner Dan Haggerty said, "I'm shocked. This just lends credibility to what Ketner was saying.
"You've got somebody actually saying, 'I'm guilty.' How sad is that?" said Haggerty, who served alongside Flores during her four years in office.
"I think something has happened, especially after today," Haggerty said. "This just puts the final nail in a coffin that we can't go back now. I think the citizens deserve to know what this is all about. It's not hearsay anymore."
Flores' pleas come in the midst of a widening investigation by the FBI into public corruption that has involved searches at the County Courthouse, homes of elected officials and business leaders. In May, search warrants were executed at the offices of County Judge Anthony Cobos and County Commissioners Luis Sarinana and Miguel Teran. Agents also raided Teranís home and the home of Thomason Hospital Board of Directors member Arturo Duran.
FBI Assistant Special Agent in Charge Tim Kinard, who has served as the investigative agency's spokesman since May when the FBI searched the El Paso County Courthouse offices of three officials, said he could not answer questions about the court proceedings involving Flores or say where she is or whether she is custody.
Court documents outline the illegal acts Flores admits taking part in, beginning from Jan. 1, 2003, when she took office.
The admissions include:
1. Receiving payments disguised as campaign contributions in exchange for her vote to extend the county's health-care benefits contract.
2. Being paid cash bribes in exchange for her vote on "part of the underwriting contract for a bond initiative for Thomason General Hospital, an underwriting contract for bond issues at the County of El Paso, and to award financial advisory contracts at the court of El Paso.
3. Taking $10,000 in exchange for a favorable vote on a contract for the $20 million El Paso County Parking Garage Annex, and to advocate change orders to the contract.
4. Obtaining money and property by false pretenses in exchange for her vote to settle a lawsuit
5. Taking money and other benefits in exchange for her vote to settle a lawsuit against El Paso County over a tract of land owned by the county and to sell the land.
6. Conspiring with uncharged co-conspirators to make payments to Flores in the form of campaign contributions in exchange for her vote on a contract for the digitization of court records for the district clerk's office.Haggardy said many in the community now view the entire court as being on the take.
"We're all being painted with the same brush at Commissioners Court," Haggerty said. "I look down that row of people thinking I'm one of them. I find them to be so arrogant and difficult and hard to deal with, but wait a minute, I'm just as goofy as they are. Now I can say I'm not."