Jurors Acquit County Officials Of Conspiracy, Bribery Charges
LAREDO, Texas (AP) _ Five Hidalgo County officials were acquitted Thursday of rigging contract bids for kickbacks in their second federal trial.
Suspended County Judge J. Edgar Ruiz wept and embraced his attorney as U.S. District Judge George Kazen read the verdict.
``Obviously we’re relieved and happy. We just went through so much pain,″ said Ruiz, who was suspended after being indicted last summer. ``For my family, for everybody _ it’s unbelievable we had to go through this.″
The first trial, held in Hidalgo, ended in a hung jury in December. The case was moved to Laredo due to publicity.
In addition to Ruiz, commissioners Sam Sanchez and Abelardo Arcaute, former Commissioner Leonardo Camarillo and Head Start Director Luciano Ozuna were charged.
An 86-count indictment charged the defendants with conspiracy to commit mail fraud, mail fraud, bribery and extortion. Charges ranged from three counts against Sanchez to 31 against Arcaute. Ruiz faced nine counts.
The officials were accused of awarding about $1 million in county business to favored companies at inflated prices in exchange for about $30,000 in kickbacks. Ruiz was accused of taking the most, including $14,000 in cash and $950 worth of plane tickets to Houston and Las Vegas.
The defense agreed there had been kickbacks, but said they were all set up former county purchasing agent Ramiro Gonzalez, and that he had turned the others in to save himself.
Gonzalez, who had earlier pleaded guilty to a lesser charge, testified for the prosecution and admitted bribing the officials. His sentencing date has not been set.
Several jurors said Gonzalez was the determining factor.
``Hearing Ramiro Gonzalez ... he was just lying. That was the main reason,″ said Jorge Martinez.
The case was part of a federal effort to target corruption in South Texas.
In July 1994, Hidalgo County Sheriff Brig Marmolejo Jr. was sentenced to seven years for taking $151,000 in bribes for allowing a drug trafficker to have special privileges in jail. Also that year, a federal investigation in nearby Zapata County resulted in drug-related convictions of former County Judge Jose Luis Guevara, former Sheriff Romeo Ramirez and former County Clerk Arnoldo Flores.