From the monthly archives: June 2012

By Mario Conde

The Calexico Unified School District will present the proposed budget for Fiscal Year 2012-13 to be reviewed and approved by the Board of Trustees today.

In the written report given by CUSD Superintendent Richard Fragale, he states that the estimated total ending General Fund Balance at June 30, 2012, is $14,086,001. The unrestricted ending fund balance is estimated at $8,664,387.65, which is 16% of the General Fund expenditures.

“These projections constitute our best estimate at this time of how the district will finish the 2011-12 school year.” Superintendent Richard Fragale said. “Final results will not be known until we close our books and prepare for our year-end financial statements in August. Results will be presented to the board in September.” He said.

Fragale wrote that the District has settled an agreement with the Associated Calexico Teachers with a multi-year agreement ending in 2014. The contents of the agreement are reflected in the 2012-13 budget and multi-year projections, he said.

In other items, the Board will once again consider the layoff of classified employees. The resolution calls for the elimination or reduction of classified positions such as Project Office Assistant, District Services Assistant, Migrant Office Assistant, ASES Parent Liaisons and ASES Campus Security.

The Board was going to discuss this item at its May 31st meeting but decided to table it. The Calexico School Board will meet today at 6:00 p.m. and the meeting will be held at the District Administration Board Room located at 901 Andrade Ave.

To Date, 19 Individuals Have Pleaded Guilty or Been Convicted at Trial in Ongoing Corruption Investigation

WASHINGTON – A federal jury in Elkins, W. Va., convicted Richard Evick, a U.S. Army Sergeant First Class and Non-Commissioned Officer in charge of contracting at a U.S. military base in Kuwait, and his associate, Crystal Martin, of all counts with which they were charged in connection with a bribery and money laundering scheme related to defense contracts awarded in support of Operation Iraqi Freedom, announced Assistant Attorney General Lanny A. Breuer of the Justice Department’s Criminal Division and U.S. Attorney William J. Ihlenfeld II for the Northern District of West Virginia.

Evick was found guilty yesterday of one count of bribery conspiracy, two counts of bribery, one count of money laundering conspiracy, six counts of money laundering and one count of obstructing an agency proceeding.  Martin was found guilty of one count of bribery conspiracy, one count of money laundering conspiracy and four counts of money laundering.

“As the highest ranking enlisted officer in the U.S. Army’s contracting office at Camp Arifjan in Kuwait, Mr. Evick had a special duty to strike deals in the best interests of the American people,” said Assistant Attorney General Breuer.  “Instead, he steered business to dirty contractors in exchange for tens of thousands of dollars in cash and other items.  Mr. Evick, Ms. Martin and their co-conspirators defrauded the government they had sworn to serve.  To date, our investigation has led to the convictions of 19 individuals, and we will continue aggressively to pursue corruption and procurement fraud wherever we find it.”

“The investigation and prosecution of public corruption cases continues to be a top priority for the Department of Justice in West Virginia and throughout the country,” said U.S. Attorney Ihlenfeld.  “Fortunately the vast majority of our public officials are honest and trustworthy, but those who are not will be held accountable.”

Evick served as the U.S. Army’s Non-Commission Officer in charge of contracting at Camp Arifjan between 2005 and 2006.  In that capacity, Evick had the authority to arrange for the award of valuable contracts to supply the U.S. military with bottled water and catering services, maintain Army barracks and install security barriers, among other things.

Evidence presented at trial demonstrated that Evick and his co-conspirators manipulated the contracting process in several ways, including disclosing confidential information about the U.S. military’s plans to procure goods and services and accepting fake bids.  In this manner, Evick and two of his fellow contacting officials, former Army Majors James Momon and Chris Murray, steered nearly $24 million worth of contracting business to certain contractors.  In exchange, these contractors paid Evick more than $170,000 in bribes, a free New Year’s Eve trip to Dubai and parties.

Among the persons who paid Evick these bribes was Wajdi Birjas, a civilian U.S. government employee at Camp Arifjan who had a secret interest in a military contractor operating in Kuwait.  Birjas testified that he provided phony bids to Evick from purportedly independent contractors who were, in reality, controlled by the same individuals.  The evidence showed that Evick used these bids to create the false impression that the contracts were awarded according to Army contracting rules providing for a competitive bidding process.  Birjas also testified that he had a hidden safe at his villa where Momon stored more than $800,000 in bribe money and which Evick used to exchange a large amount of Kuwaiti currency for U.S. dollars.

According to the evidence, Evick gave much of his bribe money to Martin, who had a concession from the Army and Air force Exchange Service to sell merchandise at Camp Arifjan, which was primarily a cash business.  Evick and Martin then transferred tens of thousands of dollars worth of Evick’s bribe money to the U.S. into the hands of Evick’s wife and his girlfriend.  The evidence showed that, in order to conceal the fact that this was bribe money, Evick and Martin converted the money into Western Union wires, money orders, cashiers checks and personal checks.  Evick and Martin also smuggled cash into the U.S. on their persons, Martin often taking military transport flights to avoid customs screening.  Evick used his bribe money, among other things, to purchase and construct a residence on three and one half acres in Parsons, W. Va., and to buy a pickup truck.

The evidence showed that Evick and Martin also participated in a scheme to smuggle $250,000 of bribe money belonging to Momon into the U.S.  Momon testified about a summer 2006 meeting at Kuwait international airport with Evick and Martin, at which Martin described how she was laundering Evick’s bribe money and offered to provide the same service for Momon.  According to evidence presented at trial, Evick offered to bury Momon’s money on Evick’s West Virginia property.  When law enforcement agents interviewed Evick several months later about corruption at Camp Arifjan, Evick falsely stated that he did not know the contractor from whom evidence showed he had received a $150,000 bribe, among other things.

“Contingency contracting provides an opportunity for honest contractors to excel but still runs the inherent risk of fraudulent activity that plagues all government contracting,” said Special Agent in Charge Robert Craig of the Defense Criminal Investigative Service.  “While our service members and defense civilians expect the best from their supporting contracts, we root out the worst and, working alongside our law enforcement partners, continue to aggressively bring those who defraud our nation’s warfighters to justice.”

“We are very pleased with the guilty verdicts in this case,” said Frank Robey, the director of the U.S. Army Criminal Investigation Command’s Major Procurement Fraud Unit.  “It is a warning to anyone, in or out of uniform, who attempts to defraud the Army or the government that we will investigate credible allegations and bring those responsible to justice.  Our agents have done a remarkable job investigating this case along with our fellow law enforcement partners and the DOJ.”

“The fact that a jury convicted these two individuals on all 11 counts stands as a powerful reminder that  those who break the public trust to engage in bribery and money laundering with funds meant for the reconstruction of Iraq will face the full force of the law,” said Stuart W. Bowen, Special Inspector General for Iraq Reconstruction (SIGIR).  “SIGIR and those who work with us will continue work on those cases still open against those involved in illegal acts.”

Evick and Martin face a maximum sentence of five years in prison for bribery conspiracy, 20 years in prison for money laundering conspiracy and 20 years in prison for each count of money laundering.  Evick also faces a maximum of 15 years in prison for each count of bribery, five years for obstructing an agency proceeding and the forfeiture of the proceeds of his bribe scheme, which includes his West Virginia residence.  They also face maximum fines of $250,000 per count.  They will be sentenced by Chief U.S. District Judge John Preston Bailey.  Their sentencing date has not yet been scheduled.

The case against Evick and Martin arose from a corruption probe focusing on the contracting office at Camp Arifjan, a U.S. military base in Kuwait.  As a result of this investigation, 19 individuals, including Evick and Martin, have pleaded guilty or been found guilty at trial for their roles in the scheme.  Momon pleaded guilty in August 2009 to receiving approximately $1.6 million in bribes and agreed to pay $5.7 million in restitution, and he is awaiting sentencing.  Murray pleaded guilty in January 2009 for his role in the scheme and was sentenced in December 2009 to 57 months in prison.  Birjas pleaded guilty in September 2010 and he is awaiting sentencing.

The case is being prosecuted by Trial Attorneys Peter C. Sprung and Eric G. Olshan of the Criminal Division’s Public Integrity Section, and Assistant U.S. Attorney Andrew R. Cogar of the U.S. Attorney’s Office for the Northern District of West Virginia.  The case is being investigated by special agents of the Defense Criminal Investigative Service, the Army Criminal Investigation Command Division, Internal Revenue Service-Criminal Investigation, the FBI and SIGIR.

On Sunday, June 24, 2012, at approximately 1045 hours the Calipatria State Prison C Visiting Floor Officer observed visitor Marisa Griselda Perez, DOB 12/4/1990 from Inglewood CA,  who was visiting with her friend Inmate Alexander E. Pleitez, (DOB 12/24/1975, incarcerated for Murder 1st, LWOP) was observed to have a bag of corn nuts in the C Visiting Room.  The vending machines in visiting do not contain corn nuts for purchase.  Visiting and Investigative Services Unit (ISU) staff approached and separated them conducting a search of the inmate and the visitor.  The bag was confiscated and 19 bindles of what tested positive for methamphetamines was discovered on Mrs. Perez.  The bindles weighed a total of 50 grams estimated to be $75,000.00 worth of drugs in a maximum security prison.  Information leads CAL staff to suspect Inmate Pleitez swallowed two bindles of the contraband was placed on Contraband Surveillance Watch to retrieve the evidence from his bowl movements.
Visitor Mrs. Perez was arrested by on duty ISU staff and transported to the Imperial County Jail for processing and charged with Introduction of a Controlled Substance for the Purpose of Distribution.  Imperial County Jail Deputies were advised that Mrs. Perez admitted to being approximately six months pregnant.
Calipatria State Prison houses 3847 inmates, over 1900 are serving life sentences and 564 are serving life without the possibility of parole (LWOP) .   On Sunday 6/24/2012, 271 adults and 79 minors entered Calipatria State Prison to visit with inmates.
Inmates serving a life sentence have little to lose, the individuals that introduce contraband to the institution have much to lose.

By Mario Conde

The Imperial County Board of Supervisors passed a resolution to apply for EDA funding for various economic development projects in the valley.

On June 1, 2012, Community and Economic Development received an invitation to submit an application to the U.S. Department of Commerce Economic Development Administration under the Economic Development Assistance Program Partnership Planning funds in the amount of $70,000. Per grant application, the County is required to provide a local cash match of $17,500. Historically, EDA grants have provided the County of Imperial with funding to perform various economic development planning activities.

Previously, the Country has applied for funding through the Short-term Planning Partnership fund program. Such activities included updating the County Economic Development Strategy and providing technical assistance to prospective businesses instead interested in locating and operating manufacturing or industrial businesses in Imperial County. In addition, funds were used to attend and participate in economic development trainings and conferences.

Economic Development Director, Esperanza Colio, told the board that they will use this funding to have coordination between the Overall Economic Development Commission, CEDS Strategy Committee, and Project Subcommittee that will oversee the implementation of the regional economic development plan. Promote Alternative Energy Development through identifying and coordinating private/public funding opportunities for these projects. Promote the development of four major areas of development in Imperial County.-Hydro, Geothermal, solar and wind. The County will develop local land use policies and permitting process to fast track projects and identify funding assistance to assist in “gap financing” for certified projects.

The County will also coordinate the development of “private/public partnership” for the development and operation of: International Border Crossing Facility; US Marshall Detention Facilities; County facilities to incarcerate, supervise, and provide treatment services for inmates and other previously handled by the State of California.

Supervisor John Renison asked if the Overall Economic Development Commission or IVEDC would work with the Economic Development Corporation in Mexicali. Colio said that if they would if they have an impact on County region. Renison said they should work with the other side of the border and maybe tackle the issues on the east Port of Entry.

The Board voted 4-0 to approve the resolution with Chairman Mike Kelley being absent on Tuesday’s meeting.


It’s Summertime!

WALMART IS UNDER ATTACK ONCE again for its controversial ways. Now the Asian community in Los Angeles doesn’t want theme establishing stores throughout its sprawling are and bring with them low paying, minimum wage jobs that keep people on the bottom of the earnings scale.
I find this ironic in that Wal-Mart is a store that mass markets to lower income people with lower prices on its goods and services. And it is being criticized by people who would probably benefit form those prices.
However, when it comes to contributing to the overall economy of an area, Wal-Mart has a reputation of staying on the low end of the scale and getting the most it can out of its workers without paying top dollar.
Some people think they are purposely keeping other people poor and their presence can speed the departure of smaller businesses that provide better paying jobs to the community.
It reminds me of protests that were raised when Wal-Mart announced the construction of a super center in Calexico about 10 years ago. Merchants in downtown Calexico. They were led by Joe Moreno and merchants in that area closed early on council day. Then they marched to City Hall to protest the establishment of this giant retailer.
Have they had much impact? Yes. The number of grocery stores in the city have dwindled to a handful while
Walmart food business has spired upward.New stores sprung up around Wal-Mart but there are plenty of empty spaces in those centers as there around the rest of Cole Road.
Whose to blame? Who knows? But people are tired of being pushed into poverty by greedy corporations that shut out the individual and make huge profits at the expense of the working man.
A class war is brewing in this country with a lingering recession.
Those at the top of the corporate food chain should take note before the whole thing boils over.
IT’S SUMMERTIME! Time for the Heatstroke golf tournament. Anybody wishing to go out and play golf when the temperature is pushing 114 degrees deserves a special recognition. Such an event was tried a few year ago, but I think the heat got to the organizers. Some things are just too hot to handle. In addition to sun screen and gallons and gallons of iced tea, you’ll need protective clothing, some iced rags for the back of your neck and a special cooler to put your clubs in.
Nothing like grabbing a warm putter on a hot day! You would probably need gloves on both hands.
You can get up early and go out at the crack of dawn or you can and bake.
Or if you are like me you can stay home, play video golf on your computer, think about playing on a mild day and still drink plenty of iced tea.
SPEAKING OF GOLF I always have to get a few words in about my favorite sport, even if it is too hot to play this time of year.
A year ago I was commenting on “pudding-faced” Rory McIlroy who was taking the PGA by storm and was touted by some as the new Tiger Woods.
We all want out heroes, it would seem. Rory, hasn’t lived up to the hype and finished way down the leader board in the U.S. Open.
There really isn’t a superstar in sight on the tour these days with so many golfers playing at the top of their games. Hot streaks are going to be the order of the day and losing just one stroke can cost you hundreds of thousands of dollars. Tiger, meanwhile, didn’t live up to the hype either following his first win in two years on the tour at the The Memorial. He gave it a good shot for two rounds, but cracked under the pressure in the third round. He slipped even more the next day and took a long back seat to virtual unknown Webb Simpson.
It’s always that way with the U.S. Open, however. It’s not a superstar who wins, it’s always somebody you don’t see coming, sneaks in on the last day to steal the trophy form some of the big names.
Nobody even mentioned Simpson until the last few holes of play. And then he meticulously jumped in front for the win on the 18th.
Tiger will probably have to be content with winning or finishing high in a few tournaments each year. And work hard to get another major event in his pocket.
The fire he used to display isn’t there the way it used to be. It was win at all costs. Now its more like win if I can get up for it. wining $59 million in one season does that to you. So does four operations on your knee and a breakneck style of play that may have done him in.
WE’RE ALMOST TO THE FOURTH OF JULY. Enjoy the weekend, but remember you can’t shoot off fireworks in Imperial County anymore. You can still watch them, though at the annual Freedom Fest at IVC.
If you feel like shooting off a few of them, go across the border to Mexico. You can still make lots of noise over there and not get fined for it.
Enjoy the Fourth and enjoy the freedom accorded us in this great country of ours.

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