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El Paso Criminal Boss Out Of Jail And Facing New Court Case

According to the Federal Bureau of Prison’s inmate look up tool, Chris Balsiger (BOP: 08784-089) is in San Antonio transitioning out of prison. (accessed on November 1, 2021) RRM San Antonio is a federal halfway house. The federal courts website states that a federal inmate can be placed into a residential reentry center (RRM), like the San Antonio one, for up to one year. Although Balsiger is listed as being at the halfway house, it is likely the way the Bureau of Prisons lists convicts under their supervision who are confined elsewhere. According to a U.S. Department of Justice Memorandum to the judge on October 18, 2021, Chris Balsiger was released from La Tuna and placed on “home confinement” on September 15, 2021. [12] Balsiger’s sentence is scheduled through October 11, 2025 and remains under the custody of the Federal Bureaus of Prisons until then. [12]

But according to the prosecutor’s memorandum, he is at home serving the rest of his sentence.

Thomas Christian Balsiger moved to El Paso in 1980 to manage a coupon-processing plant in Cd. Juárez. Coupon processors redeem manufacturer coupons for grocery stores. In 1990, Balsiger left Seven Oaks International, Inc. and formed a clearing house for coupons with Ken Judson, a former executive of Supervalu, Inc. Supervalu owned 51% of Balsiger’s company. [2] By 1996, Balsiger was president of International Data, a company formed by combining North American Data and Indiana Data. [4] In 1997, Balsiger’s company merged with a competitor. This company came to be known as International Outsourcing Services (IOS). [2] According to the Texas Comptroller of Public Accounts, IOS (TX ID: 13519507332) was created on February 18, 2000. The holding company was based in Bloomington, Indiana and Steve Furr was the registered agent. By 2000, Balsiger had become CEO of IOS and by 2001, the company had 70% of the coupon redeemer market share. [3] As of November 13, 2021, Bruce Furr remains the chairman and the President. The Director is listed as Thomas Balsiger, according to Texas public records. Thomas is the legal first name for Chris Balsiger. It is unknown if it is the same company currently operating as IOS in El Paso today.

Progress For El Paso PAC And City Politics

In 2003, Balsiger headed the Progress for El Paso PAC. [5] The PAC was used to fundraise for Ray Caballero’s re-election campaign and candidates willing to support Caballero’s public policy agenda. The Balsiger PAC gave $10,000 to Gerald “Gerry” Cichon who was challenging Anthony Cobos for his city council seat. [13] Of the almost $60,000 raised by Cichon before the election, almost $40,000 consisted of money from the Balsiger PAC and the police union. [13] Cichon conceded to the El Paso Times at the time that Cobos was “targeted.” Cobos was targeted for his opposition to Caballero. In 2003, Chris Balsiger was also a finalist to serve as a board member of the El Paso Water Utility. On March 18, 2003, city council voted 7-1 to appoint Richard Martinez to the board instead of Balsiger. Balsiger was one of the two leading contenders for the water board for three weeks before the vote.

In 2001, Balsiger gave Jay J. Armes $10,000 for Armes’ campaign for the District 6 city council seat. In 1995, Balsiger gave Larry Francis $2,000 for Francis’ mayoral campaign.

The Crime

IOS was not initially the target of the federal investigation on February 26, 2003 when federal agents raided the company. Instead, the federal investigators were looking at Robert MacDonald, an IOS sales manager in Memphis. Twenty-eight individuals had already pleaded guilty to charges related to the coupon fraud being investigated, but the federal investigators continued their investigation into IOS for four more years. On March 8, 2007, Balsiger and ten others were charged on fraud charges related to coupon fraud. [3] The fraud, according to the federal government, was carried out from 1997 through 2006. [2]

Balsiger said at the time that “I have seen my reputation destroyed, I have seen my firm raped and destroyed, and I am not happy.” Balsiger added that he wanted to go to trial “because I want the truth to come out.” [2]

The fraud involved the fees paid by the manufacturers for processing store coupons. In this case IOS, as the coupon processor, split the processing fee paid by the manufacturers to the grocery stores. In addition to the face value of the coupon, manufacturers paid a processing fee that normally would go to the coupon processor. International Outsourcing Services, LLC. (IOS), owned by Balsiger, was the largest coupon clearing house in the nation when Balsiger was charged with fraud in March 2007. [2] The crime involved processing unredeemed coupons and splitting the fraudulently attained coupon values and processing fees from the manufacturers with grocery stores.

Balsiger “vociferously maintained that he was innocent” [8] throughout the ten years the case wound itself through the legal system. He frequently alleged misconduct by the Justice Department. “I’m rich enough, I’m tough enough and they are not going to get away” with prosecuting him he told the El Paso, Inc. in 2012. [8] Balsiger added that he was going to have everyone in his case disbarred. Chris Balsiger told the weekly newspaper that he was going to “file civil charges, suing the government for $300 million for malicious prosecution” before his criminal case ended. [8]

It took ten years to convict Balisger on eleven counts of fraud and conspiracy and obstruction of justice. The court opined that Balsiger “was engaging in intentional delay,” according to the court documents.

Philanthropy And Criminal Business Leaders

Names like Chris Balsiger and Bob Jones routinely graced the El Paso Times and the El Paso Inc. newspaper pages with accolades of business success and contributions to the community. Political leaders talked about Balsiger and Jones as the kind of El Pasoan that support the city’s wellbeing through their philanthropy. Even after being convicted, many elected officials, in and out of office, kept supporting the disgraced business leaders even after their criminal activities were fully exposed.

Balsiger’s company was the title sponsor of the Amigo Airshow until 2006, before the federal indictments were made public. [3] Balsiger, who also supported a food and wine festival and a woman’s professional golf tournament, was often praised for his corporate donations. Several well-known El Pasoans wrote the judge before he sentenced Balsiger, asking the judge for leniency. Among them were Rick Francis and Alan Russell. Readers should note that Russell is a co-founder of TECMA, which will become important later in this article. [7] Among those asking for leniency were several local priests. El Paso politicos Dee Margo and Beto O’Rourke also wrote the judge asking for leniency in sentencing Balsiger.

Rick Francis wrote to the judge, “I am aware of Chris’ conviction on the wire fraud related charges and felt strongly I should reach out to let you know that he has positively impacted many, many people in his life.” [9]

Beto O’Rourke wrote to the judge that he is the person he is today because of the “generous” mentoring Chris Balsiger provided him. O’Rourke wrote, “he (Balsiger) generously spent many hours with me, helping me to become a better businessman as well as deepening my interest in taking an active role in helping to move El Paso forward,” he wrote the judge. [9]

Dee Margo wrote to the judge that he “observed Chris and his family supporting Pregnancy Crisis Centers, church schools, junior tennis programs for underserved children (he established a tennis center for kids), and many other philanthropic endeavors for children.” [9]

When Judge Charles Clevert sentenced Balsiger to prison, the judge referred to Balsiger as “a ‘chameleon’ and a ‘Dr. Jekyll and Mr. Hyde,’ who could be positively involved in his community while orchestrating a wide-ranging fraud scheme and directing a relentless effort to obstruct justice.” [1] Clevert recognized Balsiger for what he is – a criminal using philanthropy to hoodwink El Paso politicos and leaders to curry his favor in their own pursuits. Prosecutors described Balsiger as “a shameless and unrepentant fraudster.” [9]

The government did not buy into Balsiger’s manufactured persona. “Prosecutors describe the Balsiger they know as having bullied his employees by screaming at them. They say he expected subordinates to lie to investigators, changed internal documents to conceal the scheme and threatened prosecutors.” [9]

Philanthropy was the key to ignorance of criminality among El Paso’s business leaders. The more money they gave the more oblivious publications like the El Paso Times was. The local business weekly, the El Paso Inc. not only ignored Balsiger’s criminality but went so far as to defend Balsiger in its pages blaming everything on an overzealous prosecution.

El Paso Business Interests Protected Balsiger

Letters of support from El Paso officials and leaders were not the only thing supporting Chris Balsiger while he was being prosecuted up to his sentencing. The news media has in inherent bias on who is being prosecuted for criminal behavior. News media outlets participate in perp walks and frequently quote directly from prosecutor’s court filings. Seldom do defendants openly speak to the news media and when they do, the news outlets normally focus on the acts the prosecutors layout while mentioning the defendant’s pleas of innocence. News reports traditionally lead with headlines focused on the criminal allegations.

In the case of Chris Balsiger, the local news weekly, the El Paso, Inc. spent considerable ink publishing articles about Balsiger’s allegations of prosecutorial misconduct and his proclamations of innocence. Shortly after the indictments were handed down, the El Paso Inc. published, Exclusive: Inside the IOS case, on September 17, 2007. What is notable about the article is the tone it took and how it sourced its coverage. [10]

From the onset, the article by Mike Mrkvicka, argues that the case is “thin at best.” Mrkvicka adds that, “at worst,” the prosecution of Balsiger is “an attempt to save face, and to win through intimidation.” [1]

Mrkvicka based his whole article on an unnamed source who is quoted by the weekly as saying that “the U.S. government is pursuing the case to save face following an unsuccessful and expensive terrorism case.” The prosecution of Balsiger over coupon fraud was suddenly connected to terrorism, according to the news weekly. [10]

Tom Fenton launched the El Paso, Inc. in 1995. Previously he worked as a foreign correspondent for the Associated Press and had been named the editor and publisher of the El Paso Times in 1986. The El Paso Inc. focuses on businesses in El Paso with occasional political articles appearing in the publication. The El Paso Inc. has published several articles about the philanthropy of individuals who have been jailed for criminal behavior, like Bob Jones, and El Paso leaders like Woody Hunt who is arguably the largest philanthropist in the city. Balsiger was profiled in the El Paso Inc. for his philanthropy.

In the 2007 El Paso, Inc. article, the prosecution of Balsiger was profiled as a prosecution by a federal prosecutor that “needed results to justify a failed terrorism probe that lasted six years and cost millions of dollars.” [10] Instead of the typical news media reports of criminal prosecutions, the El Paso weekly was portraying Balsiger as an innocent victim of overzealous criminal prosecutors. The assistant attorney, Stephen Ingraham is still prosecuting for the federal government as of October 2021, after successfully prosecuting Balsiger on several fraud charges.

The Abdel Rahim Jebara Case

Abdel Rahim Jebara pleaded guilty to coupon fraud prosecuted by Ingraham. The Jebara case was the case the led prosecutors to Balsiger. Jebara has several convictions on his criminal record. [11] He was originally charged, along with 16 other individuals in five states, on February 27, 2003. According to prosecutors, the coupon fraud cost $4 million with the profits funneled to the West Bank and Jordan. The Jebara case, like the IOS case, was about coupon clearing houses committing fraud with coupons. However, the Jebara case involved a company in Tennessee.

Although Balsiger’s company, IOS, and the Tennessee company were not connected, it is the investigation into Jebara that the source for the El Paso, Inc. article says is the impetus for the investigation into IOS. What, if any, direct influence the Jebara case had on the prosecution of IOS is irrelevant because Balsiger was convicted based on the evidence collected from IOS and not the Jebara case. But the connection made by the El Paso, Inc. to the Jebara case and the insinuation that it is about a failed terrorism case was designed to distract the readers away from the crime. Other than the El Paso Inc. article, no one else has correlated terrorism to the case against Balsiger. Thus, the El Paso, Inc. article was an attempt to protect Balsiger’s criminality from its El Paso readers.

But it was not sufficient for the El Paso Inc. to connect the Jebara case and terrorism as the driving force behind the prosecution of IOS. For Balsiger to be portrayed as a victim of an “overzealous” prosecutor, the narrative of abusive behavior needed to be created. In addition to the prosecutor’s misconduct of “isolating” defendants and taking their money from them, the publication needed to create an enemy out to get Balsiger. The “enemy,” according to both Balsiger and the El Paso Inc. was a competitor, NCH Marketing. [10]

The narrative weaved by the El Paso Inc. article was developed by a single “unnamed” source. The narrative clearly painted a picture of Chris Balsiger being a victim rather than the criminal he was later proved to be by his conviction. Readers should note that the “victim” narrative was narrated by Chris Balsiger and supported by an unnamed source by the El Paso Inc. article and the numerous other articles published by the El Paso Inc. that tended to show Balsiger winning his case up until he was convicted.

That the weekly publication published the article in the first place tends to betray a sense that the El Paso, Inc. was attempting to portray Chris Balsiger in a favorable light for its El Paso readership.

Even after being convicted, Chris Balsiger was not done portraying himself as a victim. His daughter told the court at sentencing that her father was wrongly convicted. She continued to portray Balsiger as an innocent man with a death sentence in prison because of Covid-19.

The Prison Sentence

On March 6, 2017, Thomas Balsiger was sentenced to ten years in prison for defrauding companies with his coupon redeeming business. Balsiger was convicted on ten counts of wire fraud plus two counts of fraud conspiracy and one count of conspiracy to obstruct justice. In addition to the prison term, Balsiger was ordered to pay $65 million in restitution and serve three years of supervised release after prison. [1]

The United States Court of Appeals for the Seventh Circuit (17-1708) upheld Balsiger’s conviction in its ruling on December 10, 2018. The Court wrote in its ruling that “on plain error review the trial evidence was more than sufficient to support Balsiger’s convictions.”

Balsiger told the news media in 2020 that the Covid-19 pandemic was a “death sentence” for him in prison. He was still playing the victim from jail. His daughter used the Covid-19 pandemic to get her father released from jail early.

Appeal For Early Release

On May 22, 2010, the House Democrats held a round table to discuss Covid-19 in the prisons. Of the three panelists, only one was not representing prison reform. Angela Caldwell was representing her father, Chris Balsiger. Clearly the Balsiger family was playing the innocent victims. How Caldwell was added to the panel to represent her father’s personal interests while the other two panelists were representing broad ranging prison reform is unknown. However, Balsiger was still playing the victim.

Like her father, Caldwell blames everyone but her father for his incarceration on fraud charges. At the time Caldwell was orchestrating an early release for her father, he was incarcerated in a minimum-security prison – La Tuna.

An online publication, Coupons in the News collates articles about the coupon industry. In an October 26, 2021 article, the online publication wrote that Chris Balsiger owes about $65 million in restitution but has paid only $550. El Paso Politics confirmed the amounts via a prosecutor’s memorandum provided by Coupons in the News. [12]

The New Lawsuit

On July 2, 2019 a new lawsuit was filed against Chris Balsiger by Integrated Maquila Solutions, Inc. (TECMA). Balsiger’s brother, Joseph is also named in the lawsuit. [6] The lawsuit alleges that the Balsigers, through their companies defrauded TECMA. According to the lawsuit, TECMA was given 25% interest in Camino Vista Properties, LP (CVP) to secure a debt owed to TECMA by a Balsiger company. [6] The Camino Vista Property company apparently owns property.

The lawsuit alleges that the Balsigers refinanced the Vista property and “each personally received,” $250,000 from the refinancing and an additional $61,500 from CVP. The lawsuit alleges that the refinancing of the property used as collateral was a “malicious breach of contract, fraud, and material misrepresentations,” by the Balsigers. [6]

In 2012 Thomas Balsiger and Jay J Armes formed a Texas corporation named PCI Pallets, LLC. The company was dissolved in 2014. An associated company was Pallets & Crates International LP. Armes and Balsiger were also listed as officers in Pallets and Crates. A corresponding Mexican company, Pallets and Crates, Inc., S de RL de CV was also formed. In 2013, a series of videos were released by TECMA to promote their offshoring services. The videos referred to Balsiger as the owner of Pallets and Creates. As noted above, Balsiger gave Armes a campaign donation in 2003.

2013 TECMA promotional video with Chris Balsiger

Balsiger was indicted in 2007 for the IOS coupon fraud. In December 2016, Balsiger was found guilty and sentenced to prison. After being indicted in the IOS case but before being found guilty, Balsiger was removed from IOS and according to the public records formed Pallets & Crates while his IOS case languished in court.

On July 30, 2013, Chris and Joseph Balsiger pledged the Vista property as collateral for debt owed to TECMA. Several other agreements between Balsiger and TECMA followed. [6] As we noted above, Alan Russell, a founder of TECMA, was one of the business leaders who wrote the judge asking for leniency for Chris Balsiger before the judge sentenced him to prison for ten years. Now Russell’s company is suing Balsiger for fraud.

A special thank you to Coupons in the News for providing us with a copy of the October 18, 2021 memorandum to the judge showing how much restitution Balisger has paid to date.

Footnotes:

  1. The United States Attorneys Office, Eastern District of Wisconsin Press Release, March 7, 2017.
  2. David Kesmodel, “Coupon Conspiracy Alleged,” Hartford Courant, February 20, 2008.
  3. Vic Kolenc, “IOS case compared to Enron,” El Paso Times, March 10, 2007.
  4. Jim Weddell, “Changes afoot but border still a capital for sorting coupons,” El Paso Times, May 3, 1996.
  5. David Crowder, “Developers invest in mayor race,” El Paso Times, April 18, 2003.
  6. Integrated Maquila Solutions, Inc. d/b/a TECMA v. Joseph Balsiger at al. (2019DCV2501), 448th District Court, El Paso County, July 2, 2019.
  7. Vic Kolenc, “El Paso maquila operator buys NM trucking company,” El Paso Times, January 18, 2021.
  8. Robert Gray, “Balsiger and IOS: 5 years later,” El Paso Inc., April 12, 2012.
  9. Robert Gray, “Local leaders sought leniency for Balsiger,” El Paso, Inc., April 24, 2017.
  10. Mike Mrkvicka, “Exclusive: Inside the IOS case,” El Paso, Inc., Aeptember 17, 2007.
  11. Abdel Rahim Jebara v. The United States of America, United States District Court of Wisconsin (03-CR-46) Motion To Reconsider Sentence, April 19, 2009.
  12. Richard G. Frohling, Acting United States Attorney, Memorandum to Judge Lynn Adelman, United States District Court, Memorandum (United States v. Thomas Balsiger, 07-CR-0057), October 18, 2021.
  13. David Crowder, “Police union aids Cobos opponent with $20,000 loan,” El Paso Times, April 18, 2003.

3 replies »

  1. As long as we have ignorant people running for office that need a job, these people will continue to run El Paso.

    Like

  2. In the 1970s I was a junior IT manager at a company in Madison Wisconsin. The company manufactured medical equipment and there was a clan of Balsigers from Pardeeville, about 60 miles north of Madison that worked in the manufacturing plant.

    When this whole thing came up I always wondered if Mr. Balsiger had family from that area because I did work with those people. Other than that I have no idea what he does here or how he made the money he made here. It’s not like it’s a common name.

    Life is stranger than reality.

    Like

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