El Paso

All Roads Lead To Rick Armendariz

Last month, the El Paso Politics connected the secretive mailout being sent to El Paso voters in support of the incumbent candidates to a local political firm named the Forma Group. The Forma Group is a political consulting group that has been involved in several political campaigns and controversies.

According to a 2008 presentation the Forma Group gave to the El Paso County Elections Department, the firm was formed in 2003. The presentation states that Ricardo Armendariz is the managing partner. [7]

Although the presentation stated that the Forma Group was established in 2003, its Articles of Incorporation were filed on October 20, 2010. In 2012, the company forfeited its Texas operating status due to not filing its required financial information with the state. Its charter was reinstated the following year after it met its statutory obligations.

However, the Forma Group was not the only Armendariz’ company. On February 1, 2005, Ricardo Armendariz registered a non-profit named the United Plumbers of Texas El Paso. The non-profit was created to “promote the plumbing profession through active participation in the industry and governmental process,” according to its Articles of Incorporation.

In 1994, Armendariz created Dynasty Insulation, Inc., according to state records. Like the Forma Group, Dynasty’s company charter was revoked by the State of Texas in 2000 for failure to file the appropriate required tax documents.

Rick Armendariz

Rick Armendariz first surfaced in El Paso’s political scene as Norma Chávez’ assistant.

In November 2002, Rick Armendariz quit as Norma Chávez’ administrative assistant. Armendariz told the local newspaper that he left because he had “reached the salary cap for a state House legislative aide.” [1] Although the El Paso Times listed Armendariz’ title as “administrative assistant,” the Texas House of Representatives listed his title as a Legislative director in 2001. [4] It is unclear why the title discrepancy exists.

Norma Chávez told the El Paso Politics that Armendariz was her “chief of staff.” When asked why Armendariz stopped working for her, Chávez responded that Armendariz, “made the decision to leave,” adding that Armendariz has a “different value set” from hers. [12]

The El Paso Politics asked Chávez to share with us her thoughts about Armendariz. Chávez told us that, “Rick is all about the money.” She concluded, Armendariz is “very ambitious,” but that for him “it is about the dollar.” [12]

Joyce Wilson

Rick Armendariz was one of two individuals in the Wardy administration working on transitioning the city towards the city manager form of government. In 2004, the City of El Paso transitioned away from a strong mayor form of government towards a city manager government. Armendariz was the intergovernmental relations liaison for the Joe Wardy administration. [2]

It remains unclear how much influence, if any, Armendariz had on the appointment of Joyce Wilson as the city’s first city manager.

In 2008, the Forma Group made its first public appearance when it partnered with the non-profit El Paso Police Foundation to run the “Stop Graffiti El Paso” campaign. The Forma Group donated a 30-second video public announcement to the project. [13]

Texans for Lawsuit Reform

Texans for Lawsuit Reform was founded in 1994. In 2003, the Texas House of Representatives passed lawsuit reform legislation that put limits on lawsuit damages. According to the Austin American-Statesman, a total of $6.3 million was spent to advance the legislation. Texans for Lawsuit Reform contributed $1.2 million to candidates in 20 legislative races to help with the lawsuit reform legislation. [8]

Also, according to the Austin-based non-profit Texans for Public Justice, Texans for Lawsuit Reform paid Armendariz’ firm, the Forma Group during the 2012 election cycle for lobbying efforts. Another client of Forma’s was Marisa Marquez. [9]

Marisa Marquez

In 2008, Marisa Marquez was challenging Paul Moreno for Moreno’s Texas House of Representatives’ seat. Marquez reported $5,000 in political contributions from Woody Hunt, Paul Foster and Bob Hoy during the January 25 to February 23, 2008 reporting period. Another $14,000 “came from Texans for Lawsuit Reform.” [10]

In 2012, a postcard delivered to El Paso voters created controversy. Then-Republican Dee Margo was running against Joe Moody, a Democrat for Margo’s state seat. The controversy resulted from two Democrats endorsing a Republican who was running against a Democrat in a partisan race. [11]

Dee Margo Postcard, 2012

Moody, who was trying to reclaim the seat he lost to Margo, had not received any financial support from the Texans for Lawsuit Reform PAC. Gonzalez and Marquez, the two Democrats in the mailer had accepted support from the PAC, as well as Margo. [11]

Marquez went to work for the Forma Group in 2016 shortly after announcing she was not running for reelection. Her term ended in 2017.

Other work

In addition to Armendariz’ three companies under the umbrella of the Forma Group, Armendariz is listed as an external consultant for Austin-based Strategic Partnerships, Inc. [3] The company is provides consulting services for government procurement and public relations focused on government, as well as research. It was founded in 1994.

The Carrasco Lawsuit

On December 11, 2012, Barbara Carrasco sued Rick Armendariz and his company Forma Group. [5] According to Carrasco’s civil lawsuit, she had paid Forma Group $6,250 on December 10, 2010 to provide political consulting work for her. After numerous delays, Carrasco finally met with Rick Armendariz and Mark Smith on April 15, 2011 to review the work Forma had completed. At the meeting, Armendariz and Smith presented Carrasco “a binder of printed materials and an unmarked compact disk, which contained material that TGF (Forma) and Rick claimed was the research portion of the Project.” [5]

Barbara Carrasco Campaign Work Product Produced by Forma Group, 2012.

Carrasco was the Republican candidate for the United States House of Representatives, District 16 in 2012. She lost to Beto O’Rourke, 32.9% to 65.4% of the vote.

According to the court documents, the binder and compact disc “merely consisted of disorganized, generic, irrelevant, incomprehensible, and unnecessary internet research.” [5]

When Carrasco demanded her money back, Armendariz told her that he had spent $3,000 on a researcher, although “Rick had previously represented to Barbara that he had personally conducted the research.” [5]

In 2013, Carrasco settled the case with Armendariz. According to the settlement agreement, the Forma Group paid Carrasco $3,000.

The case was dismissed on March 19, 2013.

The El Paso Tomorrow PAC

As the El Paso Politics reported, the El Paso Tomorrow PAC was created to promote the 2012 Quality of Life bonds. According to its financial disclosure forms on October 8, 2012 and January 15, 2013, the PAC raised $236,050. It spent $213,694. 50.

The Forma Group was paid $201,332 from the PAC. The amount represents 94% of the money raised by the PAC.

Much of the funding for the PAC came from Mountain Star Sports, LLC, which is owned by Woody Hunt and his son, Josh Hunt. Paul Foster and his wife, Alejandra de la Vega are also owners.

Mountain Star Sports owns the El Paso Chihuahuas, a Class AAA Pacific Coast League Minor-League baseball team. They are also part owners of the FC Juárez Bravos, a Mexican soccer Liga MX (Tier-1) team based in Cd. Juárez. In 2018, Mountain Star announced that its El Paso soccer club, The El Paso Locomotive FC would be playing in the USL Division II league.

Mountain Star gave $105,000 to the El Paso Tomorrow PAC.^

The Forma Group has been a consultant for various El Paso politicians, including Dee Margo who is facing a runoff election against Oscar Leeser in December.

According to campaign financial reports, Margo paid the Forma Group $40,731.14 through December 2019. Margo’s two financial reports for 2020 show no payments made to the Forma Group in 2020. However, the secretive mail out that was sent to El Paso voters before the November 3, 2020 elections suggested voters keep incumbents like Dee Margo in office.

Footnotes:

  1. Gary Scharrer, “Sanchez says no to debate El Paso,” El Paso Times, September 14, 2002.
  2. David Crowder, “City prepares for transition to manager,” El Paso Times, April 6, 2004.
  3. Strategic Partnerships, Inc. website (spartnerships.com) accessed on October 28, 2020.
  4. “Legislative Staff: 77th Legislature,” Texas House of Representatives, House Research Organization Focus Report, February 21, 2001.
  5. Barbara Carrasco v. The Forma Group, LLC, and Ricardo Armendariz a/k/a Rick Armendariz, 384th District Court, El Paso, Texas, December 11, 2012.
  6. Release and Settlement Agreement, Barbara Carrasco v. The Forma Group, LLC, and Ricardo Armendariz a/k/a Rick Armendariz, 384th District Court, El Paso, copy provided to author by Carrasco.
  7. Get Out the Vote Message Concept delivered to the El Paso County Elections Department, 2008.
  8. Dave McNeely, “Gan Old Politics,” Austin American-Stateman, July 20, 2003.
  9. New Disclosure rules Expose: Corporate-Funded Campaign Consultants Report, Texans for Public Justice, December 17, 2013, (Texans for Public Justice is an Austin-based non-profit organized in 1997 focused on exposing political corruption.)
  10. Brandi Grissom, “Moreno says rival GOP money,” El Paso Times, February 27, 2008.
  11. Patrick Michels, “In El Paso, Two Democrats Back a Republican for the Texas House,” Texas Observer, November 1, 2012.
  12. Norma Chávez, former Texas State Representative, in a telephone interview with the author on October 28, 2020.
  13. Daniel Borunda, “New ad campaign targets vandals,” El Paso Times, August 15, 2008.

Notes:
^Originally, Mountain Star Sports Group gave the El Paso Tomorrow PAC $115,000, however $10,000 was returned to them, according to the PAC’s financial statements.

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1 reply »

  1. Interesting read on Armendariz. What I don’t understand Martin, is how your investigative research only hits the surface. It’s clear that Armendariz has alot of enemies, much like yourself, love to protest their disdain in the streets but have you looked under those “enemies” sheets? Like Richard Pineda? The so called political “expert” from UTEP who almost begs to be on any and every KVIA interview recently took an interview to bash FORMA and their “non-political” political mailer. Wasn’t his wife fired from Texas Tech for stealing? Literally padding her department’s accounting with personal expenses and then flaunting them all over social media? So bad that she was unhirable in El Paso. I almost fell out of my Lazy Boy to find him giving a critique on ethics. Plus how can he be impartial? He is an Escobar, O’Rourke groupie. Also, the Mayor’s current Chief of Staff is another rather undesireable passed around and even served under thief Pineda at Texas Tech. So while all roads lead somewhere, you my friend are taking all the easy shots.

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