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A South American textile company will build a $180 million denim-manufacturing plant, featured in this artist’s rendition, in Edinburg, creating 800 new jobs and pumping millions of dollars into the local economy, Gov. Rick Perry and the Edinburg Economic Development Corporation announced on Wednesday, July 2. Santana Textiles Corporation of Ceara, Brazil, one of the world’s largest denim manufacturers, plans to construct – on a 23-acre site located in Edinburg’s North Industrial Park – a 300,000-square-foot complex.  The first phase of the sprawling facility, which will be built in three stages, is slated to open in 2010. When the three phases are completed in 2014, the foreign-owned enterprise, which will include a treatment plant, will eventually encompass about 400,000-square-feet of manufacturing space.  See lead story in this posting.

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Gov. Rick Perry (featured left) on Wednesday, July 2, reacts to humorous comments while sharing the stage at the University of Texas-Pan American with two members of the Delfino family of Brazil, owners of a planned manufacturing center projected to use much of the cotton produced in Texas to make denim, the fabric made famous by blue jeans. The governor reassured the Delfinos (son Raimundo “Neto”, the firm’s general manager, center, and his father, Raimundo, president of the major company).  “I’m kind of like this denim thing the way I was about Toyota and their pick-up trucks,” Perry said, referring to his successful venture in early 2003 that helped bring a Tundra truck manufacturing plant to San Antonio. “If you are going to manufacture a pick-up truck, where else are you going to build it except in Texas? Now, if you are going to process and produce denim, where else are you going to do it except in a place where they wear more denim than anywhere else in the world?”  See lead story in this posting.

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With area and regional news media in the background, City Councilmember Alma Garza, Councilmember Noé Garza (no relation), and Mayor Pro Tem Gene Espinoza  listen during a Wednesday, July 2 press conference in Edinburg about the projected economic impact on the city with the scheduled construction of a state-of-the-art denim manufacturing plan at the Edinburg North Industrial Park. Councilmember Noé Garza agreed with Gov. Rick Perry’s assessment during the morning press conference at the University of Texas-Pan American that Santana Textiles Corporation’s move to Edinburg is a “pivotal” event for the local and regional economies. “This will bring other firms who have hesitated before. Now, they know that it can be done, and they will be coming down,”  Noé Garza said. “This is just a start – in the very near future, there will be other major announcements coming for Edinburg. For the longest time, people have looked at McAllen as the place to be, but Edinburg is the place to be, both now and in the future.”  See lead story in this posting.

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Raimundo “Neto” Delfino, featured left, worked the Edinburg crowd on Wednesday, July 2, following an major announcement by Gov. Rick Perry that the Delfino family, owners of Santana Textiles from Brazil, would be investing up to $180 million to build a major denim manufacturing plant in Edinburg.  The company selected Edinburg after a competitive search throughout locations in North and South America. They chose Edinburg because of the state and local incentives, as well as the city’s proximity to cotton growers, said “Neto” Delfino. “After evaluating all the sites, we decided that Edinburg offered all the right conditions to expand our denim manufacturing operations in the U.S.,” he added. “We couldn’t find a better partner than the State of Texas and the City of Edinburg.”  With Delfino in this portrait are, from left: Rep. Ryan Guillen, D-Rio Grande City;  Ramiro Garza, executive director of the Edinburg Economic Development Corporation; and Rep. Aaron Peña, Jr., D-Edinburg.  See lead story in this posting.

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Renowned as one of the few “Three-Time All-America City” recipients in Texas – a civic honor bestowed upon successful, citizen-driven communities in the nation by the National Civic League – Edinburg may have to change that slogan to reflect the planned $180 million infusion of private capital from a South American company that will be building a denim manufacturing complex in Edinburg.  The news of a major manufacturing business making Edinburg their latest home – and their first in the U.S. – was roundly applauded during a Wednesday, July 2 press conference at the University of Texas-Pan American.  Among the leaders in attendance were, from left: Hidalgo County Judge J.D. Salinas, III; Rep. Veronica Gonzales, D-McAllen;  Raimundo “Neto” Delfino, general manager of Santana Textiles Corporation of Ceara, Brazil; Mayor Joe Ochoa; former Mayor Richard García; and Raimundo Delfino, president of the South American company.  See lead story in this posting.

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Santana Textiles Corporation of Brazil to build $180 million manufacturing plant in Edinburg

By DAVID A. DÍAZ

A South American textile company will build a $180 million denim-manufacturing plant in Edinburg, creating 800 new jobs and pumping millions of dollars into the local economy, Gov. Rick Perry and the Edinburg Economic Development Corporation announced on Wednesday, July 2.

The EEDC is the jobs-creation arm of the Edinburg City Council.

Santana Textiles Corporation of Ceara, Brazil, one of the world’s largest denim manufacturers, plans to construct – on a 23-acre site located in Edinburg’s North Industrial Park – a 300,000-square-foot plant which will turn cotton into denim fabric.

Denim is the foundation of a huge worldwide industry that produces billions of dollars annually in affordable, comfortable clothes, such as long skirts, jackets, shirts,  and – most famously – blue jeans, a staple fashion with deep roots in this nation’s history.

The first phase of the sprawling plant, which will be built in three stages, is slated to open in 2010.

When the three phases are completed in 2014, the foreign-owned enterprise, which will include a treatment plant, will eventually encompass about 400,000-square-feet of manufacturing space.

The EEDC, which owns the Edinburg North Industrial Park, located north of the city along U.S. Expressway 281, is donating the property, and has been working on making key infrastructure improvements in order to ready the site.

The manufacturing plant, which will utilize high-technology equipment for converting cotton into the finished product through spinning, weaving, and dyeing, also will bring high-paying jobs to the region, averaging more than $26,500 annually.

The announcement was made by the governor, who was joined by state and local leaders, during a news conference held in the International Trade and Technology Building, located at the University of Texas-Pan American.

With Perry at the public event were Mayor Joe Ochoa, who serves on the five-member EEDC Board of Directors; former Mayor Richard García, who serves as president of the EEDC Board of Directors; Hidalgo County Judge J.D. Salinas, III; Sen. Juan “Chuy” Hinojosa, D-McAllen; Raimundo Delfino, president of the company; and his son, Raimundo “Neto” Delfino, Jr., the company’s general manager.

Also in attendance were Edinburg Mayor Pro Tem Gene Espinoza; Councilmember Alma Garza; Councilmember Noé Garza; Ramiro Garza, EEDC Executive Director; Dr. Glenn A. Martínez, Ph.D. and Elias Longoria, Jr., members of the EEDC Board of Directors; Rep. Ryan Guillen, D-Rio Grande City; Rep. Armando “Mando” Martínez, D-Weslaco; Rep. Aaron Peña, Jr., D-Edinburg; and Rep. Verónica Gonzáles, D-McAllen.

Gonzáles is being challenged in the November general election by fellow McAllen attorney Javier Villalobos, a Republican, for the House 41 legislative seat that includes southwest Edinburg.

Alma Garza, Noé Garza, and Ramiro Garza are not related.

Governor: No where but Texas

The governor reassured the Delfino family that they could not have made a better choice than Texas to expand their operations.

“I’m kind of like this denim thing the way I was about Toyota and their pick-up trucks,” Perry said, referring to his successful venture in early 2003 that helped bring a Tundra truck manufacturing plant to San Antonio. “If you are going to manufacture a pick-up truck, where else are you going to build it except in Texas? Now, if you are going to process and produce denim, where else are you going to do it except in a place where they wear more denim than anywhere else in the world?”

The Edinburg plant will be Santana Textiles’ first presence in the United States. The company has industrial plants in Brazil and Argentina, and offices in Mexico.

“Santana Textiles’ decision to open its first North American plant in Texas speaks volumes for our state’s attractive business climate and the incentive package we were able to provide through the Texas Enterprise Fund,” Perry added.

The company selected Edinburg after a competitive search throughout locations in North and South America. They chose Edinburg because of the state and local incentives, as well as the city’s proximity to cotton growers, said “Neto” Delfino.

“After evaluating all the sites, we decided that Edinburg offered all the right conditions to expand our denim manufacturing operations in the U.S.,” he added. “We couldn’t find a better partner than the State of Texas and the City of Edinburg.”

Perry is providing a $1.65 million incentive to the company through the Texas Enterprise Fund, a special state fund that he controls.

This is the first project in South Texas to receive money from the TEF, which was created in 2003 to attract new businesses to the Lone Star State.

The governor, crediting South Texas legislators in attendance for helping authorize the creation and continuation of the TEF, said area residents will feel the positive impact of the plant’s location in more ways than one.

“It’s not just about jobs and wealth creation, its about quality of life,” Perry predicted. “In this case, there are going to be people in the Valley who will have access to really good jobs, and they in turn will be able to alter things for their families that they could never do before.”

Mayor Ochoa: Make things happen

Ochoa said the community’s can-do attitude was shared by Perry, describing how the deal quickly developed.

Referring to Perry as his friend, the mayor recalled a conversation he shared with the governor during the state leader’s visit earlier this year to Edinburg.

The governor flew down to participate in a public ceremony, held at Cats Stadium, where he posthumously bestowed the Texas Legislative Medal of Honor upon Alfredo “Freddy” González, a Congressional Medal of Honor recipient who was killed in action in Vietnam, and to honor his mother, Dolia González.

“As early as February, when (Perry) was here honoring one of our great heroes, (Congressional Medal of Honor recepient) Freddy Gonzáles, as he and I were walking up to the stadium, we started to discuss how to form partnerships between Edinburg and the state of Texas to help more manufacturers come to this area.  And he asked me, ‘What do we have to do to make it happen?’,” Ochoa recalled.

The mayor said Edinburg officials worked with the governor and his staff to convince the Brazilian firm to expand in Edinburg – its first venture into the prized U.S. mainland.

“Today, with the governor’s vision, he doesn’t sit in his office and wait for things to happen. He goes out and makes things happen,” Ochoa said. “That’s the way the City of Edinburg works. We go out and not only work with our neighbors in the Valley and in Texas, but we go south, to Mexico and South America.”

García, who along with Ochoa were singled-out for praise by Perry, said the city’s physical presence in northern Mexico helped pave the way for securing the manufacturing plant.

The EEDC recruited the company through their satellite office in Monterrey, said García.

“This will most assuredly attract worldwide attention to Edinburg as a location to consider by other entities seeking to make similar investment in our booming area,” García said. “It gives credibility to the EEDC office we established in Monterrey, and the manager of that office, Guillermo Canedo, who introduced us to the people from Santana Textiles. We were very proactive in setting up that office four years ago, and this project is the fruit of that initiative.”

Former Mayor García: “That’s how big it is.”

In addition to remarks delivered from the podium by Perry, Ochoa, and García, other city leaders offered their perspectives on the big news.

EEDC board member Martínez, an associate professor in Modern Languages and Literatures at UT-Pan American, noted that the local university is doing its part to cultivate academic and cultural environments needed to recruit and keep companies from throughout the world.

“This is a manifestation of some of the efforts of UT-Pan American and its internationalization initiative,” said he said. “What we are doing here is educating students to be the future leaders of the Rio Grande Valley, the future leaders of the Valley, and to understand different cultures and different languages.”

He is confident UT-Pan American is exposing students to the rest of the world, including disciplines that familiarize students with Brazil and its dominant language, Portuguese.”We are, for instance, now developing courses and programs in Portuguese, which ties in directly with what is going on here today,” Martínez said. “We hope that the university and the education we are providing can be the foundation for this type of economic development for South Texas. We provide education for the workforce, we provide cultural and human capital for their families.”

Fellow EEDC board member Longoria, an expert in banking and finances, said the announcement represents the latest positive message being sent about Edinburg as a growing center of commerce.

“Business leaders throughout the state and nation are seeing someone who is willing to make that type of investment in our community, that says something about us,” Longoria observed. “They could have picked anywhere in the world, in the country, in the Valley to build this major manufacturing plant, but they came to Edinburg.  Other people will be interested, they will want to know more about Edinburg and Texas, and they will want to come here.”

Councilmember Noé Garza said the move elevates the city to a higher level on the business and political map.

“The most important thing is they realize that Edinburg, in particular, is a very progressive city, we are moving forward to compete in a global economy. That’s what they see in Edinburg. That’s why they are coming down,” Garza said.

He said he agreed with Perry’s assessment that Santana Textiles Corporation’s move to Edinburg is a “pivotal” event for the local and regional economies.

“This will bring other firms who have hesitated before. Now, they know that it can be done, and they will be coming down,” Garza said. “This is just a start – in the very near future, there will be other major announcements coming for Edinburg. For the longest time, people have looked at McAllen as the place to be, but Edinburg is the place to be, both now and in the future.”

García, who along with Ochoa and EEDC executive director Ramiro Garza played key roles in landing the plant, told reporters that the manufacturing facility is indeed a big deal, similar to the development of the city’s medical corridor, the continuing expansion of UT-Pan American, and the city’s successful efforts to keep the unemployment rate at historic lows.

“Here’s an example of how big the company is,” García told the Rio Grande Guardian, one of Texas’ top Internet newspapers. “A week-and-a-half before we flew down to Brazil, the company opened a plant outside of Buenos Aires and the president of Argentina attended. That’s how big it is.”

(Letty Reyes, Project Manager for the Edinburg Economic Development Corporation, contributed to this article.)

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Groundbreaking held for multi-million dollar Boys and Girls Club to be built in north Edinburg

By ORLANDO SALINAS

Rep. Aaron Peña, D-Edinburg, at the Friday, June 27 groundbreaking for a new Boys and Girls Club for Edinburg, announced that he had secured $750,000 in state funds for the planned 32,700-square-foot El Portal del Norte facility.

The $750,000 was awarded to the club from a legislative rider Peña inserted into the state budget during the 80th Legislative Session.

Peña was joined by other area leaders, including Mayor Joe Ochoa and former Mayor Richard García, and dozens of young Edinburg residents for the event, held at the site at Rogers Road and U.S. Expressway 281.

“The $750,000 that my office secured plus the local match raises the entire award to the Boys and Girls Club of Edinburg to $1,500,000,” said Peña. “The $1,500,000 will be used to build a beautiful park that will surround the complex and help make El Portal del Norte one of the best Boys and Girls Club facilities in Texas.”

The location of the new facility is designed to keep pace with expected growth in the city of Edinburg while maintaining accessibility to other service sites that the Club operates in the larger community.

The Boys and Girls Club of Edinburg offers year-round sports fitness, arts and recreation programs, engages youth in character and leadership development and  provides education, career, health and life skills.

Bryon Jay Lewis, president of Edwards Abstract and Title Company, is one of the community leaders who has worked towards to creation of the new facility.  He also is a member of the Edinburg Foundation, Inc., which is helping develop the area surrounding the club.

“Any time a diverse group of business leaders come together for a common cause, it’s a very good thing.  The Boys and Girls Club is one of those special projects that will benefit the youth of Edinburg for many years to come and I am proud to be associated with this group,” Lewis added.

The Boys and Girls Club of Edinburg serves more than 19,000 children at 16 sites in the communities of Edinburg, Edcouch, Elsa, Faysville, Monte Alto, Hargill, San Carlos, and San Manuel/Linn. The Club is financed by public and private funding sources including the City of Edinburg, the Urban County Program, the United Way of South Texas, corporate and foundation grants, private donors and club fund raising activities.  Please contact the Club at 956/383-2582 for information about giving.

“Giving our children an opportunity to develop important life skills in a safe, state of the art, first class facility is something that the entire community can be proud of,” said Peña. “El Portal del Norte will not only serve our children but the general public who will be able to use the park, walking trails and other recreational facilities.”

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McAllen man pleads guilty to three counts of child pornography promotion, one count of possession

A McAllen man facing child pornography charges entered a guilty plea Wednesday, July 2.

In an appearance before the 139th District Court, Jack Arnold Heflin, 30, pleaded guilty to three counts of child pornography promotion and a single count of possession. The case was investigated and prosecuted by Texas Attorney General Greg Abbott’s Cyber Crimes Unit.

Heflin, who was arrested and booked into the Hidalgo County Jail on March 17, will be sentenced at a later date. Assistant Attorney General Heather Youree prosecuted the case in conjunction with the Hidalgo County District Attorney’s office.

This suspect pleaded guilty to possessing and distributing child pornography,” Abbott said. “The Cyber Crimes Unit will continue protecting young Texans by aggressively investigating and prosecuting sex predators who use the Internet to prey on children. We are grateful to the Hidalgo County Criminal District Attorney’s Office for their assistance with this case.”

The Cyber Crimes Unit conducted forensic analysis of Heflin’s computer equipment after discovering that he was sharing child pornography through a file-sharing Web site. The examination uncovered approximately 20 child pornography images and videos. At the time of the investigation, Heflin was employed at a retail store.

Under Texas law, possession of child pornography is a third-degree felony punishable by up to 10 years in state prison and a fine of up to $10,000. Promotion of child pornography is a second-degree felony punishable by up to 20 years in state prison and a fine of up to $10,000.

Abbott has earned a national reputation for aggressively arresting and prosecuting child predators. Since 2003, the Cyber Crimes Unit and Fugitive Unit have arrested more than 700 sex predators. Prosecutors also have obtained convictions against more than 80 men on child pornography charges.

For more information, contact the Office of the Attorney General at (800) 252-8011 or visit the Attorney General’s Web site at http://www.texasattorneygeneral.gov.

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Search goes statewide to select successor to Hidalgo County Elections Administrator Teresa Navarro

By CARI LAMBRECHT

At a meeting of the Hidalgo County Elections Commission on Monday morning, June 30, the five-member board voted to accept applications for the position of Hidalgo County Elections Administrator for two weeks. The search for a new elections administrator will be advertised statewide.

“We’re looking for the very best qualified man or woman to do this very important job,” said Hidalgo County Judge and Hidalgo County Elections Commission Chairman J.D. Salinas III. “We have perhaps the most important election in recent history coming up this November, and the commission has decided to act quickly to make sure our house is in the best shape ever — fiscally and ethically — before this historic election comes.”

The two duties of the elections administrator as specified by Texas Election Code are to conduct elections and register voters. To facilitate the statewide search, Hidalgo County will run ads in the newspapers of record in the major metropolitan areas of the state, as well as with state government associations and popular job search engines.

The application submission deadline set by the commission is July 14, 2008 by 5 p.m. Applicants must fax or hand-deliver their application or have it sent by certified mail and postmarked by this date.

Applications should be turned into the Hidalgo County Elections Commission Chairman, County Judge J.D. Salinas III, at 100 E. Cano, 2nd Floor, Edinburg, Texas 78539 (fax: (956) 318-2699). The Elections Commission will meet again on July 16, 2008 at 1:30 p.m. to review the pool of applicants and narrow it down to a short list, which will then be interviewed for the position.

Other than setting application guidelines, a number of concerns were raised at the meeting.

Democratic Party Chair Dolly Elizondo and Republican Party County Chair Hollis Rutledge said that currently, because Hidalgo County does not have an elections administrator, new voter registrars cannot be deputized. The commission agreed with the assessment that a new administrator must be found quickly to avoid disenfranchising voters.

The commission also wishes to seek, through state legislation, increased oversight capacity of the elections administrator to avoid future problems.

Other concerns raised at the meeting was finding the appropriate person in the department to sign invoices to avoid delay in paying bills and the need to revamp the organizational structure of the department. These concerns are being addressed by county leaders.

While the search goes on and the department is evaluated, veterans of the Elections Department will work under the increased oversight of the Commissioner’s Court Executive Officer Valde Guerra to maintain day-to-day functioning of the department.

“I am confident that we can return integrity and trust to the Hidalgo County Elections Department due to the hard work and diligence of the numerous people working behind the scenes to correct inefficiencies and flaws identified by the auditor,” Salinas said. “Soon, we hope to put this sad episode of violating public trust behind us and move forward.”

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Federal judge orders formal substantive discussions in battle over Border Wall between UT-Brownsville, federal government

By LETTY FERNÁNDEZ

Brownsville Federal Judge Andrew Hanen on Monday, June 30, ordered representatives from The University of Texas at Brownsville and Texas Southmost College and The University of Texas System and the U.S. Department of Homeland Security to continue jointly assess alternatives to a border fence as mandated by the previous agreement in March.

Hanen gave the university and U.S. government officials until Thursday, July 31 to continue the joint assessment and report back to the court.

“I do think a joint assessment means sitting down with people in the same room with authority and expertise to exchange ideas,” Hanen said. “I urge both sides to try to work with each other, ultimately benefiting both sides. It seems it cries out for a solution.”

UTB President Dr. Juliet García, Ph.D., said she was satisfied with the judges ruling that was prompted by a motion filed by attorneys for UTB/TSC and UT System asking the federal court to compel the U.S. Department of Homeland Security (DHS) to comply with the provisions of a previous federal court order on March 19.

“We are very pleased with the judge’s decision,” García said after the hearing. “He’s taking the time to try to ensure the law is respected and a true interpretation of the settlement is met. We will go back and sit down and continue to respectfully discuss the matter.”

The motion filed by the university stated that federal government officials failed to comply with the joint assessment of alternatives outlined in the agreement adopted and ordered by Hanen in March.

It also stated that the federal government planned to obtain property through eminent domain for the construction of the fence. The location of the fence would slice off up to 180 acres of substantial University land, severely curtailing critical and valuable expansion land for the University’s future growth.

In March 2008, Hanen dismissed a lawsuit against the university after an agreed settlement was reached with DHS regarding access to university property.

Both sides entered into an agreed order which allowed access to the property for surveying, but required joint assessments to determine alternatives to a fence, as well as investigations to minimize the impact of any tactical infrastructure on the environment, culture, commerce, and quality of life.

The federal government had filed a lawsuit in January 2008 against UTB/TSC for not signing a right of entry for federal agencies to survey land for the proposed U.S. -Mexico border fence.

For more information go to http://www.utb.edu and click on Updated Border Fence Information.

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Rio Grande Partnership accepting applications for upcoming, resurgent Leadership Valley classes

By ELIZABETH WALKER

Leadership Valley, an eight-month curriculum developed to educate and energize leaders from across the region, now is accepting applications. Designed in collaboration with Tech Prep of the Rio Grande Valley, this program by the Rio Grande Valley Partnership examines the realities, opportunities, and problems of all sections of the Valley in order to move it forward in a globally competitive environment.

“Unfortunately, the Leadership Valley program lay dormant for too long,” said Bill Summers, President/CEO of the Rio Grande Valley Partnership, referring to the decade that lapsed since the last Leadership Valley class.  “But with the help of Tech Prep, the Partnership has brought it back with an aggressive schedule that should make up for any lost time!”

Beginning in September, classes will meet monthly to examine issues such as transportation, trade, security, economic development, health care, policy, and tourism. Cost of tuition is $450 for Partnership members or $500 for non-members to offset program materials, speaker accommodations, and session meals.

In keeping with its purpose, Leadership Valley recruits a diversified membership across all segments of the region.  The Leadership Valley Class of 2009 is limited to just 30 participants; to review eligibility criteria or download an application, please visit the “news” section on http://www.valleychamber.com.

The deadline to return the completed application is 5 p.m. on Friday, August 1, 2008.  With any inquiries, please contact Verónica Villegas at 956-968-3141 or verónica@valleychamber.com.

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Attorney General Abbott announces multi-state agreement with Moneygram to protect against fraud

Texas Attorney General Greg Abbott and more than 40 states, on Wednesday, July 2, announced an agreement with MoneyGram Payment Systems, Inc., that will help prevent financial fraud against seniors and low-income citizens. Under the agreement, the Minnesota-based corporation will implement sweeping changes that will help reduce fraud-induced money transfers.

“Today’s agreement protects senior Texans and others who are targeted by wire transfer scams,” Abbott said. “If it sounds too good to be true, it’s probably a fake foreign lottery or scam to steal Texans’ hard-earned savings. This action will ensure that MoneyGram employees are better informed and able to educate Texans about these scams.”

MoneyGram operates more than 25,000 wire transfer points in the U.S. and more than 100,000 around the world. Historically, money transfer locations have been fertile ground for con artists and criminals who defraud consumers. Many fraudulently-induced transfers involve senior citizens who fall victim to bogus sweepstakes and lotteries, or customers of limited financial means who fall victim to advance fee credit card and loan scams.

Under the agreement, MoneyGram will post conspicuous warnings on all person-to-person money transfer paper forms, on its Web site and within its toll-free telephone messages. If fraud appears likely during a transaction, MoneyGram will reimburse the principal amounts of money transfers if the customers’ cancellation request is received before the money is picked up at its destination point.

MoneyGram also will implement a new training program to inform its agents about the company’s enhanced fraud-detection procedures. Under the agreement, agents will be instructed to temporarily interrupt and hold transfers that appear to be fraud-induced, then notify the customer about the risks of completing the transfer. Offices and agents found to be conspiring with fraud perpetrators will be terminated and reported to law enforcement agencies.

MoneyGram also agreed to spend more than $1 million on a consumer education program that will warn customers about wire transfers that may involve fraud. Today’s action follows a 2004 agreement between Western Union and all states.

To obtain more information about Abbott’s efforts to fight fraudulent telemarketing scams, access the agency’s Web site at http://www.texasattorneygeneral.gov.

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Congressman Hinojosa: Federal student loan rates drop from 6.8 percent to 6 percent

By ELIZABETH ESFAHANI

Congressman Rubén Hinojosa, Chairman of the Subcommittee on Higher Education, on Tuesday, July 1, announced that interest rates on federal student loans have just become more affordable for college students. Effective immediately, the student loan interest rate dropped from 6.8 percent to 6 percent, thanks to legislation passed last year in Congress.

“With today’s economy squeezing families and tuition prices continuing to rise, the high cost of college continues to be a top concern for Texans,” said Hinojosa “Today, there is good news for our college students and families – federal students loans have become less expensive.”

As chairman of the Higher Education Subcommittee, Hinojosa was instrumental in the passage last year’s College Cost Reduction and Access Act. This bill provides more than $20 billion in federal student aid over the next five years in order to help more first-generation, low-income students attend college. A key element in the bill was the increase in the Pell Grant scholarship. For the 2008-2009 school year, the Pell Grant will be increased by $490 – raising the maximum award to $4,731.

The College Cost Reduction Act is also responsible for the July 1 interest rate decrease, which makes federal student loans more affordable for millions of students. This is the first of step towards halving these interest rates – over the next few years these rates will continue to decrease until they reach 3.4 percent.

“Today’s interest rate cut is only one element in our effort to make sure that a dream of a higher education is in reach of all those who wish to pursue it,” said Hinojosa. “As chairman of the Higher Education Subcommittee, I will continue to fight to bring real relief to families working hard to pay for college.”

Five-and-a-half million students borrow need-based federal student loans each year. This interest rate cut will save the typical four-year student in Texas starting college this fall (with need-based student loan debt) about $2,570 over the life of his or her loan.

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UT-Pan American students to participate in national law school preparation scholars program

By MELISSA C. RODRÍGUEZ

Thirteen students from The University of Texas-Pan American will have the opportunity this summer to learn more about law school and get a head start on the law school application process by their participation in one of two scholar’s programs offered by the Council on Legal Education Opportunity (CLEO), both designed to prepare more minority students to enter legal fields.

The students participated in the Sophomore Summer Institute (SSI) and Achieving Success in the Application Process (ASAP) programs – two of CLEO’s highly competitive programs that help prepare undergraduates for careers in law.

“Our mission is to diversify the legal community by helping students throughout the nation achieve the goal of going to law school and ultimately becoming attorneys,” Lynda Cevallos, attorney and CLEO pre-law coordinator, said. “Students should participate because it gives them an opportunity to learn what to expect in law school and our programs provide them with the skills and tools to prepare them for it.”

Held on law campuses throughout the country, CLEO programs are offered at little or no cost for academically qualified candidates and help students select a law school, draft a personal statement, choose sources for letters of recommendation, and prepare for the Law School Admission Test (LSAT).

César Palma and Yvonne Flores, both UTPA sophomores, attended the SSI at Thurgood Marshall School of Law at Texas Southern University in Houston, a four-week residential program designed to bring together students of diverse racial, ethnic, socioeconomic and geographic backgrounds and provide them with the training necessary to successfully enter law school.

Flores, who is majoring in sociology and minoring in criminal justice, said the program helped her realize how rigorous attending law school would be.

“I believe the program is very beneficial to students from UTPA because it will expose them to an education that is not easily attained in the Valley, since there are currently no law schools in our area,” Flores said. “Not everyone gets a chance to see what it is like first hand before actually applying. I am very thankful that I am able to get this opportunity through the CLEO program.”

Eleven other UTPA students were selected to attend the ASAP program this month including César Aguilar, Francesca Falqueza, Martha Vera, Karia García, Grecia De León, Berenice  García, Ian Ochoa, Nayla Domínguez, Mayelo Bustos, David Marroquín, and Ashley Cedillo.

The ASAP program, held in either Los Angeles or Atlanta, Ga., provides assistance with selecting a law school, drafting an effective personal statement, choosing sources for letters of recommendations, mentoring opportunities with CLEO students in law school and preparing for the LSAT, among other benefits. Hotel accommodations and meals are provided by the program. The participant is responsible for getting to the program location, but a $200 travel stipend is awarded to help offset costs.

Karina Muñoz, a senior with a double major in English and criminal justice, participated in the ASAP program last summer and said the program really opened her eyes to what she should expect.

The Mission native said as an undergraduate she did not really know what the process of applying to law school entailed.

“The process which we must go through in order to have our application packet ready for the prospective law schools is a lengthy process and if you do not know the steps of preparing a successful packet, then you will be the one at a loss,” she said. “This program gives you an inside view of how admission deans look at the application packets for their prospective students.”

Muñoz attended the program in Los Angeles and said the topics and discussions were very helpful as were the networking opportunities.

“This program also gave us insight to our first year of law school. We had a panel of current law students come and talk to us about their experiences,” she said. “We also had a session about financing our law education. That was a very informational program.”

Muñoz will be taking the LSAT in October 2008 and plans to apply to several law schools.

“One thing I know for sure is that I am not going to limit my options to law schools in Texas. I have the U.S.A to look at,” she said.

For more information about applying contact the UTPA Office of Career Services at 956/381-2243 or visit the CLEO Web site at http://www.cleoscholars.org

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Freedom of expression and press remembered on July Fourth

By SEN. EDDIE LUCIO, JR.

D-Brownsville

“The will of the people is the only legitimate foundation of any government, and to protect its free expression should be our first object.” These words were uttered by Thomas Jefferson, our third President, and they ring even truer today.

As our freedom of expression continues to expand via technological advances that include the web and a multitude of inventions, we must also remember on the Fourth of July that this freedom depends on freedom of the press. It is the newspaper, the television, the electronic media and radio that have stood for years as guards of our precious rights of expression.

On July Fourth, as we enjoy our picnics, parades and fireworks, let’s think of the specific freedoms we take for granted. From the colonists who braved everything to liberate this land to today’s modern soldier who preserves this freedom, they all have made tremendous sacrifices so that we can enjoy a democracy that engenders personal liberties.

As an elected official entrusted with preserving our democratic form of government, I thank every valiant soldier who has served this country. Thanks to their sacrifices, we enjoy the benefits of a free press and freedom of expression, which enable voters to make choices instead of bowing to a dictatorship.

I will pray for our American troops in battle as we celebrate Independence Day!

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Most Texas schoolchildren fail to meet basic physical fitness standards, says TEA

By SENATE MEDIA SERVICES

Most Texas schoolchildren are unable to meet basic fitness standards, according to preliminary study data released at a press conference Tuesday. Texas Education Commissioner Robert Scott called the results “sobering”.

In the largest study of its kind in the nation, 2.6 million children across the state were tested in six basic fitness categories, including stamina, flexibility, and strength. The study showed that fitness decreased as students get older: in third-grade, 32 percent of girls and 28 percent of boys met acceptable standards in each of the six categories. By the 12th grade, this number had fallen to 9 percent for girls and 8 percent for boys.

“These results just confirm what many of us already knew, that our children’s health is in jeopardy,” said Sen. Jane Nelson, R-Lewisville.

Nelson chairs the Senate’s Health and Human Services Committee and authored the bill in 2007 that mandated this study.

“We cannot allow an entire generation of Texans to grow up and live a shorter life than previous generations, but it will happen unless we get back to the basics of health in our schools,” Nelson added, recommending that parents and schools must emphasize fitness, good nutrition and re-implement required physical education curriculum if Texas is to get a handle on childhood obesity.

Dr. Kenneth Cooper, a Dallas-based fitness advocate who’s Cooper Institute developed the test used in this study, said obesity levels in children are at an unprecedented level.

“Our kids are the fattest and least fit they’ve been in our lifetime,” he said. Childhood obesity is four times more prevalent than it was in 1963, and Cooper says if trends continue, one out of three children born after 2000 will develop adult-onset diabetes. “If we don’t do something now, what will happen in the future?” he asked.

The next step, according to Nelson, is to analyze this data to see how it correlates with academic achievement, attendance and discipline. Nelson is confident that analysis will show that poor health and fitness negatively impacts these areas. More than that, she said, the analysis will show lawmakers what they are facing, and will help direct efforts to improve fitness among Texas children. “Children are leading a sedentary, super-sized lifestyle, and its showing.,” said Nelson. “But it doesn’t have to be this way.”

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UT Health Science Center at San Antonio seeking volunteers for two anti-cocaine medical studies

By WILL SANSOM

An estimated 20,000-plus people in San Antonio who use cocaine each year initially feel a heightened sense of reward or pleasure with the illegal stimulant. That is because cocaine increases the release of dopamine, the chemical most responsible for the feeling of reward in the brain. However, soon the cocaine-induced high becomes a cruel addiction that hurts users and their families and friends.

Although many research studies have sought to identify medications to treat cocaine dependence, none have been shown to be effective. Even though counseling and psychological therapies have some benefit, most users never receive treatment.

John D. Roache, Ph.D., and Christopher L. Wallace, M.D., at the Behavioral Wellness (Be Well) Center, part of the Department of Psychiatry at The University of Texas Health Science Center at San Antonio, are conducting two investigational studies of a medication called vigabatrin. Vigabatrin is an existing agent used to treat epilepsy in Europe but has never been approved in the United States.

Vigabatrin acts by increasing the availability of another chemical, GABA, which is thought to dampen cocaine’s rewarding, and thus addictive, effects. “Research in animals, as well as two open-label (non-blinded) clinical trials and one placebo-controlled study conducted in Mexico, have been very promising,” Dr. Roache, principal investigator of these studies, said.

One reason vigabatrin has not been approved in the U.S. as an antiepileptic is that visual field impairments occur in about a third of patients taking the drug for more than one year. However, “there is good reason to expect that shorter courses of treatment for several months could establish cocaine abstinence without this side effect seen with longer-term courses of treatment,” Dr. Roache said.

Cocaine-dependent individuals are encouraged to join these confidential, non-judgmental research studies offered by the Be Well Center. One study is strictly research and requires hospitalization though it does not provide any treatment. A second study provides medication and psychological therapy during a 12-week outpatient treatment phase. Both studies are randomized, which means volunteers are randomly assigned to receive either the vigabatrin or an inactive placebo.

Volunteers for these studies will receive free health screening at the Be Well Center and eligible participants will receive full ophthalmologic evaluations free of charge.

For more information, call the Be Well Center at (210) 562-5400.

The University of Texas Health Science Center at San Antonio is the leading research institution in South Texas and one of the major health sciences universities in the world. With an operating budget of $576 million, the Health Science Center is the chief catalyst for the $15.3 billion biosciences and health care sector in San Antonio’s economy. The Health Science Center has had an estimated $35 billion impact on the region since inception and has expanded to six campuses in San Antonio, Laredo, Harlingen and Edinburg. More than 23,000 graduates (physicians, dentists, nurses, scientists and allied health professionals) serve in their fields, including many in Texas. Health Science Center faculty are international leaders in cancer, cardiovascular disease, diabetes, aging, stroke prevention, kidney disease, orthopaedics, research imaging, transplant surgery, psychiatry and clinical neurosciences, pain management, genetics, nursing, allied health, dentistry and many other fields. For more information, visit http://www.uthscsa.edu.

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Edinburg Kiwanis Club raising money to help brother and sister receive medical care for rare skin disorder

By ELVA JACKSON GARZA

The mission of the Edinburg Kiwanis Club is to support and assist various organizations that are making a difference in the lives of children.  There is no greater gift than to be able to provide a scholarship to a student in need or to fund the Rainbow Room’s crisis center for abused children and many other worthwhile organizations.

Recently, the Edinburg Kiwanis Club learned of two children with a very rare skin disorder and their challenge of financial support for medication and other needs.  The Kiwanians partnered with Telemundo Channel 2 and Edinburg Regional Medical Center/South Texas Health Systems and spearheaded a fundraising effort to assist Lupita and Eduardo Hernández Baldivia of Reynosa.

A telethon was recently held, led by Yolanda De La Cruz, a local television personality and news anchor. The event netted more than $33,000 for the benefit of the children.

“It was a very touching site to see Valley residents from all walks of life come in to the station and donate what they could to help the children,” said Juan Ordóñez of First National Bank.

The phone bank was operated by members of the Edinburg Kiwanis Club, First National Bank, Edwards Abstract and Title Co., AT&T, Memorial Funeral Home and several other businesses who volunteered their time to help to make the event a huge success.

“We are just in the beginning phases of this endeavor,” said Frank Mendieta of AT&T. “Our goal is to provide the children with the medication, medical supplies, medical care and improvements to their quality of life that they need,” he added.

In the short term, the Kiwanians visited the family in Reynosa to assess their needs and will return with a team of experts as they strive to make a difference in the lives of Lupita and Eduardo.

A special account has been set up for donations at First National Bank. For more information contact Ordóñez at 318-5010 or any FNB branch office.

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Congressman Hinojosa announces $20,000 Big Read Grant to UT-Pan American

By ELIZABETH ESFAHANI

and

GAIL FAGAN

Congressman Rubén Hinojosa, D-Mercedes, on Tuesday, July 1, announced today that The University of Texas-Pan American has been awarded a $20,000 grant for The Big Read, a nationwide initiative to restore reading to the center of American life. UTPA is one of 208 organizations that received a grant from the National Endowment for the Arts to host The Big Read from September 2008-June 2009. The Big Read gives communities the opportunity to come together to read, discuss, and celebrate one of 23 selections from American and world literature.

“This is an important program that will help make reading a fun and enjoyable experience for more Rio Grande Valley residents and I congratulate UTPA on their award,” said Hinojosa. “The Big Read offers a unique opportunity to enrich the lives of our students and spark a love for reading that will last a lifetime. I encourage as many residents as possible to take advantage of this unique opportunity.”

UTPA will receive a grant of $20,000 to promote and carry out community-based reading programs featuring activities such as read-a-thons, book discussions, lectures, movie screenings, and performing arts events. Participating communities also receive high-quality, free-of-charge educational materials to supplement each title, including Reader’s, Teacher’s, and Audio Guides.

The Big Read is an initiative of the National Endowment for the Arts designed to restore reading to the center of American culture. For more information about The Big Read please visit http://www.neabigread.org.

“The Big Read grant will enable us to highlight the importance of reading through a variety of creative programs at UTPA, local libraries and in the public schools,” said Dr. Steven Schneider, UTPA English professor and director of New Programs and Special Projects in the College of Arts and Humanities.

Schneider wrote the successful grant application and serves as Big Read’s principal investigator and project director.

The largest reading program in the United States, The Big Read gives communities the opportunity to come together to read, discuss and celebrate one of 23 selections from American and world literature. The grant provides community-based programs featuring activities such as read-a-thons, book discussions, lectures, movie screenings and performing arts events. Participating communities also receive high-quality free-of-charge educational materials to supplement the book chosen for their community including reader’s guides (in English and Spanish), teacher’s guides, and audio introductions to the book as well as a comprehensive Web site.

“The Big Read book we have selected to promote, Bless Me, Ultima, by Rudolfo Anaya, is a classic Mexican-American novel with many culturally relevant themes and symbols. We plan to involve teachers, students and their families in a communitywide literacy outreach program that will feature this novel,” Schneider said.

Plans for The Big Read locally include working with community libraries along with Region One Education Service Center and the University’s GEAR UP (Gaining Early Awareness and Readiness for Undergraduate Program) to facilitate and coordinate participation by Valley students and educators in the program’s activities.

Following a celebratory kick-off event in February 2009, local Big Read activities will include a panel of experts to discuss author Anaya and his work during FESTIBA (Festival of International Books and Art) 2009, an annual weeklong event at UTPA to encourage literacy and cultural awareness. Also in the planning stages are a series of group discussions of The Big Read selection in RGV libraries and an art exhibit and musical performance related to the book Bless Me, Ultima.

Schneider said The Big Read will also work with the South Texas Literacy Coalition, an advocacy group made up of representatives from local and national non-profit literacy groups and organizations, UTPA, South Texas College and Region One, formed earlier this year to boost literacy in South Texas.

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