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Friday, June 14, 2024 | Back issues
Courthouse News Service Courthouse News Service

Texas Mayor Pleads|Guilty to Corruption

HOUSTON (CN) - The mayor of a South Texas border town faces up to 15 years in federal prison after pleading guilty to extorting bribes from contractors in a pay-to-play scheme that spanned nearly a decade.

Progreso Mayor Omar Leonel Vela, 36, pleaded guilty Wednesday to conspiracy and bribery.

Progreso, population 5,507, is home to a U.S. Border Inspection Station that greets those coming into the United States from the Nuevo - Nuevo Progreso International Bridge.

According to Vela's plea agreement, he and his brother Michael Vela helped their father Jose Guadalupe Vela take bribes from contractors for a cut of the kickbacks.

The Velas had political control over the city and its school district - Michael Vela is the president of the Progreso Independent School District Board of Trustees - and used their power to extract bribes from contractors, court records show.

"From 2004 through 2013, PISD received $1 million dollars per year in federal program grants and funds from the United States Department of Education. In order to obtain contracts from PISD or from the City of Progreso, contractors were required to pay bribes to Jose Guadalupe Vela, the director of maintenance and transportation for PISD, Omar Vela, the mayor of Progreso, and Michael Vela, the president of the PISD board of trustees," Omar Vela's plea agreement states

During that time, architect Jose Bustos, construction firm American Contracting and the school board's attorney paid the Velas more than $300,000 in bribes, Omar Vela admitted in his plea deal.

Federal agents arrested the Velas in August 2013 and charged them with 10 counts of bribery and conspiracy.

U.S. District Judge David Hittner released Omar Vela on bond until his July 25 sentencing, where he faces up to 15 years in prison and $500,000 in fines.

Charges against his father and brother are pending.

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