Opinion

El Paso Corruptor Still Trying To Game System From Prison

At sentencing, the judge labeled Chris Balsiger a “chameleon” for orchestrating such a vast fraud while plying El Paso charities with his philanthropy. The judge described Balsiger as “Dr. Jekyll and Mr. Hyde.”

Thomas “Chris” Balsiger, dubbed the Coupon King by the Wall Street Journal, was sentenced on March 6, 2017 to ten years in federal prison for wire fraud. Balsiger was convicted on a 27-count indictment that included wire fraud, conspiracy and conspiracy to obstruct justice. Although originally charged on March 6, 2007, Balsiger wasn’t found guilty until December 5, 2016 after Balsiger maneuvered to delay his trial for almost ten years.

The court found that Balsiger masterminded a $250 million fraud on manufacturers by corruptly processing unused store coupons at his plant in Cd. Juárez.

Currently imprisoned at La Tuna, he is expected to be released on October 11, 2025. However, during the height of the Covid-19 pandemic, Balsiger tried to get released early from prison because of the pandemic.

Balsiger Seeks Release From Jail Because of Covid-19

On May 22, 2020, House Democrats held a virtual roundtable to discuss the Trump administration’s response to the Covid-19 emergency. The topic of the May 22 session was prisons and jails during the pandemic. There were three panelists at the roundtable. Andrea James and David Patton were two panelists. They represented entities related to prison reform. James is the founder and Executive Director of the National Council on Incarcerated Women and Formerly Incarcerated Women. Patton was the Executive Director and Attorney-in-Chief of the Federal Defenders of New York.

The third panelist was Angela Caldwell. Caldwell was not on the panel to argue prison reform issues. Caldwell was there, instead, to represent her father, Thomas Balsiger’s quest to be released from jail early because of his “advanced coronary artery disease” and Covid-19.

In a June 1, 2020 letter by then-Senator Kamala D. Harris to Attorney General Bill Barr, Caldwell is quoted as stating that she has been “unable to secure” her father’s release from jail. Caldwell was arguing that the Trump administration’s rule of requiring felons to have completed 50% of their sentences to qualify for early release for home confinement under the pandemic emergency is not fair. In June 2020, Balsiger was three and a half years into his ten-year sentence, thus, he did not qualify for home confinement.

Although on the surface it looks like an issue of a daughter looking to protect her father from illness, it nonetheless shows a pattern of how El Paso’s corruptors game the system to benefit themselves.

It is true that there are likely other corruptors across the nation doing the same thing but the fact that Angela Caldwell is part of a Congressional roundtable who is quoted by Harris and is the only one not directly involved in prison reform, demonstrates that El Paso-based criminals will use political influences to benefit themselves at all levels.

Thomas Balsiger is a darling of El Paso politicos even after being convicted of fraud.

Shortly before being sentenced to prison, the judge on the case received several letters asking the judge to be lenient on Balsiger. Among the letter writers included clergy and Beto O’Rourke as well as Dee Margo. O’Rourke wrote the judge that Basiger was his “generous” mentor while Margo argued that Balsiger’s “philanthropy” should mitigate his crimes.

His daughter, Angela Caldwell, has been working hard to have him released since he was incarcerated.

Angel Caldwell

Angela Caldwell, who now lives in Los Angeles California, has staunchly defended her father’s corruption by blaming it on everyone but Chris Balsiger. Now it is a federal jail system that is unfairly treating her father although her father has a “perfect” record in prison.

Screen capture of Caldwell testifying before Congress

Balsiger is imprisoned at the minimum-security La Tuna prison outside of El Paso. As a minimum-security prison, Balsiger enjoys more freedom than most federal prisoners. The Washington Post, in an April 24, 2020 article about early releases due to Covid, calls La Tuna a “dormitory-style” prison”.

Like her father, Caldwell does not address the fact that Balsiger is a criminal, a fraudster and instead focuses on the unfairness of having to complete 50% of his prison sentence before qualifing for early release.

From the beginning, Balsiger’s family and Balsiger himself has portrayed his conviction as a “vendetta”.

Caldwell said after the sentencing that “the prosecution of Chris Balsiger was always about a business vendetta.” Caldwell added that the “family disagrees with the court’s findings and believes that the court got both the facts and the law wrong.” She also said that she was “fully confident that this conviction will be overturned on appeal.”

It wasn’t.

Delays Upon Delays

Although Balsiger told the Wall Street Journal in 2008 that “we are proceeding to go to trial because” he “wanted the truth to come out,” Balsiger instead was able to delay the trial for almost ten years.

From the moment Balsiger was charged he took steps to delay his trial and after being convicted filed appeals asking to overturn his convictions.

In 2014, Balsiger told the court that his lawyer had died and asked the court to give him time to hire a new attorney. Balsiger also lied to the court saying that because of the government he could not afford an attorney.

Balsiger told the judge in January 2015 that he wanted to hire Richard Esper as his attorney to represent him. The judge discovered that Esper could not be ready for trial until 2017. The judge also found that Balsiger could afford to hire an attorney and ordered him to hire an attorney.

Over several status hearings, the judge found that Balsiger was not showing any effort to retain an attorney further delaying the legal proceedings.

After another delay, due to Balsiger’s “health issues,” the trial was held on October and November of 2016.

After his conviction, Balsiger filed an appeal arguing that the judge violated his rights by forcing him to represent himself at trial. The Seventh Circuit denied Balsiger’s appeal finding that he knowingly made the decision not to hire an attorney, although he could afford one because Balsiger wanted to “play the odds.”

The Fraud

The coupon fraud was simple enough. Balsiger had his employees cut out coupons from Sunday newspapers and put them into canvass bags and even a cement mixer to make them look “used” so that the manufacturers would pay for the coupons although they were not used for purchasing the products intended for them.

During the trial, Balsiger was showed as flying into a “rage and threw a phone” at an employee and told another employee, “your honesty is going to kill this company” as the fraud was being exposed.

Like a thriller-spy movie, the court heard how Balsiger’s security men was sent to Juárez to recover a videotape showing the fraud. A car chase ensued, and the video eventually made it to the FBI.

Balsiger, according to court records, coached witnesses to lie, tried to intimidate the ones that refused to lie and perjured himself in court.

At trial, the prosecutor opened the trial with, “This is a case dominated by greed, manipulation and deceit.”

Even with the conviction, the denied appeals and the evidence of abusive behavior, one of El Paso’s darling businessman continues to look for ways to game the system to his benefit.

Imagine an El Paso Hispanic under the same set of facts and ask yourself, would they have a family member advocating for them at Congress or a former congressman and presidential candidate arguing for lenience because of the “generous” amount of time the criminal spent mentoring them and you quickly understand how corruption works in El Paso.

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