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A state constitutional amendment that is designed to bring a Veterans Administration Hospital to deep South Texas picked up a major endorsement on Tuesday, September 1, when Gov. Rick Perry, who was in Harlingen for a bill signing ceremony relating to a planned medical school for the Valley, enthusiastically revealed his support for Proposition 8. Proposition 8, which will be on the November 3 statewide ballot, is the result of legislation spearheaded by Valley veterans and successfully carried through the Texas Legislature last spring by Rep. Ismael "Kino" Flores, D-Palmview, who was the author of the bill, and Sen. Juan "Chuy" Hinojosa, D-McAllen. Hinojosa was the lead Senate sponsor of the legislation. Sen. Eddie Lucio, Jr., D-Brownsville, was also a sponsor of that measure. Rep. Armando "Mando" Martínez, D-Weslaco, Rep. Ryan Guillen, D-Rio Grande City, and Rep. David Leibowitz, D-San Antonio, were co-authors of the Valley VA Hospital constitutional amendment. "Vote Aye!" Perry quickly declared, prompting cheers from a delegation of veterans who were part of a packed house of business and community leaders, medical students, and legislative leaders who gathered for the bill-signing ceremony. See lead story later in this posting. 

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The Texas Association of Community Health Centers (TACHC) on Tuesday, September 1 presented its Legislative Champion Award to Sen. Juan “Chuy” Hinojosa, D-McAllen, for his work during the 81st Texas Legislature to bring more doctors to South Texas and the Coastal Bend. Hinojosa authored the senate version of the legislation and carried the final bill (House Bill 2154) through the Senate. He was instrumental in the overwhelming 29-2 vote in the Senate to pass the physician loan repayment program. The program will be available to primary care physicians who agree to practice in underserved areas of the state and will assist in paying off student loans amassed during medical school training.  Medical school graduates carry an average debt as high as $160,000 in student loans. See story later in this posting. Featured, from left, at the Community Action Corporation of South Texas, are: Dr. Vandana Kamat, a family practice physician from Alice; Sen. Hinojosa; Dr. Diana Franco Bill, the health director for the Community Action Corporation of South Texas in Alice; Director: Dr. Diana Franco Bill; and José Camacho, TACAC executive director. See story later in this posting. 

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With the opening of the new University of Texas-Pan American Teaching Site on Thursday, August 26, access to advanced education will now be a few miles closer for many Rio Grande Valley residents, saving them travel time and costs. Initiated by UT-Pan American in partnership with the City of McAllen, the new 10,000-square-foot leased facility is located at 1800 South Main Street in the Main Place Shopping Center adjacent to the La Plaza Mall. A map showing the site’s location is available at http://www.utpa.edu/mcallen. This first fall semester features 12 graduate-level courses in the Colleges of Education, Business Administration, Arts and Humanities, and Science and Engineering. Additionally, English Language Institute classes and some continuing education courses in educational leadership and the Certified Public Manager program will also be offered. Students must be formally admitted to UTPA before enrolling in any of the following classes: History of Rhetoric, Composition & Literacy Studies; Writing Academic Discourse; Direct Readings US History; Organizational Leadership; Introduction to Educational Administration; Public School Law; Algebra I; Statistical Foundations; Introduction to Finance; and International Business Foundation; For more information about the UTPA McAllen Teaching Site, call 956/381-2071. Featured during the ribbon cutting ceremony on August 26 at the teaching site are, from left: McAllen City Commissioner Marcus Barrera; McAllen Mayor Richard Cortéz; Dr. Charles A. Sorber, UTPA interim president; James D. Dannenbaum of Houston, member of the University of Texas System Board of Regents; Dr. Paul Sale, UTPA provost and vice president for academic affairs; and Rep. Verónica Gonzáles, D-McAllen.  

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The McAllen Hispanic Chamber of Commerce is celebrating their 10th Annual Hispanic Heritage Month Student Art Contest. September 15 through October 15 is considered Hispanic Heritage Month in the United States. To remind students of Hispanic Heritage, the MHCC sponsors an art contest open to all students in the middle and high schools in Willacy, Hidalgo, Cameron, Webb and Starr counties. The theme to the art contest is “Mi Cultura” or “My Culture”. Students are asked to submit a 16 x 20 size entry with any art medium being accepted. Trophies will be awarded to the 1st, 2nd and 3rd place winners in both the Middle and Senior High School divisions at a special “Día de la Raza” reception to be held on October 14 sponsored by Combined Insurance. For more information, call the MHCC office at 928-0060. Featured, with some of last year’s entries, are, from left: Cynthia M. Sakulenzki, MHCC president and chief executive officer; Lisa Díaz, MHCC intern; Carol Schmitt, MHCC board member; and Ceci Peña, MHCC intern. 

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Gloria Segovia-Zúñiga, Noelia Sánchez, and María T. Medina, featured from left, have recently completed all requirements for membership into the Academy of Boys & Girls Club Professionals at the Professional Level for the Management & Youth Development categories.  Segovia-Zúñiga attained the Youth Development Professional Level, Sánchez achieved the Youth Development and Management Professional Levels, and Medina attained the Management Professional Level. The Academy of Boys & Girls Club Professionals is part of Boys & Girls Clubs of America’s strategic initiative, which helps clubs expand their youth development capacity, while recognizing the value of career and professional development. See story later in this posting. 

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Gov. Perry endorses Proposition 8 by Rep. Flores, Sen. Hinojosa, Rep. Martínez to build Valley VA Hospital

By DAVID A. DÍAZ 

A state constitutional amendment that is designed to bring a Veterans Administration Hospital to deep South Texas picked up a major endorsement on Tuesday, September 1, when Gov. Rick Perry, who was in Harlingen for a bill signing ceremony relating to a planned medical school for the Valley, enthusiastically revealed his support for Proposition 8. 

Proposition 8, which will be on the November 3 statewide ballot, is the result of legislation spearheaded by Valley veterans and successfully carried through the Texas Legislature last spring by Rep. Ismael "Kino" Flores, D-Palmview, who was the author of the measure, and Sen. Juan "Chuy" Hinojosa, D-McAllen. 

Hinojosa was the lead Senate sponsor of the legislation. Sen. Eddie Lucio, Jr., D-Brownsville, was also a sponsor of that measure. 

Rep. Armando "Mando" Martínez, D-Weslaco, Rep. Ryan Guillen, D-Rio Grande City, and Rep. David Leibowitz, D-San Antonio, were co-authors of the Valley VA Hospital constitutional amendment. 

Proposition 8 states: "The constitutional amendment authorizing the state to contribute money, property, and other resources for the establishment, maintenance, and operation of veterans hospitals in this state. 

Governor: "Vote Aye!" for Proposition 8 

Following the bill signing ceremony for the medical school, which was hosted at the University of Texas Regional Academic Health Center in Harlingen, Perry fielded questions from the audience, and was asked how he will vote on Proposition 8. 

"Vote Aye!" Perry quickly declared, prompting cheers from a delegation of veterans who were part of a packed house of business and community leaders, medical students, and legislative leaders who gathered for the bill-signing ceremony.  

"That was a pretty simple one," the governor grinned, evidently pleased with the chance to remind voters in South Texas that he, too, is playing a role in helping bring a long sought-after Veterans Administration Hospital to voter-rich South Texas. 

Perry, who served as a pilot in the Air Force, is facing a challenge in the March 2010 Republican Party primary from fellow political heavyweight U.S. Sen. Kay Bailey Hutchison in his reelection bid for governor. 

Texas Democrats are also developing their own list of gubernatorial candidates, which currently features Tom Schieffer of Ft. Worth, a former state representative and lifelong businessman, and Kinky Friedman, a humorist and author. 

Hutchison is already on board in pushing for increased medical resources for Valley veterans, and is co-author of federal legislation by Sen. John Cornyn, which is being carried by the Valley’s congressional delegation in the House, which calls for the construction of a $175 million VA Hospital in deep South Texas. 

Proposition 8 allows Perry to share in the credit for state efforts to help South Texas veterans. 

"With the growth we see in the Rio Grande Valley, I hope our friends in Washington. D.C. will do what is right, what is appropriate, and will not only expand the veterans services here, but (bring) a Veterans Hospital that will provide service to the veterans here for years to come," Perry said. 

The governor noted the leadership roles taken by the South Texas legislators, and singled out Hinojosa, who was at the Harlingen event, for his military service in Vietnam. 

"Chuy, who is a former United States Marine, he understands the importance of having a veterans facility here," Perry said of Hinojosa, prompting the Marine battle cry of "Ooh! Rah!" from several members of the audience. 

Hinojosa also was a co-author of the legislation that will create the UT medical school in the Valley. 

Flores, Hinojosa and Martínez have promised to use their considerable influence among scores of major political, business, and community groups in Texas, ranging from organized labor to business interests to veterans organizations, to help rally support for passage of Proposition 8. 

"Proposition 8 is designed to help not only the Valley, but to pool state and federal resources to help major regions of Texas which have large populations of veterans who need the specialized services provided by VA Hospitals," Hinojosa said. "The construction of a Valley VA Hospital would have a huge economic impact in the Valley, for generations to come." 

Endorsements requested from all top officials 

Flores, who was unable to attend the bill-signing ceremony in Harlingen, later said the governor’s public support for Proposition 8 will help keep momentum for its passage on November 3. 

"The more big-names come on board to say they support Proposition 8, the better the chances are to help our veterans, not only throughout Texas, but especially in the Valley," said Flores, himself a U.S. Army veteran. "I encourage all other major candidates for statewide office, and every other elected leader, from the school house to the courthouse to the White House, to join this crusade for justice on behalf of our wounded war veterans and their families." 

In previous legislative sessions, Flores was the key architect of legislative measures that resulted in the construction of the Alfredo González Texas State Veterans Home in McAllen and the Rio Grande Valley State Veterans Cemetery in Mission.  

He also was author of a measure, approved by lawmakers in the final days of the legislative session in late May, which provides disabled veterans up to a 100 percent tax break from paying property taxes on their principal home.  

Martínez, a professional firefighter and emergency medical services expert, who also is a co-sponsor of the Valley UT medical school legislation, had a schedule conflict and was unable to make it to the medical school bill-signing ceremony.  

Martínez said that there have been advances in increasing medical care for veterans in the Valley, noting that the U.S. Department of Veterans Affairs finalized contracts with Valley Baptist Health System in Cameron County and with  South Texas Health System in Hidalgo County to provide inpatient, surgical, emergency, and mental health services to veterans enrolled in the VA benefits program.   

However, there is still a need for a full-fledged veterans hospital, he added. The nearest hospital is approximately 300 miles away in San Antonio, which is prohibitive for many patients. 

"Proposition 8 would require the Texas Veterans Commission and the Department of State Health Services to work with appropriate federal agencies to establish a veterans hospital in the Rio Grande Valley," Martínez  explained.    

Under one major scenario being envisioned, the approval of Proposition 8 would pave the way for Valley public or private entities to donate land for the site, have the state government help pay for construction of the hospital, and leave the costs of operating the hospital up to the federal government. 

Need for Valley VA Hospital 

On March 25, 2009, Cornyn re-introduced federal legislation to build a top-notch VA hospital for veterans in the Rio Grande Valley. Veterans there are currently forced to drive hours and travel up to hundreds of miles for access to inpatient health care, and Cornyn’s Far South Texas Veterans Medical Center Act of 2009 helps close the gap by authorizing construction of a full VA hospital in far South Texas to give these veterans more proximate access to inpatient medical care.  

Cornyn’s new legislation goes a step farther than his bill from the previous Congress by using stronger language to bring a Department of Veterans Affairs (VA) hospital to South Texas. It not only authorizes the VA to construct a hospital, it requires them to do so.  

In the 110th Congress, Cornyn introduced the South Texas Veterans Access to Care Act, which would have directed the VA to examine and then choose one of three policy options for meeting deep South Texas veterans’ inpatient health care needs:   

  • Public-private venture to provide services at an existing facility; 
  • Construction of a new full-service, 50-bed hospital with a 125-bed nursing home; or
  • A sharing agreement with a military treatment facility.   

The bill would have required the VA Secretary to implement whichever option he selected. If he chose to build a new VA hospital, the bill would have authorized $175 million for that purpose.  

After its introduction, Cornyn made several efforts to move the bill forward last Congress. In October 2007, he wrote to the Senate Veterans Affairs Committee leaders, asking them to move his bill forward. On September 8, 2008, he filed his legislation as an amendment to the Defense Authorization bill.  

Enacted in 1876, the Texas State Constitution has been amended more than 400 times.  

Proposed constitutional amendments must pass by a two-thirds vote in both houses of the state legislature to be considered on the ballot. 

Proposition 8 is one of 11 constitutional amendments that will be on the statewide ballot on November 3.  

“During these summer months, I encourage Texans to register to vote or update their registration if their address has recently changed to ensure they are eligible to cast their ballots in November," said Texas Secretary of State Hope Andrade added. "I hope Texans will recognize the role they can play in our state’s future and head to the polls this fall.”  

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Sen. Hinojosa honored for program to bring more doctors to Texas by helping pay their student loans

BY RUSS RHEA 

The Texas Association of Community Health Centers (TACHC) on Tuesday, September 1 presented its Legislative Champion Award to Sen. Juan “Chuy” Hinojosa, D-McAllen, for his work during the 81st Texas Legislature to bring more doctors to South Texas and the Coastal Bend.

During an event hosted by the Community Action Corporation of South Texas in Alice, Hinojosa’s leadership and commitment in the passage of physician loan repayment legislation were highlighted and applauded. The legislation takes a major step toward addressing a critical physician shortage across the state, particularly in rural and border areas of the state. Most counties in the Coastal Bend and South Texas are designated as Health Professional Shortage Areas.

“Thanks to the leadership of Sen. Hinojosa, as many as 225 primary care physicians per year will be providing health care in underserved areas of Texas in the years ahead,” said TACHC Executive Director José E. Camacho. “Access to health care in both urban and rural areas remains critical as our population grows. Sen. Hinojosa’s efforts and all those who supported the physician loan repayment legislation help assure healthcare will be available for those who need it.”

Hinojosa authored the senate version of the legislation and carried the final bill (House Bill 2154) through the Senate. He was instrumental in the overwhelming 29-2 vote in the senate to pass the physician loan repayment program. The program will be available to primary care physicians who agree to practice in underserved areas of the state and will assist in paying off student loans amassed during medical school training.  Medical school graduates carry an average debt as high as $160,000 in student loans.

Through Hinojosa’s invaluable assistance, the physician loan repayment proposal made it through an extremely challenging legislative session. In June, Gov. Rick Perry formally signed the physician loan repayment bill into law.  The legislation became effective on September 1, 2009.

"House Bill 2154 opens up a window of opportunity to allow highly qualified professionals to more readily practice in medically underserved areas,” said Diana Franco Bill, Ph.D., Director of Health Programs for the Community Action Corporation of South Texas.  “This program will give us an excellent recruiting tool to keep our health care delivery sites in Jim Wells, Brooks, Bee, Duval, Kleberg and San Patricio counties fully staffed with physicians to serve the community.”

More than half of Texas counties are in need of primary care physicians. In 2008, 26 Texas counties had no primary care physician.  More than 110 Texas counties – rural and urban – have been designated as Health Professional Shortage Areas, meaning those counties do not meet a minimum national threshold of one physician for every 3,500 people.

“As we talk about expanding healthcare in our country, it’s critical we have physicians in place to meet the demand,” said Camacho. “Work in this session by Sen. Hinojosa and others puts Texas in better position to meet the needs of the future.”

The health centers operated by Community Action Corporation of South Texas are among many Federally Qualified Health Centers throughout Texas expected to attract future physicians thanks to the loan repayment incentive.

For more information on House Bill 2154 (including interactive features, video interviews, audio podcasts from healthcare professionals across Texas), visit http://www.HealthAccessForTexas.org  

The Texas Association of Community Health Centers is a private, non-profit membership association that represents safety-net health care providers in Texas. Association members include Community and Migrant Health Centers, Health Care for the Homeless Grantees, Public Housing Primary Care Grantees, Ryan White HIV/AIDS Grantees, Health Center Networks and other providers who strive to meet the health care needs of the uninsured and underserved. TACHC serves as the primary care association for the state of Texas.  

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Governor travels to South Texas to sign landmark bill by Sen. Lucio that will create UT medical school

By DORIS SÁNCHEZ  

History was made on Tuesday, September 1 in the Rio Grande Valley when Gov. Rick Perry ceremonially signed Senate Bill 98 authored by Sen. Eddie Lucio Jr., D-Brownsville, that sets the area as the location for the University of Texas Health Science Center-South Texas and a not-too-distant future medical school. 

(Editor’s note: The new law was co-authored by Sen. Juan "Chuy" Hinojosa, D-McAllen, and Sen. Judith Zaffirini, D-Laredo. It was sponsored in the House of Representatives by Rep. Eddie Lucio, III, D-San Benito, Rep. Armando "Mando" Martínez, D-Weslaco, Rep. Aaron Peña, D-Edinburg, Rep. René Oliveira, D-Brownsville, and Rep. Tara Ríos Ybarra, D-South Padre Island.) 

In a ceremony held at the Regional Academic Health Center (RAHC) in Harlingen, the governor took pen to paper giving SB 98 from the 81st Legislature his full approval. 

"I thank Gov. Perry for having made the trip to be with us today on one of our most historic occasions," said Lucio. "My colleagues and I who worked so hard to get this bill through appreciated that he didn’t just decide to sign the bill in Austin, but instead joined us to celebrate a phenomenal achievement in health care for our area." 

As South Texas struggles with a shortage of physicians, particularly in primary care practices, the Senator noted that "the growth and development of the RAHC into a medical school will fulfill this desperate need by giving our local students opportunities to pursue a medical education and by encouraging those future doctors to remain in South Texas." 

While the ratio of physicians per 100,000 persons statewide is 68.4 percent, in Starr, Willacy, Hidalgo and Cameron counties it is 30.7, 36.9, 57.7 and 61.5 respectively. One of  Lucio’s goals, as well as those of the Valley Delegation, local officials, business leaders and the medical community, is that doctors who study locally will stay to practice locally. 

"Without more physicians, there is a distinct possibility that the Valley could struggle to provide basic services in health care in 20 years," Lucio noted. 

The Health Science Center will also provide new opportunities in medical research and bio-technology, which are major economic drivers. In 2005, the Association of American Medical Colleges reported that their member medical schools and affiliated teaching hospitals generated $462 million in related economic benefits. Over the next 10 years after its establishment, the economic impact from the Health Science Center-South Texas is expected to be $1.3 billion in business revenue and create 4,700 jobs. 

Although the state will not begin funding the medical school until 2015, Lucio said the six years "will give us ample time to prepare and take the additional steps to create a full-fledged, free standing medical school." 

"I feel as though we hit a home run but it will take many more games to make it to the big leagues, so we’ve got out work cut out for us," said Lucio. "To those who never believed this day would come, I remind you that it came only through concerted effort and cooperation, and I invite everyone locally and at the state level to continue working to achieve our goal of funding and developing the University of Texas Health Science Center-South Texas and our forthcoming medical school. 

"A medical school in South Texas will not only provide medical education opportunities and expanded health care services, but it is a gift to our community and our prosperity," he added. 

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Gov. Perry: Texas is improving access to health care in the Valley, cites law to create UT medical school

Gov. Rick Perry on Tuesday, September 1, applauded the increase in access to health care for Texans in the Rio Grande Valley thanks to tort reform and the establishment of a medical education facility in the region. The governor ceremonially signed Senate Bill 98, which establishes a health science center and medical school in South Texas. 

The event was hosted by the University of Texas Regional Academic Health Center in Harlingen. 

“We are here today to build on the success of our tort reform efforts and continue increasing the quantity and quality of medical care here in the Valley,” Perry said. “Senate Bill 98 is vitally important in an area that has been dealing with a shortfall of caregivers for far too long, and will help increase the flow of doctors into the Valley.” 

SB 98 allows the University of Texas System to convert the Lower Rio Grande Valley Regional Academic Health Center (RAHC) into the University of Texas Health Science Center – South Texas, with the main campus in Cameron County. 

“I thank Gov. Perry for signing Senate Bill 98, a medical milestone for the Rio Grande Valley and South Texas. The efforts of hundreds through the years, ranging from the Valley delegation to the medical and business communities, have paid off,” said Sen. Eddie Lucio Jr., D-Brownsville. “I salute the governor for joining us in making the Valley the next site for a medical school that will bring our area long-awaited higher education opportunities in health care and curb our extreme physician shortages.” 

SB 98 will help address the doctor-patient ratio in South Texas, which averages 57 physicians per 100,000 people, compared to the statewide average of 157 and national average of 220 physicians per 100,000 people. The law will also help increase the number of Hispanic graduates of Texas medical schools. 

The RAHC was authorized by the Legislature in 1997, and has three major divisions: medical education in Harlingen and medical research in Edinburg, which are overseen by the University of Texas Health Science Center at San Antonio (UTHSCSA), and public health in Brownsville, overseen by the University of Texas Health Science Center at Houston. Third and fourth-year medical students from UTHSCSA complete rotations at the RAHC facility in Harlingen, which also houses an internal medicine residency program. 

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Sen. Hutchison’s campaign submits state Open Records request on expenditures relating to Gov. Perry’s ceremonial bill-signing travels statewide

Texans for Kay, the campaign organization spearheading U.S. Sen. Kay Bailey Hutchison’s bid for the Republican Party gubernatorial nomination, has submitted an Open Records Request requesting all documents pertaining to Gov. Rick Perry’s re-signing ceremonies for bills. 

Hutchison believes Texas taxpayers deserve an honest and transparent accounting of how their money is being spent to fund Rick Perry’s political campaign, according to her campaign website. Texans for Kay has called on Perry, a Republican, to reimburse taxpayers the money he has "needlessly" spent on these ceremonial re-signings.

According to Section 1 of the Texas Open Records Act: 

“Under the fundamental philosophy of the American constitutional form of representative government that adheres to the principle that government is the servant and not the master of the people, it is the policy of this state that each person is entitled, unless otherwise expressly provided by law, at all times to complete information about the affairs of government and the official acts of public officials and employees. The people, in delegating authority, do not give their public servants the right to decide what is good for the people to know and what is not good for them to know. The people insist on remaining informed so that they may retain control over the instruments they have created.”(TEX. CODE ANN. Sec. 5-552.001(a) (2009))

 

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VA Center in Harlingen providing area veterans with cutting-edge technology for heart, brain diagnosis

By FROYLAN GARZA 

The new Veterans Administration Texas Valley Coastal Bend Health Care System (VATVCBHCS) on Tuesday, September 9, announced that the South Texas VA Health Care Center in Harlingen is the first medical facility in the Rio Grande Valley to provide a 3 Tesla MRI machine and a 3 Dimensional (3-D) Echocardiograph machine to South Texas Veterans.   

These high-tech machines are unique to the Rio Grande Valley; no other medical facility in the Valley has either one. The most powerful Magnetic Resonance Imaging (MRI) machine is known as the “3 Tesla.” This machine is able to depict a high quality image allowing for better review and diagnosis.   

The 3 Dimensional (3-D) Echocardiograph is able to illustrate a 3-D image, providing extensive details about the functioning of the heart.  

“This new arsenal of medical technology is a great benefit for Valley veterans. Both of these machines are major advances in technology. Through their use, conditions that are not seen by the older technology can now be seen and diagnosed. Another advantage is that neither technology uses ionizing radiation, so there is no risk of radiation exposure” said Dr. Vincent Álvarez, Chief of Staff for the VA Texas Valley Coastal Bend Health Care System.  

Another addition to the armory of new medical technology utilized by the VA at the Harlingen Medical Center is the “virtual colonoscopy” which began providing services on Tuesday September 8.   

In this procedure, a CT scanning x-ray machine is able to visualize the colon, without requiring the insertion of the colonoscope.  This virtual colonoscopy technology is ideal for the Veteran who needs a colonoscopy, but is unable to medically tolerate the necessary sedation for a typical colonoscopy, or who may not have anyone available to drive them home after he or she receives the sedation necessary for the typical colonoscopy.   

Unlike the 3 Tesla MRI machine and a 3 Dimensional (3-D) Echocardiograph technology that is the only one of its kind in the Valley, this virtual colonoscopy technology is available in South Texas and throughout the nation.  

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McAllen Mayor Cortéz, Hidalgo Mayor Franz among hosts for September 9 fundraiser for Speaker Straus

By DAVID A. DÍAZ 

McAllen Mayor Richard Cortéz and Hidalgo Mayor John David Franz are part of a host committee which is helping raise campaign contributions for Speaker of the House Joe Straus, III, R-San Antonio, with a Wednesday, September 9 luncheon set in the City of Palms. 

The event will take place from noon to 1:30 p.m. at Lansky & Brats Steakhouse and Lounge, an upscale dining establishment located at 400 West Nolana, #U, between Col. Rowe Boulevard (North 2nd Street) and North 10th Street in McAllen. 

The fundraiser is being organized by Susan Lilly with Lilly and Company, a political consulting firm.

Labor Day – Monday, September 7 – was the deadline to RSVP for the local gathering, which was commanding contribution levels ranging from several hundred dollars to several thousand dollars. 

She listed her telephone number at 866/789-9223 and her e-mail address as: 

susan@lilly&company.com 

In addition to the two Hidalgo County mayors, other area leaders identified by the Straus campaign as being part of the host committee includes: David O. Rogers, Jr., chairman of the board of First National Bank of Edinburg, R. David Guerra, president of the International Bank of Commerce – McAllen; Glen E. Roney, a banking executive and former longtime member of the inaugural Board of Trustees for South Texas College; and members of the La Mantia family of South Texas, who are the owners of L&F Distributors Ltd. of McAllen, which is the leading Anheuser-Busch distributor in the lower Texas region.  

Straus was the surprise choice at the beginning of the year to lead the 150-member House of Representatives, securing more than the majority of the votes from state representatives to succeed incumbent Speaker of the House Tom Craddick, R-Midland. 

Straus also made history as the first Speaker of the House of Texas who is Jewish. 

His Capitol office has reportedly said Straus has more than enough House members who have promised to vote to reelect him to a new, two-year term as speaker in January 2011. 

Straus, a relative newcomer in the Texas Legislature, is currently serving a two-year term as the leader of the House, a position which puts him among the top three most powerful state officials in Texas. As Speaker of the House, Straus carries tremendous leverage in deciding the fate of all legislation, power that is matched only by Gov. Rick Perry and Lt. Gov. David Dewhurst. 

His visit to raise campaign funds comes on the heel of a recently-released campaign report, which showed he had almost $900,000 in his major reelection campaign fund, which is maintained by Texans for Joe Straus out of San Antonio. 

That report, which covers contributions and expenditure from January 1 through June 30 of this year, is available online, at no charge, through the Texas Ethics Commission at: 

http://www.ethics.state.tx.us/php/filer.php?acct=00056637spac 

During the first six months of 2009, only members of the prominent La Mantia family were listed as being Valleyites who gave money to Straus, making their donations on June 30. 

Joe LaMantia, III, Joe V. LaMantia, Jr. and Verna A. Peisen, all of McAllen, and each of them listed as general partners with L&F Distributors Ltd., each gave Straus $5,000.  

Steve LaMantia, a general partner with L&F Distributors Ltd. who lives in Laredo, and Anthony  

LaMantia, a general partner with L&F Distributors Ltd who lives in Corpus Christi, also each gave Straus $5,000. 

Highlights from the semi-annual campaign finance report filed by Texans for Joe Straus showed that he had raised $721,050 between January 1 and June 30, 2009, with much of that amount reported during a June 30 fundraiser.  

After expenditures of almost $170,000 during the first six months of 2009, Straus reported a campaign fund balance of almost $884,000. 

The biggest contributors during that period include: 

$50,000 

  • AT&T Texas PAC, San Antonio (June 30). 

$25,000 each 

  • TREPAC/Texas Association of Realtors PAC, Austin (June 30);
  • TEXPAC, Austin (June 30);
  • BG Distribution Partners PAC, Houston (June 30); and
  • Mr. and Mrs. Harlan Crow, Investors, Crow Holdings, Dallas (June 30); 

$20,000 

  • HillCo PAC, Austin (June 30). 

$15,000 each 

  • Time Warner Cable PAC, Houston (June 30);
  • Ross H. Perot, Jr., Chairman, Perot Systems, Plano (June 30);
  • Mr. and Mrs. John L. Nau, III, President, Silver Eagle Distributors, Houston (June 30); and
  • Paul Bryant, Jr., President, Greene Group, Tuscaloosa, Alabama (June 30). 

$10,000 each 

  • Winstead PAC, Dallas (June 30);
  • Wholesale Beer Distributors of Texas PAC, Austin (June 30);
  • Texas Greyhound Association PAC, Lorena, Texas (June 30);
  • Texas DENPAC, Austin (June 30);
  • Texas Automobile Dealers Association PAC, Austin (June 30);
  • Texas Apartment Association PAC, Austin (June 30);
  • Texas for Economic Development, Austin (June 30);
  • QPAC, Ft. Worth (June 30);
  • PSEL PAC, Ft. Worth (June 30);
  • Mr. and Mrs. Bob J. Perry, President, Perry Homes, Houston (June 30);
  • Maxxam Inc. Texas Political Action Committee, Houston (June 30);
  • Laudry’s Restaurant PAC, Houston (June 30);
  • HomePac of Texas, Austin (June 30);
  • William E. Greehey, CEO/Chairman of the Board, NuStar Energy, San Antonio (June 30);
  • Paul L. Foster, President, Western Refining Co., El Paso (June 30);
  • Farmers Employee and Agent PAC of Texas, Austin (June 30);
  • Charles C. Butt, CEO/President, HEB, San Antonio (June 30);
  • BNSF RailPac, Austin (June 30);
  • Blackridge, Austin (June 30); and
  • Akin Gump Strauss Hauer & Feld LLP Civic Action League, Austin (June 26). 

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Freedom Communications, Inc., national media firm which owns McAllen Monitor, Valley Morning Star, Brownsville Herald, files for bankruptcy protection

Freedom Communications, a national privately owned media company of print publications, broadcast television stations and interactive businesses, announced on Wednesday, September 2, that it has received approval of first day motions designed to ensure that daily operations continue normally during the company’s restructuring. 

The first day relief approved on September 2 by the U.S. Bankruptcy Court for the District of Delaware gives the company permission to pay pre-petition and post-petition employee wages and benefits, use its cash management systems, and continue its advertising and subscriber programs during its Chapter 11 restructuring. 

Chapter 11 allows a business to reorganize under the U.S. Bankruptcy code. A chapter 11 debtor –  such as Freedom Communications, Inc., in this case – usually proposes a plan of reorganization to keep its business alive and pay creditors over time. People in business or individuals can also seek relief in chapter 11. 

In South Texas, Freedom Communications, Inc. owns the McAllen Monitor, the Valley Morning Star in Harlingen, the Brownsville Herald, The Mid-Valley Town Crier in Weslaco, Island Breeze and  Coastal Current in SouthPadre Island, and two Spanish-language publications, La Frontera and El Nuevo Heraldo

"Quick approval of our first day motions is encouraging and puts Freedom on strong footing as we move forward in implementing the debt restructuring agreement we reached with our lenders," said Freedom CEO Burl Osborne. "This action should reassure our employees, our customers, our suppliers and the communities we serve that we have sufficient cash to fund daily operations and that it is business as usual." 

The day before, Freedom Communications, Inc. announced that it had reached agreement with its lenders on a restructuring of the company’s debt. 

To implement the restructuring, Freedom Communications, Inc. and its subsidiaries on September 1 filed voluntary petitions for reorganization under Chapter 11 of the United States Bankruptcy Code, along with a plan-support agreement executed by a steering committee of their lenders. According to the agreement, a majority of the lenders will support a pre-negotiated plan of reorganization that incorporates the terms of the restructuring. 

Freedom Communications’ daily and weekly newspapers, TV stations and websites will continue normal operations. Readers, viewers and advertisers should see no difference in the day-to-day operations of these businesses. 

"This announcement is positive news for the company and all of our associates, who have been making extraordinary efforts to transform our business, as well as for our customers and the communities that depend on us for critical information," said Osborne. "Reaching this agreement with our lenders provides us with an orderly process to re-align our balance sheet with the realities of today’s media environment." 

Freedom Communications, Inc. stated that, as of the filing date, it has sufficient cash to fund daily operations, including post-petition payments to vendors and partners and to meet customer and employee obligations through the duration of the restructuring. 

"We are grateful for the confidence our lenders have continued to demonstrate in Freedom," Osborne said. "We will work to implement this restructuring agreement through the Chapter 11 process as expeditiously as possible and emerge with a solid balance sheet to face both challenges and opportunities in the future." 

The company made its filing in the U.S. Bankruptcy Court for the District of Delaware in Wilmington. Additional information regarding the filings can be found at http://www.loganandco.com or by calling 800-299-1960.  

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Former Rep. Lloyd Criss, a Democratic Party leader, publishes Rough & Tumble Texas Political Combat

By DAVID A. DÍAZ 

Rough & Tumble Texas Political Combat, a new publication by former State Rep. Lloyd W. Criss, D-Galveston, provides inside information on political campaigns and governmental actions at both the state and local levels, according to a press release announcing the new book. 

Book copies, which are about $20 apiece with sales tax and shipping, can be obtained through the website http://www.txpoliticalcombat.com and amazon.com

"Featured are a number of Texas most prominent and powerful leaders, people who have held the reins of power and played prominent roles in Texas history and government," said Criss, a renowned labor leader in Texas who served in the Texas Legislature for six terms, including as chairman of the House Committee on Labor and Employee Relations. 

Criss’ last two-year term ended in early January 1991. 

Criss is also the father of longtime Galveston District Judge Susan Criss, who sought the Demcratic Party nomination in 2008 for Texas Supreme Court. She was edged out by 13th Court of Appeals Justice Linda Reyna Yañez of Edinburg. 

"Some are presented very honorably in the process of advancing their beliefs and promoting the public good," Lloyd Criss said of his book. "Others, unfortunately, are exposed performing unsavory acts either protecting their own political turfs or selfishly questing for more power and/or personal wealth." 

Among the political personalities and issues covered by Criss in his publication are: 

  • How local and state elections are won;
  • Campaigning with U.S. Sen. Ralph Yarbrough;
  • Lloyd Bentsen as candidate and U.S. Senator;
  • Segregation and other shameful behavior;
  • Behind the scenes in the two Brilab Trials;
  • Religious intolerance;
  • Dirty campaign tricks in operation;
  • Tom DeLay in the Texas House;
  • Bingo and other gaming fights;
  • Bob Bullock betraying his party;
  • How Mark White was elected governor;
  •  John Connally meddling in local politics;
  • Ann Richards, Texas lady governor;
  • Speaker Clayton partying and prayer;
  • Gov. Clements’ workers’ compensation war;
  • The Bushes, father and son;
  • Speaker Gib Lewis’ leadership;
  • Lobbying for riverboat gaming;
  •  Battles for farm workers;
  • The awful Texas prison system;
  •  Trial lawyer errors;
  • Criss’ Texas Senate race; and
  • The all powerful Texas business and insurance lobbyists. 

In addition to his time in the House of Representatives, Criss has served in elective office as Chair of the Galveston County Democratic Party for four terms and as a member of the La Marque City Council one term, and member of the Texas House of Representatives, six terms.  In addition he has held several leadership positions in organized labor, a partnership in Legislative Consultants, a lobby firm, and as managing partner in Gulf Coast Marketing. 

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Sen. Hutchison shares concerns about President Obama’s speech to nation’s public school students

U.S. Senator Kay Bailey Hutchison, R-Texas, recently issued the following statement on President Obama’s speech to public school students, which was delivered on Tuesday, September 9:  

“I share the concerns of many parents about the President addressing schools in a way that leaves little choice for parents if the speech includes a political agenda. The original worksheet put out by the Department of Education raised this possibility and caused a legitimate public outcry.” 

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President’s message encourages students to take personal responsibility for their education

By REP. VERÓNICA GONZÁLES 

As many of you are now aware, several local school districts decided not to broadcast the live speech President Barack Obama delivered to school children on Tuesday, September 9. 

Personally, I am disappointed by this decision. I understand that airing the speech live would have created some logistical and scheduling issues for schools. However, the President of the United States of America should be accommodated. President Obama is following in the footsteps of Presidents Ronald Reagan and George H.W. Bush in addressing school children. Many of us remember watching past presidents as children and those shared memories are part of our collective story as Americans. The next generation should have the opportunity to join with their peers – the future of our nation – and hear from President Obama. 

I know many parents expressed concerns regarding how the context of the President’s speech may influence children. Having read the text of the speech at http://www.whitehouse.gov, I can personally attest it is a purely motivation speech aimed at telling children to work hard, stay in school, set goals and take personal responsibility for their future. 

Texas’ educational statistics show our students need all the motivation they can get. Texas’  dropout rate is eight percent, higher than the national average and higher than 36 other states. The Rio Grande Valley’s dropout rate is even greater than the state average. Only about 73 percent of Hidalgo County’s students in the class of 2008 graduated. While some remained in high school, 12 percent dropped out of school, and only one percent earned their GED that same year. The McAllen Independent School district saw a dropout rate of 16 percent in 2008, according to the Texas Education Agency (TEA). 

High school dropouts cost Texas. A recent study conducted by the Texas A&M Bush School of Government and Public Service found that students who drop out of high school from the class of 2012 will cost Texas between $6 billion and nearly $11 billion during their lifetimes. Compared to high school graduates, high school dropouts earn less, are more likely to be unemployed, pay less in taxes, receive more state assistance and have a greater chance of being imprisoned. The state estimates it will spend more than $338 million in the next year to target at-risk students. I talk to many parents and teachers who work everyday to keep our kids in school. As elected leaders, we are often called to encourage children to continue their education. Can we really afford to allow our children to miss out on a positive message from the President? 

Not showing the speech will prevent school children from hearing President Obama’s message. But the action may also be sending another message to children that contradicts something most parents try to instill in their children early: respecting authority, whether or not you agree with them. As former First Lady Laura Bush recently told CNN in reference to President Obama’s speech, "It is really important for everyone to respect the President of the United States." 

Patriotism and American pride have always been a part of our educational system and it is our responsibility to pass along those values to future generations. 

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Congressman Cuellar notes that Jazmin Pérez of Roma recognized in President’s address to students

Congressman Henry Cuellar, D-Laredo/McAllen, on Tuesday, September 9, released this statement following President Barack Obama’s address to the nation’s schools: 

“Today, President Obama reminds us how education is the gateway to getting ahead; he echoes a message of personal responsibility. He reiterates the tremendous value in working hard. He reminds our children how life circumstances can challenge them but not define them; how they can defy the odds with education and dare to dream big.  

More importantly, he reminds us how education brings opportunity to every corner of this country, to big cities, small towns and to people of all backgrounds, like Jazmin Pérez from Roma. 

“I am immeasurably proud of this outstanding young woman for having been nationally recognized by President Obama, as he shared her story with the rest of the country to illustrate how education can help defy the odds.  

"A 2005 graduate of Roma High School, Jazmin studied public health at Brown University and is now pursuing her master’s degree at the University of Texas Health Science Center. With the utmost praise, I join Texas State Representative Ryan Guillen and the City of Roma in congratulating Jazmin and her parents for this presidential recognition, and I applaud the hard work behind Jazmin’s personal story.  

Jazmin, her parents, and the Roma Independent School District are a shining example for South Texas, and we’re immensely proud to see the President of the United States recognize Jazmin.”  

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Congressman Cuellar announces $5 million for hurricane disaster recovery in Hidalgo County

By EDDIE ZAVALA 

Congressman Henry Cuellar, D-Laredo/McAllen, on Friday, September 4, announced that Hidalgo County will receive $5 million in disaster recovery grants to address drainage system failures caused by Hurricane Dolly.   

The county will utilize funds to construct repairs and upgrades to Delta Area Drainage Outfall System, which extends from Mile 19 N. to St. Hwy 107 and east of FM 493 to IBWC N. Floodway. Funds will also improve Moore, César Chávez, Eldora and Minnesota roads, and will also construct storm sewer improvements throughout subdivisions and areas situated in Precinct 4. 

“Natural disasters are a difficult obstacle for communities to overcome, especially during these trying economic times. The disaster recovery grant awarded to Hidalgo County is a great resource that will go a long way in improving the county’s infrastructure and in the long-run, the quality of lives of  its vibrant community,” said Cuellar. “Congratulations to Judge J.D. Salinas and his staff for their hard work and dedication in securing this grant.” 

The 2008 Supplemental Disaster Recovery Fund grant was made available through 2008 Supplemental Community Development Block Grant (CDBG) funding, appropriated by Congress through the U.S. Department of Housing and Urban Development. The program is administered in the state of Texas by the Office of Rural Community Affairs (ORCA) Disaster Recovery Division. 

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María T. Medina, Noelia Sánchez, and Gloria Segovia-Zúñiga complete highest standards required by the Academy of Boys & Girls Club Professionals

By SABRINA WALKER-HERNÁNDEZ 

María T. Medina, director of operations, Noelia Sánchez, program supervisor, and Gloria Segovia-Zúñiga, program coordinator with the Boys & Girls Clubs of Edinburg Rio Grande Valley, have recently completed all requirements for membership into the Academy of Boys & Girls Club Professionals at the Professional Level for the Management & Youth Development categories.   

Segovia-Zúñiga attained the Youth Development Professional Level, Sánchez achieved the Youth Development and Management Professional Levels, and Medina attained the Management Professional Level. 

The Academy of Boys & Girls Club Professionals is part of Boys & Girls Clubs of America’s strategic initiative, which helps clubs expand their youth development capacity, while recognizing the value of career and professional development.  

The Academy of Boys & Girls Club Professionals offers club professionals an opportunity to participate in a competency-based training and recognition program aimed at helping clubs attract, train and retain top professionals. Membership in the Academy of Boys & Girls Club Professionals is open to all full-time Boys & Girls Club employees with one or more years of employment.  To earn academy awards, employees must have a four-year degree or comparable work experience.   

Applicants also must complete 10 hours of Boys & Girls Club training. 

The academy provides club us with the opportunity to develop our careers and professional development utilizing Boys & Girls Clubs of America national training programs as well as local training opportunities," said Medina. "I am very proud to be a part of the Academy at the Professional level." 

As recognized leaders in the Boys & Girls Club movement, Medina, Sánchez and Segovia-Zúñiga exemplify professional excellence in the ever-changing, increasingly complex and competitive non-profit environment. 

The Boys and Girls Club RGV has played an integral role in the local community for 38 years, providing daily programs and services to more than 19,000 young people. During the school year, the club is open Monday through Friday, from 3 p.m. until 8 p.m.  During the summer, the hours are 7:30 a.m. through 5 p.m. The club offers programs that emphasize character and leadership development, education and career enhancement, health and life skills, the arts, and sport, fitness and recreation. 

For more information about the Boys & Girls Clubs of Edinburg RGV, contact the organization at 383-2582 or log onto http://www.edinburgkids.com

The Boys & Girls Clubs of Edinburg RGV is a partner with the Edinburg city government and an agency of the United Way of South Texas.

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Attorney General Abbott secures more than $20 million in restitution for scammed teachers, retirees

Texas Attorney General Greg Abbott on Friday, September 4, reached a settlement that will provide defrauded investors more than $20 million from a phony investment plan whose assets were frozen by the state. The frozen funds will largely be returned to teachers and retirees who were promised additional financial security and larger returns on their investments. Travis County District Judge Stephen Yelenosky approved the settlement. 

According to state investigators, Howard G. Judah Jr. of Houston, a three-time felon convicted of financial crimes, and Gregory F. Jablonski of Castle Rock, Colo., sold unregistered securities to unsuspecting retirees. Their Houston firm, National Life Settlements LLC, falsely guaranteed lucrative investment returns, misrepresented “life settlement” policy investment offerings, failed to disclose material information to investors, and committed multiple violations of the Texas Securities Act and Texas Deceptive Trade Practices Act. 

The defendants’  investment program offered notes – written promises to pay sums of money – that were purportedly secured by “life settlement”  policies. Typical life settlements are investment vehicles wherein a life insurance policy owner sells their policy to a third party for more than the cash surrender value offered by the insurance company. The policy purchaser is obligated to make premium payments. In exchange, the purchaser receives the payout upon the insured’s death. 

The State Securities Board deems life settlements, which are interests in the death benefits of older people, to be highly speculative investments. As a result, investors should not be misled by claims that they offer safe, guaranteed returns such as a certificate of deposit. 

The defendants marketed and sold three principal investment schemes: Secured Notes, the Immediate Income Investment plan and membership interests in special purpose limited liability companies. Importantly, neither the defendants’ securities nor their salespeople were registered with State Securities Board, as required by law. 

The state’s investigation revealed that interested parties were told their investments were guaranteed, had little or no risk, and would deliver up to a 10 percent annual return on the investment. Like the Secured Notes program, the Immediate Income Investment plan purported to have little or no risk. Investors were told their funds would yield a fixed rate of return and feature bi-weekly income payments. 

The defendants’  marketing materials falsely claimed that National Life Settlements was “among the most secure, stable, and highest paying investment programs available today.” The materials also claimed that National Life Settlements’ investment opportunities were “not subject to market volatility.” According to the state’s enforcement action, those and other false statements constitute a “fraudulent practice” under the Texas Securities Act. 

Between November 2006 and December 2008, the scheme raised approximately $28 million net from 240 individual investors. That amount includes more than $3.5 million from employees who withdrew assets from their pension funds to invest in the defendants’ scheme. 

Of the $28 million the defendants raised from investors, approximately $4 million was used to compensate National Life Settlements’ unregistered securities dealers. It is illegal to pay commissions to securities salespeople who have not registered with the State Securities Board. More than $1 million had been transferred to defendant Judah and his family members, and more than $600,000 was paid to Jablonski and his company, JCJ and Associates. 

Approximately $14 million – or about 45 percent of investors’ money – was transferred into an account owned by a firm known as NATT, LLC, which also controlled by Judah and Jablonski. The defendants’ transfers into the NATT account, which the investigation found were not disclosed to investors, began in June 2007. 

The investigation also found that the defendants’ Internet-based advertisements and false statements constituted violations of the Texas Securities Act and Texas Deceptive Trade Practices Act. For example, the defendants convinced investors that their investments were subject to regulatory oversight. Marketing materials produced by the defendants falsely stated that their products were regulated by the Texas Department of Insurance. Defendants furthered their attempts to project security and legitimacy by falsely claiming that National Life Settlements was the largest provider of life settlements in the country, and that it had received over $60 billion from the Federal Reserve in 2008. 

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Texas resolves multi-state fraud investigation against Pfizer in dispute over marketing of 13 drugs

Texas Attorney General Greg Abbott, a coalition of state attorneys general and the U.S. Department of Justice on Wednesday, September 2, resolved a lengthy civil Medicaid fraud investigation into Pfizer, Inc. As a result, more than $1 billion has been recovered for state Medicaid programs and several federal programs. Texas’ Medicaid program will recover $55 million in a state-federal government share. 

According to investigators, Pfizer deceptively marketed its antipsychotic drug Geodon, its arthritis pain medication Bextra, which is no longer on the market, and 11 other pharmaceutical products. 

The multi-state and federal investigation revealed that Pfizer unlawfully promoted atypical antipsychotic Geodon for use by Medicaid-eligible children to treat numerous conditions, including attention deficit disorder and anxiety. However, the U.S. Food and Drug Administration (FDA) has not approved Geodon for children. State and federal law prohibits pharmaceutical manufacturers from marketing their drugs for such “off-label” uses. While physicians may, at their discretion, prescribe drugs for off-label uses, it is unlawful for drug manufacturers to promote drugs’ uses which have not been approved by the FDA. 

The states’ enforcement effort revealed that Pfizer provided unlawful financial incentives for physicians who wrote off-label prescriptions. Because of Pfizer’s promotional program, Medicaid paid for prescriptions many physicians would not otherwise have written for their patients. As a result, the taxpayer-funded program incurred unnecessary costs. 

In a separate settlement, Abbott and 42 other attorneys general reached a $33 million dollar agreement with Pfizer. The additional settlement resolves an inquiry into the defendant’s deceptive marketing of Geodon to health care providers. The agreement prevents Pfizer from making any false, misleading or deceptive claims regarding Geodon; promoting Geodon for uses not approved by the FDA; or otherwise promoting Geodon in an unlawful manner. Pfizer must also post online a list of health care providers that received payments from Pfizer. 

Last January, Abbott reached a $30 million civil Medicaid fraud settlement with Eli Lilly & Co., which unlawfully marketed the atypical antipsychotic Zyprexa. Last year, the Attorney General also recovered $15.7 million from Bristol-Myers Squibb Co. for its illegal marketing of several drugs, including the atypical antipsychotic, Abilify. 

A National Association of Medicaid Fraud Control Units team conducted the investigation and settlement negotiations with Pfizer on behalf of the states. That team included representatives from Texas, Arkansas, Massachusetts, New York, Ohio, Oregon and Virginia. 

The September 2 agreement reflects a continuing crackdown on waste, fraud and abuse in the Medicaid system. To obtain more information about the Attorney General’s efforts to fight Medicaid fraud, access the agency’s Web site at http://www.texasattorneygeneral.gov 

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Former Dallas Cowboys defensive star Eugene Lockhart charged in mortgage fraud scheme

A federal grand jury on Thursday, September 3, indicted Eugene Lockhart, Jr., 48, a former player with the Dallas Cowboys, and eight others on various charges related to a mortgage fraud scheme he and the others allegedly ran in the Dallas area from 2001 through 2005, announced U.S. Attorney James T. Jacks of the Northern District of Texas.  

An indictment is an accusation by a federal grand jury and a defendant is entitled to the presumption of innocence unless proven guilty. 

Lockhart, of Carrollton, Texas, and co-defendant Lendell Beacham, 50, of DeSoto, Texas, were arrested Thursday morning, September 3, by FBI agents, and at 1 p.m. went before U.S. Magistrate Judge Jeff Kaplan for their initial appearance. 

All nine defendants are charged in the indictment, returned by a federal grand jury earlier that week and unsealed September 3, with various offenses related to the scheme, including conspiracy, bank fraud, and wire fraud.  

In addition to Lockhart and Beacham, the following defendants are named in the indictment:  

William Randolph Tisdale, Jr., 45, formerly of Dallas, but currently serving a federal sentence on unrelated charges; Hubert Jones, III, 39, of Garland, Texas; Patricia Ortega Suárez, 55, of Dallas; Suzette Switzer Hinds, 45, of Dallas; Michael Anthony Caldwell, 49, of Arlington, Texas; Donna Lois Kneeland, 45, of Grand Prairie, Texas; and Bryan J. Moorman, 67, of Mesquite, Texas. These defendants, with the exception of Tisdale, were scheduled to surrender to the FBI on Friday, September 4, 2009. 

All nine defendants are charged with one count of conspiracy to commit bank fraud and wire fraud. In addition, Lockhart, Beacham and Moorman are each charged with one count of wire fraud; Tisdale is also charged with two counts of bank fraud; Jones is also charged with two counts of bank fraud and one count of wire fraud; Suarez is also charged with one count each of bank fraud and wire fraud; and Hinds is also charged with one count of bank fraud. 

According to the indictment, Lockhart was involved with several real estate entities, including America’s Team Mortgage; America’s Team Realty; America’s Team Funding Group; Ace Mortgage; Cowboys Realty; Cowboys Mortgage and KLT Properties. Tisdale was involved with Pinnacle Development and Realty Corporation; Atilla Capital Corporation; and KLT Properties. Jones was the President of Pinnacle Development and Realty Corporation and Director of Atilla Capital Corporation. Beacham was the owner of Cowboys Mortgage and was involved with Ace Mortgage. Defendants Suárez, Hinds and Kneeland were escrow officers at various title companies. Caldwell was the general manager at New Land National Title and Moorman was an appraiser. 

The indictment alleges that the defendants ran a scheme in which they located single-family residences for sale in the Dallas area, including distressed and pre-foreclosure properties, and negotiated a sales price with the seller. They created surplus loan proceeds by inflating the sales price to an arbitrary amount substantially more than the fair market value of the residence. 

They recruited individuals to act as nominee or “straw purchasers” or “straw borrowers,”  promising to pay them a bonus or commission of between $10,000 and $20,000 for their participation in a particular real estate transaction. The conspirators caused the loan applications for each straw borrower to include false financial information, often including inflated false income figures to conceal the borrower’s true financial condition so that the lender would more likely approve the loan. The conspirators concealed from the lenders the true status, financial condition and intentions of the named borrowers, knowing that loans would not likely be approved if the lender knew the true role, credit worthiness, and risk of each straw borrower. The conspirators falsely represented in loan documents that the straw purchaser intended to use the property as their primary residence, intentionally concealing from lender that each straw borrower, viewed himself as an “investor,” who never intended to occupy the home. 

The indictment also alleges that the conspirators caused bogus and fraudulent “marketing fees”  to be listed on loan closing documents to provide a means for the conspirators to receive surplus/excess loan proceeds. 

The scope of the conspiracy involved approximately 54 fraudulent residential property loan closings resulting in the funding of approximately $20.5 million in fraudulent loans. 

If convicted, the conspiracy and each bank fraud counts carries a maximum statutory sentence of 30 years in prison, a $1 million fine and restitution. Each of the wire fraud counts, upon conviction, carries a maximum statutory sentence of 20 years in prison, a $250,000 fine and restitution. In addition, the indictment includes a forfeiture allegation which would require the defendants, upon conviction, to forfeit various sums of money, totaling up to $20.4 million. 

The case is being investigated by the FBI. Assistant U.S. Attorney David L. Jarvis is prosecuting.

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