EL PASO, Texas (AP) — A federal judge on Friday sentenced a former West Texas county judge and a local businessman to four years in prison each on public corruption charges.
Anthony Cobos, who was the highest administrative official in El Paso between 2007 and 2010, pleaded guilty in September to taking bribes from local businessman Lorenzo Hilario Aguilar in exchange for his vote and influence to steer a $40 million county bond refinancing contract to an investment bank. U.S. District Judge Frank Montalvo handed Cobos a $10,000 fine Friday, in additional to the prison sentence, while Aguilar will have to pay $50,000.
Cobos apologized for his actions and his "defiance" during the investigation.
"I ask for forgiveness, I am a changed man. ... I pray for leniency," he said, adding that as a result from the indictment he had the opportunity to recommit his life to Christ.
Montalvo was not easily swayed.
"I'm having a difficult time taking this statement as truthful," Montalvo said as he questioned the veracity of statements made by Cobos to probations officers about his drug and alcohol use. Montalvo's questions escalated into a back and forth with Cobos about his use of marijuana for more than 20 years.
Montalvo also doubted Cobos' valuation of the worth of his income tax return business. With a profit of $7,700 dollars and $60,000 in wages paid to Cobos and his wife, Montalvo said Cobos "grossly undervalues the business" at $5,000.
Aguilar's statement of contrition also fell flat before Montalvo. Aguilar said he has about $800 worth of furniture in his house. According to the El Paso appraisal district the house is worth $370,000.
"There is a desire to undervalue your assets. ... It's not fair."
Last month, former Bear Stearns employee Roberto "Bobby" Ruiz was sentenced to two years in prison for taking part in the scheme.
The factual basis — a part of the plea agreement that details all of the actions that lead to the charges to which Cobos and the others pleaded guilty — says Ruiz enlisted Aguilar to use his connections to influence local officials.
The scheme involved paying Cobos through a "bag-man," sending checks through the mail, handing out consultant jobs to disguise the bribes and offering a trip to New York, all expenses paid, after the refinancing deal was secured. They also successfully conspired to remove the county's financial adviser after he refused to continue participating in the bribery of public officials.
The charges stem from a massive investigation by the FBI into public corruption in El Paso that resulted in the indictment of more than three-dozen people, including three former county judges, local businessmen and other politicians.