Political corruption requires three things to be successful – a willing political candidate, a complicit news media and corrupt individuals looking for an edge. Although the signs of corruption surround corrupt individuals throughout their political careers, they cover up their misdeeds by attacking those trying to expose them. The coverups are enabled by a news media that covers for them, are too lazy to act as news gatherers or are part of the corruption. Law enforcement often helps with the cover up.
In today’ edition the reader will be able to understand how corruption exists in El Paso and how it is covered up over the years to keep the corrupt in place. Readers will see how the corruption is evident but covered up by law enforcement and the news media – editorials and news reports – that allow the corruptors to proclaim innocence.
Larry Medina is the case study on public corruption in El Paso.
Public corruption does not exist in a vacuum. Examples of corrupt behavior abound but are ignored or deflected as they become evident.
Larry Medina has served as a city representative, county commissioner and on several governmental boards, including the El Paso Housing Authority. Larry Medina first ran for office in 1993 for the East-Central city representative office vacated by Tony Ponce. In a seven-person race for the seat, Larry Medina and Rosalio “Chalio” Acosta were forced into a run-off. Medina went into the run-off with 27% of the vote against Acosta’s 25.5% of the vote. Medina lost to Acosta but continued to run for office.
The History of Larry Medina Corrupt Incidents
Over the years that Larry Medina was in public office, he exhibited several examples of corrupt behavior.
In 1997, at least two sexual harassment charges were filed against Larry Medina by employees at his insurance company. [Laura Smitherman, “Another to sue Medina in sex harassment case,” El Paso Times, June 6, 1997]
On December 12, 1999, Larry Medina was “handcuffed and briefly arrested” by El Paso Police officers at a Circle K convenience store at 4:30 a.m. The officers who handcuffed Medina reported that Medina was “observed to be highly intoxicated, with slurred speech, poor balance, bloodshot eyes and smelling of an unknown alcoholic beverage.” Medina was released at the scene. Later in the year, the police department announced that no charges would be filed against Medina in that incident.
In a 2000 fraud case against Larry Medina’s insurance agency, the jury found that his “insurance agency committed fraud.” The jury ordered Larry Medina “to pay a 32-year-old mechanic $378,000.”
In 2001, Larry Medina and six others were involved in an airplane crash in Chihuahua. In addition to Medina, then-County Commissioner Carlos Aguilar III, then-Canutillo School District Trustee Carl Frietze were on board the aircraft. Architects Morris Brown and Sergio Martinez along with the pilot were also on board when the aircraft performed an emergency landing due to electrical problems.
The presence of the elected officials with the two architects raised questions about the appropriateness of the trip when the architects had business before the government entities represented by the officials traveling with them.
In 2002, Larry Medina, along with other officials, was criticized for accepting a reduced rate ticket to Mexico City on an inaugural flight by Azteca Airlines.
In all, there were five cases documented of behavior that was questionable at best.
Distracting Corrupt Behavior
Larry Medina championed ethical behavior publicly while being corrupt himself. Medina did this by pretending to support anti-corrupt initiatives, feigning ignorance of corruption or being “surprised” when corruption was exposed.
In 1999, while announcing he was seeking a second term as city representative, Medina offered to “put more teeth” into the city’s ethics ordinance.
Shortly after it was reported that Travis Ketner had pleaded guilty to corruption charges in 2007, the El Paso Times quoted Larry Medina as saying, “ultimately the public officials elected are responsible for ensuring that the government is run honestly and ethically.” [Tammy Fonce-Olivas, “Cobos’s Aide Guilty,” El Paso Times, June 9, 2007]
On November 11, 2007, Larry Medina demanded that Rachel Quintana be “honest with the public,” after Quintana had been accused of forging a document for a reduced fare on Southwest Airlines. Medina added, “the public and the press is not stupid.” [Darren Meritz, “Many want city rep to be honest about fare incident,” El Paso Times, November 11, 2007]
Then on November 28, 2007, when Carlos “Coach” Cordova pleaded guilty to public corruption, the El Paso Times quoted Larry Medina as stating that he was “surprised and saddened,” adding “I’ve always known coach to be 100 percent above board.” [Ramon Bracamontes, et al, “Ex-trustee guilty,” El Paso Times, November 29, 2007]
Attacking Those Exposing Corrupt Behavior
To discourage being exposed, corruptors attack the messenger alleging corruption. When that fails, corruptors first try to discredit those attempting to expose them and when that fails they use the legal system to intimidate transparency seekers into silence.
In 2002, Daniel Borunda penned a series of “special reports” on Jaime O. Perez, the Medina recall organizer. On June 26, 2002, the El Paso Times’ published an article by Daniel Borunda alleging violations of the Texas election code in the efforts to recall Larry Medina. [Daniel Borunda, “Recall effort may have violated law,” El Paso Times, June 26, 2002]
Readers should note that the Borunda article in the newspaper was published after the recall petition had been announced in May, but before the signatures were officially presented to city officials. Borunda had asked to interview the author for an “upcoming special report” on El Paso businesses on the internet. As Borunda interviewed the author, he took various pictures of the equipment at the business office. Most important is that the El Paso Times article lists “possibly investigations” that can be launched and who would launch them.
At the time the article was published, no investigations were being conducted by any officials, yet the Times’ article suggested two agencies that should open an investigation into wrongdoing by the author and the recall petition organizers. They were the Ethics Commission and Jaime Esparza.
The Ethics Commission said that “if it receives a sworn complaint,” it can open an investigation. The Times article also suggested that the office of Jaime Esparza “could pursue a potential criminal case.” The El Paso district attorney’s spokesperson is quoted by the paper as stating that the prosecutor “would first need an investigation to determine whether any laws were violated and then would determine if a case could be prosecuted.” [Daniel Borunda, “Recall effort may have violated law,” El Paso Times, June 26, 2002]
In other words, the El Paso Times, through its reporter, first attempted to gather incriminating evidence and then published an article suggesting how the recall petition could be ended through a criminal prosecution.
The El Paso Police Department created the Public Integrity Unit in September 1998 “to investigate criminal allegations against elected officials and government employees.” [Patrick C. McDonnell, “P.I.U. finds itself with plenty to do,” El Paso Times, December 17, 1999]
The investigation of criminal behavior by officials by the police department had been conducted the police department’s white-collar crime unit prior to that.
After the El Paso Times alleged that the recall against Larry Medina may have violated election law, the police public integrity unit investigated the author for violations. Among the tactics used by the police unit was interviewing the business office landlord about the author’s business practices and how the office rent was paid. [Interview with landlord by author, 2003]
No charges were filed against the author.
However, Larry Medina filed a civil lawsuit in July 2002, against the author’s company using the information, including pictures, gathered by Daniel Borunda.
Borunda, for all intents and purposes was not reporting the news, but rather he inserted himself into the news by both participating in evidence gathering and suggesting ways a prosecution could be launched.
A Willing News Media
Although Larry Medina exhibited various examples of corrupt behavior for years the local news media generally ignored it. The El Paso Times on one hand reported the corrupt behavior while at the same time the editorial page argued for reelecting Larry Medina.
In 1993, the El Paso Times editorial board asked voters to vote for Larry Medina in the city council District 3 race. The Times editorial board wrote, “Medina is just the kind of representative this council and this city needs.” While the El Paso Times editorial board was championing Larry Medina against his opponent, Chalio Acosta in 1993, the El Paso Central Labor Union was endorsing Acosta in that race. [“Labor union backs Krueger for Senate,” El Paso Times, May 20, 1993]
In 1995, the El Paso Times editorial board penned an endorsement of Medina arguing that Medina “is a self-made man with wide business experience.” The Times editorial added that Medina “comes with fresh ideas and a strong desire to serve.” The El Paso Times editorial board argued that the incumbent, Rosalio “Chalio” Acosta lacked “organizational skills.” According to the Times’ editorial, Acosta had done “little” in office and was criticized “for returning $20,000 from his discretionary fund to the city’s general fund, instead of using the money on projects in his district.” [Editorial Board, “East-Central district needs Larry Medina’s potential,” El Paso Times, April 18, 1995]
After the five incidents of questionable activities by Larry Medina detailed above and reported by the newspaper, the El Paso Times continued to opine that Larry Medina should be elected.
In 2003, the El Paso Times editorial board endorsed Larry Medina. The editorial board wrote that “incumbent Larry Medina is the clear choice in this race.” [Editorial Page, “District 3, East-Central,” El Paso Times, April 13, 2003]
Medina was being challenged by José Alexandro Lozano.
In 2005, the El Paso Times editorial board again opined that “Medina should be returned to council.” Medina was running against José Alexandro Lozano to recover his previous seat which Medina had lost to Lozano. “It’s time to put Medina back to work on City Council,” read the Times’ endorsement. [Editorial Page, “District 3,” El Paso Times, April 18, 2005]
The El Paso Times turned a blind eye to the corruption, even though it had documented several questionable actions by Medina.
Worse, in the case of Larry Medina, the El Paso Times went above and beyond by not just turning a blind eye to the corruption, but by wielding the power of the newspaper to both distract from the corruption and attack those wanting to expose it.
On July 1, 2002, 300 pages of signatures were filed with the city seeking a recall election of Larry Medina. The recall was organized by Jaime O. Perez. [Daniel Borunda, “If signatures verified, Medina faces election,” El Paso Times, July 2, 2002]
Shortly after the El Paso Times began to report on the recall petition against Larry Medina, Times reporter, Daniel Borunda contacted the author at his place of business asking to interview him for a special El Paso Times report on the use of internet by businesses in the El Paso. The author’s primary business activity was building websites for business use.
Borunda asked if he could interview the author at his place of business. While doing the interview, the El Paso Times reporter took pictures of several office machines with a digital camera, including an old thermal fax machine.
Instead of reporting, Borunda was working for Larry Medina gathering evidence to be used in what Borunda wrote would be a criminal investigation. The El Paso Times supported the Borunda journalistic malfeasance.
Access to Power Centers
Historically, El Paso politics has had power centers that directed the growth of the city. Originally, political power was centered around two banks who controlled access to capital. Over time, political power was concentrated on two banks and then on one person – Jonathon Rogers.
From there political power began to diversify. One of the methods for access to the city’s political powerbase was getting close to power influencers at restaurants like Freddy’s Café, where politicians were known to congregate.
Another restaurant known for “well-known El Pasoans such as Jonathon Rogers or Larry Francis” to run into while they ate a meal was the Sioux Street Restaurant. In late 1997, Larry Medina purchased the restaurant. Medina told the El Paso Times that he has “never run a restaurant or club.” Medina told the newspaper that he had no intention of buying the restaurant, “but once he noticed the restaurant’s appeal to local influential people,” he made the purchase. [Maria Cortés Gonzalez, “City Council member adds role to of restauranteur to résumé,” El Paso Times, January 15, 1998]
In recent years it has been the El Paso Club that is where the power base eats their meals. Also L&J’s is known for running into power players as well.
Larry Medina established a well-known reputation for news media access. Medina was regularly opining on news media outlets about several issues, including the FBI Poisoned Pawns investigations into public corruption, even after Medina was implicated in the corruption cases.
Sentenced To Prison
In 2010, a sealed indictment charging eleven El Paso officials with seven counts of corruption was filed. It was one of several charging documents filed in the FBI probe into public corruption. Larry Medina was charged as being part of a Racketeering Conspiracy “beginning on or about 1998.” Larry Medina agreed to trade his vote for campaign contributions according to the charging document. [United States v. Francisco “Frank” Apodaca, et al., United States District Court, Western District, EP10CR2284, August 31, 2010]
On Tuesday, February 19, 2013, Larry Medina was sentenced to 16 months in federal prison followed by three years of supervised release for corruption. Medina was also fined $100,000. [Press Release, “Four Sentenced In Connection With El Paso Corruption Investigation,” Department of Justice, February 19, 2013]
Although there was ample evidence demonstrating the corrupt behavior of Larry Medina, he, with the help of a complicit newspaper and leveraged law enforcement was able to pretend he was not corrupt. Not only did the local media turn a blind eye to Medina’s corruption but so did the local prosecutor.
It was federal investigators who finally put an end to Larry Medina’s corrupt behavior although the evidence suggesting his corruption was visible for at least a decade. Medina is one of several El Paso officials who have a history of corrupt behavior but the power-that-be in El Paso continue to use them to keep control of El Paso’s power base.
The El Paso Politics will continue to expose the corruptors in future articles.