Former EPISD trustee Sal Mena sentenced to 3 years jail time
POSTED: Monday, December 16, 2013 - 12:52pm
UPDATED: Wednesday, December 18, 2013 - 10:18am
El Paso, TX (KTSM) — Former EPISD board trustee Salvador Marcos Mena Jr. was sentenced in a Federal Court Monday morning to three years in jail, three years supervised probation upon release and he was ordered by Judge Frank Montalvo to pay back $176,455 in money as a forfeiture agreement to the federal government. Judge Montalvo ordered that U.S. Marshals immediately take him into custody and place him on suicide watch.
In February of 2009 Mena pleaded guilty to one count of conspiracy to commit wire fraud, and one count of conspiracy to commit mail fraud.
According to the U.S. Attorney's Office, Mena set up a sham consulting contract with a vendor, under which he received thousands of dollars each month in income, but never provided any actual consulting services. The U.S. Attorney also claims that while Mena was serving on the EPISD Board of Trustees, he traded his vote for campaign contributions with vendors wanting to do business with the district.
Mena was facing between 14 and 17 years in federal prison.
Mena addressed the court Monday and apologized to his family, students, teachers and staff at EPISD as well as to the El Paso community.
"I take full responsibility of my actions and wrongdoings in this case. I allowed myself to get involved in this web of deception." Mena became very emotional during his apology. So much so, that Judge Montalvo ordered a 10 minute recess.
Upon returning from the recess, Mena's attorney, Randy Ortega, addressed the court on behalf of his client. He reminded the court of Mena's cooperation with the federal investigation.
"I certainly believe he's remorseful for his acts," Ortega said, and also added that Mena continues to receive psychiatric treatment. Ortega requested probation for his client.
Government Prosecutor Debra Kanof acknowledged that Mena did provide information that the FBI did not have, that helped convict former EPISD superintendent Lorenzo Garcia.
In his response to Mena, Judge Montalvo said, "Of all the public officials caught, you were the most extensively involved in corrupt conduct, and you're the one that benefitted the most." The $176,445 that Mena was ordered to pay was a forfeiture agreement that was part of his plea agreement. Montalvo said it was the amount the FBI could prove that Mena had received in bribes dating back 17 years to 1989 when Montalvo said evidence proved the corruption started. "Clearly there were more than that," said Montalvo, and added, "Clearly you've done a lot to help the government, but clearly you've done a lot to harm this community."
Montalvo then handed down Mena’s sentence, but had not realized that Mena was not done addressing the court. Judge Montalvo rescinded the sentence and allowed Mena to address the court again.
In tears, Mena said he is very involved in his daughter and granddaughter’s lives and requested probation for that reason. Judge Montalvo said he had a duty to the community then handed down the same sentence of three years in federal prison for each of the two charges to be served concurrently, followed by three years of supervised probation and the more than $176,000 fine.
According Kanof, Mena previously attempted suicide by overdosing on prescription medication. She said she believes that is why he was placed on suicide watch.
Former Bear Stearns representative Chol-Su "Chris" Pak was also sentenced on Monday. He pleaded guilty in a bribery scheme to award Bear Stearns a contract to refinance El Paso County's debt.
For his role in the bribery scheme, Pak was sentenced to three years supervised probation and a $20,000 fine.
Bear Stearns was the financial service company for Thomason Hospital. It failed in 2008 and was eventually sold to JPMorgan Chase.
During the sentencing hearing, Judge Montalvo said that Monday was a unique day in court because of the 39 conviction in this public corruption case, Pak was the least involved, while Mena benefited the most.
Montalvo said Pak was not involved in the corruption for a long time. He worked under the direction of Roberto Ruiz.
According to the Paso Del Norte Group website, Ruiz is a former director of Bear Stearns. In 2008, Ruiz pled guilty to four counts of conspiracy to commit mail, wire fraud and a scheme in which he bribed members of the City of El Paso, EPISD, EPCC and El Paso County Commissioner’s Court to secure votes for certain vendors.