Retired Lt. General Ricardo Sánchez (who was born and raised in Rio Grande City), who now lives in San Antonio, was the featured speaker in McAllen on Saturday, April 9, for the Welcome Home South Texas Vietnam Veterans Day celebration, which was co-sponsored by the City of Edinburg. A few days after his visit, he acknowledged that he is considering running as a Democrat for the U.S. Senate seat that will be vacated in 2012 by retiring Sen. Kay Bailey Hutchison, a Republican. Sánchez’ possible candidacy drew support from the Democratic Senatorial Campaign Committee. "General Sánchez has spent his entire life serving our country, and there’s no question he would be a strong candidate if he decides to continue to serve his country in the U.S. Senate," said Matt Canter, a spokesman for the political group. "He has a tremendous life story, growing up poor, rising to the rank of general in the Army, and bravely leading more than a hundred thousand troops in both Gulf Wars." Featured during this portrait taken before he delivered the keynote speech at thecelebration, dubbed Landing Zone: Rio Grande Valley (LZ:RGV) are, from left: Agustín "Gus" García, Sr., commander, American Legion Post 408, Edinburg; LZ:RGV co-producer Brian Godínez, owner, Godínez Communications, McAllen; Dora Brown, senior vice president, IBC, McAllen; McAllen Mayor Richard Cortéz; State Rep. Sergio Muñoz, Jr., D-Mission; Retired Lt. General Ricardo Sánchez; Hidalgo County Judge Ramón García; Edinburg Mayor Richard García; Laura Gump, H-E-B regional vice president, San Antonio; LZ:RGV co-producer Miguel "Mike" Carrera, owner, Miguel Carrera Communications, Edinburg; and Julie Lara, H-E-B public affairs manager, San Antonio.
Dr. Robert S. Nelsen, president of the University of Texas-Pan American, met recently with administrators, faculty and staff from UTPA, along with representatives from South Texas College and the McAllen Economic Development Corporation to discuss the planning process for a world-class Research and Education Park. The park is being developed under the direction of a subcommittee of the North American Advanced Manufacturing Research and Education Initiative (NAAMREI). The Research and Education Park, which has not yet been officially named, will be a unique, mixed-use, research and education development that will provide and/or incorporate a full range of interactive research and development, education, training and/or public support services in an interrelated format. A unique feature of the park will be an education campus. Featured, from left, seated: Wanda Garza, executive director for NAAMREI; Dr. Robert S. Nelsen, president of the University of Texas-Pan American; and Keith Patridge, MEDC president/CEO. Standing, from left: Helen J. Escobar, STC public relations coordinator; Jenny Cummings, STC public relations and marketing diretor; Dr. David Allen, dean of UTPA’s College of Engineering and Computer Science; Dr. Miguel González, associate dean of UTPA’s College of Engineering and Computer Science; Dr. Kimberly Selber, UTPA executive director for University Marketing and Communications and associate professor for the Department of Communication; and Mariana Múgica, MEDC marketing director. To learn more about NAAMREI, log on to their website at http://www.naamrei.org.
“Hat’s off to Education” could almost be the theme for the upcoming RGV Hispanic Chamber of Commerce Women’s Spring Luncheon & Style Show, hosted by the group’s Education Committee, which is set for Tuesday, May 24 at the Embassy Suites from 11 a.m. to 1 p.m. Anyone who wears a hat to the event will get $5 off of their ticket at the door. In addition, their name will be added to a drawing for special prizes. Funds raised at the event will go towards scholarships that the RGVHCC gives out in June. Local retail stores have already committed to modeling their spring clothes, shoes and jewelry for the luncheon and style show. Vendors are also signing up to sell jewelry, purses, crafts, etc. Sponsorships are: Queen $1,000; Princess $750; and Duchess $500. Exhibitors tables are $100. Ad’s for the program book can also be purchased. “We ask that the Valley step up to the plate and help us give out as many scholarships as possible by sponsoring or attending the luncheon” said Cynthia M. Sakulenzki, RGVHCC president and CEO. “We encourage gentlemen to attend as well. They’re guaranteed to have a great meal and fun among all the women." Debi Lou Modeling Academy will be coordinating the Style Show and music. More information on the luncheon and/or exhibit is available by calling the RGV Hispanic Chamber of Commerce at 928-0060. Education Committee members featured here, from left, seated: Adelita Muñoz and Cynthia M. Sakulenzki. Standing, from left: Edna Posada; Alexandria Posada; Noemi Ochoa; and Jenise Díaz.
High school students Dennis Luna and René Mendoza, both from Edinburg, were named "Students of the Year" on Monday, April 11, by the Migrant Student Graduation Enhancement Program at The University of Texas at Austin. Each student received a $2,000 college scholarship funded by a gift from the ExxonMobil Foundation. The Migrant Students of the Year were selected on the basis of obstacles overcome, overall academic achievements, participation and leadership in extracurricular activities, and their performance in distance learning courses offered by the university’s Migrant Student Program. Featured, from left: Roberto García (counselor at Edinburg High School); Carlos Mendoza (brother of René and senior at St. Edward’s University in Austin); René Mendoza (Migrant Student of the Year); Dennis Luna (Migrant Student of the Year); Rep. Aaron Peña, R-Edinburg; Diana Alejos (counselor at Johnny G. Economedes High School); and Cory Crow (Montana counselor). See story later in this posting.
A career panel opened the second annual South Texas College Communication Arts Festival, held at the Pecan Campus in McAllen on Friday and Saturday, April 1 and 2. The event offered a rare glimpse into the participants’ humble beginnings, and how education and the art of communication played key roles in their lives, leading them to successful careers in diverse fields. Participants in the panel were, featured from left: Hidalgo County Judge Ramón García; Dr. Shirley A. Reed, the president of STC; David Guerra, the president and CEO of International Bank of Commerce; Brent Branham, deputy city manager for McAllen; and Óscar Adame, news anchor for KRGV-TV Channel 5, who served as moderator for the panel. Also during CommFest 2011, representatives for several media outlets such as Telemundo, Entravision Radio, El Periódico USA,City Magazine, Social Life Magazine, among others, were on hand to speak to students and answer questions they had about careers in the media industry. See story later in this posting.
The Edinburg Chamber of Commerce supports the 60th annual “National Day of Prayer”, set for Thursday May 5 from 8 a.m. until 8 p.m. at the East Lawn at the Hidalgo County Courthouse. Millions will unite in prayer at thousands of events from coast to coast. The National Day of Prayer Task Force’s mission is to communicate with every individual the need for personal repentance and prayer, mobilizing the Christian community to intercede for America and its leadership in the seven centers of power: government, military, media, business, education, church and family. Please call 956/533-0000 for more information or email to:Adrian@ndprgv.com. Featured, from left, promoting the local event are: Adrian Esparza Sr.; Elma E. Esparza; and Letty González, president of the Edinburg Chamber of Commerce President.
Edinburg’s The Shoppes at Rio Grande Valley to add 90,000 square feet, new businesses
By DAVID A. DÍAZ
More new construction of businesses in Edinburg is on the way, with an announcement on Thursday, April 7, that the city’s premiere shopping venue, The Shoppes at Rio Grande Valley, will be adding 90,000 square feet of retail space.
The new wing should be open for business in the spring of 2012.
The new construction, which is set for groundbreaking on May 1, will be added to the existing retail complex, a 360,000 square-foot mixed use hybrid retail power center, which is generally defined as a shopping center that features big-name anchor stores.
Peter Higgins, the leasing director for First Hartford Corporation, a real estate developer based in Machester, Connecticut which operates The Shoppes at Rio Grande Valley, said several restaurants – one of which will be a new McDonalds – along with Petco, Anna’s Linens, and General Nutrition Corporation are some of the stores scheduled to be part of the expansion.
Higgins said The Shoppes at Rio Grande Valley brings many assets that attract national companies, including "it’s excellent access and visibility. Despite the area’s reputations as a dominant retail hub, the region is still underserved in a number of key categories, and we are continuing to fill those voids."
J.C. Penny, with its 104,000-square-foot presence, along with TJ Max, Burlington Coat, and Children’s Place, are several of the current tenants at The Shoppes at Rio Grande Valley, which is located at 591 East Trenton Road.
Academy Sports, another national brand name, and Arturo’s Express, part of a renowned South Texas Mexican food restaurant, also are part of The Shoppes at Rio Grande Valley, but are located on separate pad sites.
“Edinburg is now the third largest city in the Valley and is leading the way in job creation. Our retail sales growth reflects this fact, and national retailers are taking notice once again. This is great news for Edinburg and a sign of many more things to come,” said Pedro Salazar, executive director for the Edinburg Economic Development Corporation.
The EEDC is the jobs-creation arm of the Edinburg City Council.
"When The Shoppes at Rio Grande Valley is at full capacity, it will have an estimated $90 million economic impact on the community and surrounding region,” Salazar said.
The open-air shopping center will eventually feature additional big-box retailers, traditional department stores, specialty stores, restaurants, entertainment, and a full service hotel.
The Shoppes at Rio Grande Valley, located on a 130-acre site at U.S. Expressway 281 and Trenton Road, is designed to eventually provide 1.1 million square-feet of retail, dining, and entertainment businesses. It’s first phase broke ground in August 2007.
It will eventually feature approximately 80 stores, including 12 national retailers, and will be connected to a hybrid-specialty center with convenient pedestrian walkways, Higgins added.
Since its inception, the theme for The Shoppes at Rio Grande Valley has been “The place to work, shop, dine, and be entertained in the heart of the Rio Grande Valley.”
Petco, which has more than 1,000 stores nationwide, is the only pet store to serve all 50 states. The company, which provides complete pet care and services, carries more than 10,000 different items for dogs, cats, fish, reptiles and amphibians, birds and small animals.
Anna’s Linens, which operates more than 270 stores in 19 states and the District of Columbia, provides high-quality products and services for homes, including bedding, bath and dining accessories, window treatments, shower curtains, kitchen curtains, and Down Comforters .
General Nutrition Corporation is the largest global specialty retailer of nutritional products, including vitamin, mineral, herbal and other specialty supplements and sports nutrition, diet and energy products. GNC has more than 4,800 retail locations throughout the United States (including more than 1,000 franchise and 1,200 Rite Aid store-within-a-store locations) and franchise operations in 48 international markets.
The Edinburg Economic Development Corporation is the jobs-creation arm of the Edinburg City Council. It’s five-member governing board, which is appointed by the Edinburg City Council, includes Mayor Richard García as president, Dr. Glenn Martínez as vice president, Fred Palacios as secretary/treasurer, and Felipe García and Mark S. Peña. For more information on the EEDC and the City of Edinburg, please log on to http://www.EdbgCityLimits.com
Edinburg’s retail economy led February 2011 growth rates among major Valley cities, according to latest state report
By DAVID A. DÍAZ
Edinburg’s retail economy in February 2011, as measured by the amount of local and state sales taxes generated by a wide range of local businesses, was up 5.46 percent over the same month last year, which represented the best improvement among the Valley’s major cities, according to the Texas Comptroller of Public Accounts.
In addition, from November 2010 through February 2011, Edinburg’s retail economy averaged about 12 percent better than during the same period the year before, according to the state agency.
Those economic indicators are the latest figures made available by the Texas Comptroller of Public Accounts.
Under the reporting system used by that state agency, local and state sales taxes generated on retail sales in February 2011 were reported to the state comptroller’s office in March. On Friday, April 8, the state comptroller’s office sent back the local sales tax portion – called a rebate – to the cities in which the retail sales were made.
In February 2011, Edinburg’s retail economy generated $1,127,941.23 in local sales taxes, compared with $1,069,450.28 in local sales taxes reported in February 2010, reflecting the 5.46 percent improvement.
Pedro Salazar, executive director for the Edinburg Economic Development Corporation – which is the jobs-creation arm of the Edinburg City Council – said the latest sales tax figures from the state comptroller’s office are the continuing result of many factors, including strong leadership at the political, business and community levels in the three-time All-America City.
Such proven stability results in a more prosperous community, he said.
"When people are employed they have more money to spend," Salazar noted. "We are leading the Valley in the area of job growth, and our retail sales results reflect that. We will continue to see strong growth in retail sales in the foreseeable future as more jobs come on board at some of the large projects that are currently under construction."
The latest numbers for the city’s retail economy numbers came as the Edinburg City Council and EEDC announced the planned 90,000-square-foot expansion of its premier retail center, The Shoppes at Rio Grande Valley. The new wing at the shopping center should be open by the spring of 2012.
"We should also see a boost with the new stores and restaurants that will be coming to the Shoppes as part of its expansion and to some of the new shopping areas that are under development," Salazar said.
For most of the Valley’s largest communities, their retail sales tax activities in February 2011 remained flat, and in several cases, reported decreases from the same month in 2010.
The Valley’s two most populous cities – Brownsville and McAllen – reported decreases in February 2011 of 3.22 percent and .03 percent, respectively – while Harlingen (0.47 percent decrease), Weslaco (one percent decrease), and Pharr (1.24 percent decrease) struggled to keep up with their February 2010 showings.
Edinburg is the third most populous city in the four-county Rio Grande Valley.
Only Mission, considered one of the major Valley communities, was able to join Edinburg in reporting a positive number, with Mission’s retail economy in February producing a 1.47 percent increase over the same month in 2010.
Edinburg’s February 2011 retail economy showing is part of a continuing positive trend documented by the state comptroller of public accounts.
In January 2011, Edinburg’s retail economy generated $1,313,889.30 in local sales taxes, compared with $1,079,226.86 in local sales taxes reported in January 2010 – a 21.74 percent improvement.
In December 2010 – the crucial holiday shopping period – Edinburg set a record for the amount of local monthly sales taxes collected – $1,724,220.34 – which was an 11.2 percent improvement over the same month in 2009, when $1,550,742.56 in local sales taxes were collected, according to the state comptroller’s office.
In November 2010, Edinburg’s retail economy generated $1,137,280.35 in local sales taxes, compared with $1,035,902.80 in local sales taxes reported in November 2009 – for about a 10 percent improvement.
For details of local sales tax activities for Edinburg and all other cities, counties, transit systems and special purpose districts, locate the Monthly Sales Tax and Use Allocations Comparison Summary Reports on the state comptroller’s web site:
The Edinburg Economic Development Corporation is the jobs-creation arm of the Edinburg City Council. It’s five-member governing board, which is appointed by the Edinburg City Council, includes Mayor Richard García as president, Dr. Glenn Martínez as vice president, Fred Palacios as secretary/treasurer, and Felipe García and Mark S. Peña. For more information on the EEDC and the City of Edinburg, please log on to http://www.EdbgCityLimits.com
As South Texas honors Vietnam veterans, their sacrifices should be honored by grateful nation
By SEN. JUAN "CHUY" HINOJOSA
It’s always painful to remember the Vietnam War. Throughout history, Americans have never hesitated to fight for what we believe in, to fight for our freedom, but Vietnam was a different war – it was controversial and it tore our country apart.
The war created a much different experience than World War II. Back then, the whole country came together in solidarity to rid the world of Hitler and the Nazis. During Vietnam, the country confused political controversy and a deadly war with the untainted valor, commitment, and courage of the men and women who were called to serve in Southeast Asia.
Vietnam was the longest-lasting military conflict in the history of the United States. More than three million Americans served during the conflict. Every community lost friends, fathers, sons and daughters – 58,000 American lives – and 2,500 soldiers remain missing in action.
Many were lost, including three high school friends – Walter Lankford, Jesús Martínez and Lionel Buentello. Our community lost Freddy González from Edinburg – a Medal of Honor recipient who was killed in Hue. Each one of us felt the losses personally.
From the ones that made it back from Vietnam, many felt unwelcome – unappreciated – for our valor and courage to fight for our freedom. When we are at war, we can easily forget that our friends, neighbors, sons and daughters, mothers and fathers are fighting and sacrificing for our way of life.
As we look at ways to recognize the selfless sacrifice of our Vietnam veterans, and veterans in general, it is important that we don’t forget their contribution. Soldiers come from all walks of life – New York, Chicago, Texas. But we are all Americans fighting for freedom, fighting for our country.
The Texas Vietnam Veterans Day (March 29), the Welcoming Home our South Texas Vietnam Veterans Day (April 9), and the weeklong celebration honoring South Texas Vietnam veterans served as special occasions to honor those who gave their life for our country, and to give those who came back a proper welcome.
It is essential to remember the ones that don’t come home. If we remember our soldiers, their sacrifice doesn’t die.
Veterans served our country with pride, and I will continue to address the issues affecting our veterans with the same level of commitment. I am proud to honor and serve my fellow Vietnam veterans and want to thank the families of our wounded and fallen soldiers, not to mention our nurses, for their selfless sacrifice and support.
We learned an important lesson after Vietnam. We learned that our soldiers desperately need the support of their families, of their communities and of their government. Let’s not make the same mistake again. Let’s make sure the veterans coming back from our current wars, get a respectful and encouraging welcome home.
God Bless America. Semper Fidelis.
(Sen. Hinojosa, D-McAllen, was a U.S. Marines combat squad leader who served in Vietnam.)
Former judge Limas of Brownsville convicted of accepting bribes for favorable rulings
By ANGELA DODGE
Formal charges, as well as the plea agreement and factual summary executed by a former state district court judge in Cameron County that resulted in his conviction, have been unsealed, United States Attorney José Ángel Moreno announced on Thursday, April 14.
On March 31, 2011, Abel Corral Limas, 56, the former elected judge of the 404th Judicial District Court in Brownsville, pleaded guilty before U.S. District Court Judge Andrew Hanen to a one-count criminal indictment charging him with racketeering, in violation of Title 18, United States Code, Section 1962(c) (RICO).
The indictment, returned under seal by a federal grand jury in Brownsville on March 29, 2011, was initially unsealed upon Limas’ appearance before the Magistrate Judge on March 31, 2011. However, that afternoon at the defendant’s request – and over government objection – the district court ordered the indictment re-sealed and the sealing of the executed plea agreement and factual summary for a period of two weeks. The government’s motion to unseal those documents was granted on April 14.
The federal government had charged Limas with using his state court as an illegal racketeering enterprise by soliciting and accepting bribes in his official capacity in return for favorable judicial action.
Limas, who presently practices law in Brownsville, served two terms as a state district judge beginning in January 2001 and ending in December 2008, following his defeat in the Democratic primary in March 2008.
On March 31, Limas acknowledged the facts in a lengthy recitation of the evidence against him read into the record in open court by the United States which proved that Limas used his state elected office as the sitting judge of the 404th District Court to enrich himself through bribery and extortion.
Limas accepted money from criminal defendants and intermediaries in return for favorable judicial rulings in criminal cases, including terminations of probationary terms and modification of probationary terms and bond terms. He also accepted money and other consideration from attorneys in civil cases pending in his court in return for favorable pre-trial rulings in certain cases, including a case involving a helicopter crash at South Padre Island in February 2008. He also accepted money from attorneys in return for ad litem appointments. Limas also acknowledged receiving a total of $257,300 between August 2007 through January 2, 2009, through his illegal racketeering enterprise.
“Our judicial system depends upon the integrity and honesty of our judges to faithfully execute their duty to fairly and impartially administer the law,” said Moreno. “Limas’ greed deprived the citizens of Cameron County of the honest services expected of him as a duly elected official. He will face the consequences for his self-dealing and abuse of his official position. He is now a convicted felon and will in due course be fairly and impartially sentenced.”
Limas faces a maximum prison term of 20 years, a fine of up to twice the amount of gross proceeds received as a result of the bribery and extortion and a maximum five-year-term of supervised release at his sentencing hearing, set for July 5, 2011. Limas has been ordered released on a $50,000 unsecured bond pending his sentencing hearing.
The person who allegedly serves as “middle man” for Limas’ criminal enterprise, José Manuel Longoria, 52, a resident alien from Mexico residing in San Benito, was arrested on Thursday, March 31, by agents of the FBI, Drug Enforcement Administration (DEA) and officers of the Brownsville Police Department (BPD) as a result of a warrant which issued following the filing of a criminal complaint under seal on March 30, 2011.
Longoria is accused of wire fraud arising from a scheme to defraud the state of Texas and its citizens of their right to the honest services of a state district judge performed free from deceit, favoritism, bias, self-enrichment and self-dealing. A conviction for wire fraud carries a maximum punishment of up to 20 years imprisonment and a $250,000 fine, upon conviction.
Magistrate Judge Félix Recio set a bond of $100,000 for Longoria, who as of April 14 remained in custody. A criminal complaint is merely an accusation of criminal conduct, not evidence. A defendant is presumed innocent unless convicted through due process of law.
The charges against Limas and Longoria are the result of an ongoing three-year investigation being conducted by the FBI, DEA and the Brownsville Police Department. Assistant United States Attorneys Michael Wynne and Óscar Ponce are prosecuting the case.
Criminals trying to scam victims of security breach affecting more than 3 million Texans
Earlier in April, the Texas Comptroller’s Office publicly announced that the names, addresses, Social Security numbers and driver’s licenses of more than three million Texans were inadvertently stored on a publicly accessible website. The information exposed on the website included data from the Teacher Retirement System of Texas (TRS), the Texas Workforce Commission and the Employees Retirement System of Texas (ERS).
Unfortunately, the Texas Attorney General’s Office has learned that Texans affected by the Internet security breach are now the targets of a new telephone scam. A state employee reported receiving fraudulent telephone calls at home from an individual seeking to confirm the employee’s Social Security numbers. The caller falsely claimed to be with ERS.
According to the report, a Health and Human Services Commission employee stated that an individual called the employee’s home, identified himself as “Mike with ERS” and said he wanted to confirm the last four digits of the employee’s Social Security number. When the employee refused to provide information, the caller said, “Good luck to you” and disconnected the call.
Affected state employees and retirees – as well as current and retired teachers or university employees – should be alert that ERS, TRS and the Texas Workforce Commission are not making these telephone calls. State employees and all Texans who receive these kinds of fraudulent phone calls should not provide any information to the caller – just hang up.
To further guard against identity theft, Texans whose confidential information was compromised should consider taking these steps:
- Request a copy of their credit report and review it for unauthorized account activity.
- Contact a primary credit reporting bureau to have a fraud alert placed on the reports. That credit bureau will notify the other two bureaus.
- Report unauthorized charges and accounts to the appropriate credit issuers and credit bureaus immediately by phone and in writing. Cancel the accounts.
- File a police report with their local law enforcement agency and keep a copy of that report. Many banks and credit agencies require such a report before they will acknowledge that a theft has occurred.
- Visit http://www.txsafeguard.org or http://www.texasfightsidtheft.gov.
Second identity monitoring discount available to Texans affected by state comptroller’s exposure of personal data
In an ongoing effort to mitigate the potential damage from an inadvertent exposure of personal data by her office, Texas Comptroller Susan Combs announced on Wednesday, April 19, that CSIdentity Protector is offering affected individuals one year of fraud-related assistance for $29.95. The service includes credit monitoring, Social Security number protection, Internet surveillance and $10,000 of identity theft insurance and other services.
“We are offering people affected by this regrettable incident another resource they can use to help protect their credit and safeguard their identity,” Combs said. “In addition, as we previously announced, our office has arranged with the Experian credit reporting agency for these individuals to receive a 70 percent discount on one year of credit monitoring to alert them if their information is misused.”
The first step anyone can take, free of charge, is to place a 90-day fraud alert in their credit file. Contact one of the three nationwide credit reporting companies – Experian, Equifax or TransUnion – which will then notify the other two. A fraud alert makes it more difficult for someone else to apply for credit using your name.
Combs’ new website, http://www.TXsafeguard.org, contains links to more information about the CSIdentity and Experian offers, plus other useful advice and resources to help guard against identity theft and financial crimes.
Information is also available by phone at 1/855-474-2065. The state comptroller’s office will continue to look for other ways to assist Texans whose personal information was exposed.
At Combs’ request, two highly-respected information technology consultants have begun an examination of information security policies and procedures within the state comptroller’s office.
Thus far, Deloitte Consulting has reviewed comptroller’s office data and has confirmed that no additional confidential information has been exposed on the agency’s public server, other than the originally identified personal data. Gartner Inc. will conduct an information technology security risk assessment for the comptroller. The assessment is intended to identify opportunities for improvement in the agency’s security and risk management processes and to develop recommendations and a roadmap for the agency moving forward.
“I and other Texans whose personal data was potentially exposed need to feel confident that an incident like this will never happen again,” Combs said. “We will follow our consultants’ advice and do everything in our power to ensure that information entrusted to state government is secure.”
Valley awarded first EB-5 Regional Center to help attract wealthy Mexican investors
By KARINA CARDOZA
Hidalgo County Judge Ramón García joined other local leaders, business owners, and the education and economic development community on Friday, April 8, at the announcement of USANOW’s designation as an EB-5 Regional Center by the U.S. Department of Homeland Security’s United States Citizen and Immigration Service (USCIS).
This designation provides foreign nationals a pipeline to United States citizenship through a hefty investment of $500,000 and the creation of at least 10 new jobs.
Created in 1990, the EB5 Visa Investor Program encourages job creation and capital investment by immigrant investors. This program is a mutually beneficial one, providing an opportunity for U. S. citizenship to interested immigrant investors in return for an injection of funding for economic development projects that stimulate local economies.
With safety concerns compelling many Mexicans to leave their country for a safer environment, this program provides a viable option for their security and prosperity.
USANOW is the only EB5 regional center in the Rio Grande Valley (one of only six in Texas), and will serve a seven-county area, including the counties of Hidalgo, Webb, Zapata, Starr, Cameron, Willacy and Kenedy.
“We have $83 million ready to be invested in our counties," said Marco A. Ramírez, USANOW’s director. "This is not a tomorrow project. This is a now project.”
García and Hidalgo County Commissioners’ Court welcome the opportunity.
“Hidalgo County actively seeks to attract companies to our county to create jobs, reduce our unemployment rates, and improve the quality of life for our residents,” said the county judge.
“Hidalgo County is committed to working with local partners to put together incentive packets that will make our area attractive to these new investors,” García added. “The USANOW Regional Center will be a great asset that will assist our efforts to increase economic development in our county and our region.”
Rep. Muñoz announces $44,500 grant for Pharr Boys & Girls Club’s tours of birding sites
By CHRISTOPHER MADRID
The Boys and Girls Club of Pharr has receive a $44,500 state grant that will enable 250 local youths to visit nine different sites of the World Birding Center complex in deep South Texas, Rep. Sergio Muñõz, Jr, D-Mission, announced on Tuesday, April 19.
The funding, part of the Community Outdoor Outreach Grant, is coming from the Texas Parks and Wildlife Department.
"These types of grants are a very welcome bonus for our children here in deep South Texas," said Muñoz. "It is another source of education and exposure to our natural resources right here at home."
The planned visits as part of a nine-week outdoor curriculum on birds in Texas.
"We are very excited to be a recipient of the Texas Parks & Wildlife Departments Community Outdoor Outreach Program Grant," said Alfredo "Freddy" Mata, Jr., CPO of the Boys & Girls Club of Pharr. "Although the Rio Grande Valley is a mecca for bird watchers across the nation, local residents do not fully comprehend what we have in our own back yards. We now have the opportunity to educate our community’s youth about the tropical birds that are found in our area."
Brains: The Ultimate Journey is a collaborative effort between the Boys & Girls Club of Pharr, Boys & Girls Club of Edinburg, and Boys & Girls Club of Laguna Madre. Their joint effort spans throughout Cameron and Hidalgo counties.
This program will cater primarily to at-risk youth, who may not otherwise have the opportunity to participate in outdoor recreational activities. These youth will participate in outdoor recreation and education activities throughout the summer months while visiting the nine sites that make up the World Birding Center in South Texas, three of which are state parks.
The funds supporting this grant program are derived from a portion of the state sales tax on sporting goods. Grants are issued upon review by the Texas Parks and Wildlife Department to allow tax-exempt organizations and municipal governments to provide outdoor recreation and environmental education activities to communities on a need and merit basis.
Edinburg migrant students Dennis Luna, René Mendoza, and Dulce Loera honored for their achievements by UT-Austin and Rep. Peña
High school students Dennis Luna and René Mendoza, both from Edinburg, were named "Students of the Year" on Monday, April 11, by the Migrant Student Graduation Enhancement Program at The University of Texas at Austin.
Each student received a $2,000 college scholarship funded by a gift from the ExxonMobil Foundation. The Migrant Students of the Year were selected on the basis of obstacles overcome, overall academic achievements, participation and leadership in extracurricular activities, and their performance in distance learning courses offered by the university’s Migrant Student Program.
Luna and Mendoza were among 40 migrant students honored at the Texas Union Ballroom for their exemplary achievements during the university’s annual Exemplary Migrant Student Recognition Ceremony. The event was attended by about 300 guests, including migrant students from 19 Texas school districts. More than 1,900 Texas migrant students are completing their high school graduation requirements this year through the program, which is administered by the K-16 Education Center within Continuing and Innovative Education at UT-Austin.
"The K-16 Education Center is proud to recognize these dedicated students for their outstanding contributions to their schools and communities," said Gisela Greco-Llamas, director of the K-16 Education Center. "Another important purpose of our annual ceremony is to bring promising students to a university campus where we can provide them with the opportunity to envision themselves as college students and encourage them to continue their educational pursuits beyond high school. It is inspiring to work with students who are so motivated to do what it takes to achieve their dreams."
Luna, a senior at Johnny G. Economedes High School in Edinburg, regularly migrates to Fairview, Montana, where he works cleaning sugar beets and peanut fields. Seeing his older brothers and his parents struggle without an education gave Luna the focus he needed to succeed in high school and pursue his goal of going to college. When Luna found out that he needed a science course in order to graduate under the Distinguished Achievement Plan, he earned that credit via an online physics course from the university’s Migrant Student Program. He also completed the courses Business Computer Information Systems and Health Education through the Migrant Student Program.
A senior, he plays varsity football and is a member of the Sky’s the Limit Migrant Club. He is also a member of the Pre-law Club and the Debate Club. This spring Luna will become the first member of his family to graduate from high school. He is optimistic about his future in college, and is contemplating going to law school to become a corporate lawyer.
Mendoza was born in McAllen, and migrates with his parents and three brothers to Minnesota and Missouri where he works in the sugar beet fields. This work experience has made Mendoza realize the importance of school. Despite the school interruptions he has experienced from attending high school in both Texas and Missouri, Mendoza has excelled with his studies. He has a 3.9 grade-point average and ranks in the top four percent of his class. Mendoza has earned numerous credits in concurrent enrollment courses from The University of Texas-Pan American and South Texas College.
Mendoza is also active in extracurricular and community activities. Throughout high school, he played football and ran track and cross country. As an active member of numerous school organizations, including the Science Club and the National Technical Honor Society, he has volunteered more than 100 hours of community service. After Mendoza graduates under the Distinguished Achievement Plan this spring, he plans to attend The University of Texas at Austin and major in biomedical engineering. He aspires to earn a master’s degree and a doctoral degree in this field.
Scholarships were also awarded to Dulce Loera of Johnny G. Economedes High School in Edinburg and Esmeralda Pérez of Eagle Pass High School as the Exemplary Migrant Students who received the highest ranking from the scholarship selection committee. Hugo Sánchez of Donna High School also received a scholarship as the recipient of the Migrant Program’s Creative Award. All five scholarships were provided by a gift from the ExxonMobil Foundation, which has provided annual scholarships to the program since 2002.
Texas has the second-largest migrant education program and the largest interstate migrant student population in the nation. Students and their families migrate annually from Texas to 47 other states to work in agricultural and other seasonal jobs.
Since it began more than two decades ago, the Migrant Student Graduation Enhancement Program has enrolled more than 25,000 students in its mission to increase the graduation rate of high school migrant students in Texas. With funding from the Texas Education Agency and gifts from the ExxonMobil Foundation and the John G. and Marie Stella Kenedy Memorial Foundation, the program helps Texas migrant students earn high school credits through distance learning courses that meet Texas curriculum requirements.
Communications students at South Texas College network, gain insight at CommFest 2011
By EDGAR CHRNKO
A career panel opened the second annual South Texas College Communication Arts Festival, which was held on Friday and Saturday, April 1 and 2. It offered a rare glimpse into the participants’ humble beginnings, and how education and the art of communication played key roles in their lives, leading them to successful careers in diverse fields.
Óscar Adame, news anchor for KRGV-TV Channel 5, moderated the panel that featured Dr. Shirley A. Reed, the president of STC, David Guerra, the president and CEO of International Bank of Commerce, Hidalgo County Judge Ramón García, and Brent Branham, deputy city manager for McAllen.
IBC’s Guerra grew up on a ranch in Alice and had a troubled home life. Despite the adversity he faced as a youth, he told the crowd in the Cooper Center at STC’s Pecan Campus that he “read a lot” and “never lost sight of going to school."
“I went to Texas A&M-Kingsville and when I took my first business class, I loved it,” Guerra recalled. “I started at IBC with 30 employees and now we have more than 270 branches and 4,800 employees, and I’m very proud of that. I made good choices, but there is a human element. I see it all the time how people fail to communicate and work together.”
Reed recounted her story of how she was a late bloomer, but survived a bad marriage, returned to school, went on to earn five degrees and help create STC in the process. She expressed the importance of good communication to be effective and efficient in the position she holds, while maintaining a pleasant work environment for the 1,600 employees at the college.
During CommFest 2011, representatives for several media outlets such as Telemundo, Entravision Radio, El PeriódicoUSA, City Magazine, Social Life Magazine, among others, were on hand to speak to students and answer questions they had about careers in the media industry.
“I really liked the career panel and learning how they all got their start, I didn’t expect that,” said Jessica Treviño, an STC communication arts major and president of the Media Club. “The networking was a lot of fun and I got to meet with a lot of people from the media. I got good information that will help me in the future with my career.”
At the mid-way point of the CommFest, the third annual Speech Competition was held, which resulted in a trio of winners. Priscilla Flores claimed first place and a certificate for $150. Danielle Arnemann was the runner up and recipient of a $100 award, while Monique Villarreal placed third in the competition and took home a $50 prize. The competition winners and other participants were recognized and awarded for their achievement at the Awards Reception the following night. Guest speakers at the reception included Jorge González, the Hidalgo County Appraisal District Real Estate supervisor, and Antonietta G. Collins, Fox2 News anchor.
“The Festival was organized to promote the Communication Arts Program by providing several opportunities for our students to learn from community leaders, networking opportunities and showcasing the quality of work our students produce,” said Rosalinda Cantú, chair of the STC Communication Arts Department. “We are very proud of our students and the speech competition was the perfect forum to showcase what they have learned, to compete and gain some experience in the process.”
“The awards ceremony was a celebration of our student’s accomplishments,” Cantú concluded. “It was also designed to motivate our communication majors through the special guest speakers that shared their stories and experiences.”
Senate passes bill by Sen. Zaffirini to offer health care insurance to graduate students
By WILL KRUEGER
Aiming to boost research funding and enhance the stature of Texas universities, the Texas Senate on Thursday, April 14, unanimously voted to extend university health care plans to graduate students awarded fellowships.
Senate Bill 29 by Sen. Judith Zaffirini, D-Laredo, would allow universities to offer employee group health insurance to graduate students awarded post-doctoral fellowships valued at $10,000 or more per year.
"When a graduate student declines a university’s fellowship offer for any reason, including lack of health insurance, the university misses an opportunity to receive critical research funding," Zaffirini said. "SB 29 would allow Texas univeristies to recruit aggressively students with prestigious fellowships, thereby bolstering research funding and enhancing our efforts to create national research universities in Texas."
Texas colleges and universities already are allowed to offer health benefits to teaching assistants and other graduate student employees. By comparison, students with graduate fellowships often must take second jobs, incur significant debt or forgo health insurance coverage as they seek to maximize their award.
"Graduate students who are offered fellowships are among the best and the brightest," Zaffirini said. "Because of the lack of health insurance, however, many of them decline fellowships in Texas or do not apply. SB 29 would encourage these scholars to bring their talents — and research dollars — to our state."
SB 29 was sent to the House of Representatives for consideration.
On Tax Day, Congressman Cuellar introduces tax cuts measure for American families
By JOSÉ BORJON
Congressman Henry Cuellar, D-Laredo/McAllen, on Monday, April 18 – federal income tax day – announced his new bill, the Tax Cuts for America Act of 2011, a legislative package that would support American families by providing permanent tax incentives and credits.
“In order to create jobs and grow the American economy we must put more money in the pockets of hard-working families,” Cuellar said. “My constituents tell me that they need more money to invest, spend and save and the federal government can learn to do more with less.”
H.R. 1601 would make permanent tax breaks for hard-working school teachers, active and reserve military personnel, charitable donations and state and local sales taxes:
- Deduction for certain expenses of elementary and secondary school teachers;
- Employer-provided educational assistance;
- Student loan interest deduction;
- Treatment of military basic housing allowances under low-income housing credit;
- Above-the-line deduction for qualified tuition and related expenses;
- Employer Wage Credit for activated military reservists;
- Deduction for State and local general sales; and
- Enhanced charitable deduction for contributions of book inventories to public schools.
In addition, the bill enacts educational tax credits and deductions, which include deductions for certain expenses of elementary and secondary school teachers. This particular provision supports teachers and other educators for expenses on amounts paid for books, supplies, computer equipment, or other education-related materials used in the classroom.
“Our teachers incur costs everyday to support their professions,” Cuellar said. “I thank them for their dedication to their work of educating our children and this provision of the bill helps them deduct for expenses they may incur.”
The tax package also includes higher education tax credits. Employer-provided educational assistance gives employers tax credits if they choose to aid employees seeking higher education.
The bill also provides students with interest deductions on qualified student loans. This will support a large portion of students who are supporting their efforts to earn a higher education through loans.
The bill also includes a provision that provides basic housing allowance payments made to military personnel and families for determining low-income housing tax credit eligibility, including two Texas bases. The bill includes Employer Wage Credit for Activated Military Reservists, which allows a small business employer to take credit for the differential wage payments if their employee is called to active duty with the Armed forces.
“Every day, men and women of our armed forces put their lives at risk for the well being of our country,” Cuellar said. “Our military personnel serve our nation diligently. The employer wage credit for employees who are active duty members of the uniformed services will support their career in the military and within current employer’s small business.”
The tax package allows businesses that make charitable contributions of book inventories to public schools to receive a deduction.
Former supervisor with First National Bank convicted of embezzling more than $50,000
By ANGELA DODGE
The former supervisor of the electronic marketing department of a local bank has been convicted of embezzling bank funds, United States Attorney José Ángel Moreno announced on Friday, April 15.
Lisa Rodríguez, 41, of McAllen, pleaded guilty to one count of embezzlement by a bank employee before Chief U.S. District Judge Ricardo Hinojosa at a hearing on April 15. Hinojosa scheduled sentencing for July 27, 2011, at 9:30 a.m.
Rodríguez, who was indicted in December 2010, faces up to 30 years in federal prison without parole and a $1 million fine for the embezzlement conviction.
According to information presented in court, Rodríguez was formerly employed by First National Bank (FNB) as a supervisor in the electronic marketing department with duties that included, among other things, overseeing the collection and processing of customer debit cards that were returned in the mail to FNB as undeliverable. Rodríguez was similarly responsible for the corresponding Personal Identification Number (PIN) information returned as undeliverable. Upon receiving the returned debit cards and corresponding PINs, FNB protocol called for Rodríguez and other personnel in the electronic marketing department to log the debit cards and PINs into FNB’s computer system.
At the April 15 hearing, Rodríguez admitted that, in April 2010, she used debit cards and PINs that had been returned as undeliverable to conduct numerous unauthorized debit transactions including cash withdrawals at ATMs in McAllen, Edinburg and San Antonio. Rodríguez attempted to conceal her embezzlement by failing to log the misappropriated debit cards and PINs into FNB’s computer system upon receiving them at the bank. Following numerous customer complaints, FNB identified more than $50,000 in unauthorized transactions related to the undeliverable debit cards and PINs.
Rodríguez has been permitted to remain on bond pending her sentencing hearing.
The investigation leading to the charges was conducted by FBI. Assistant United States Attorney Gregory S. Saikin is prosecuting the case.
Mission tax preparer sentenced to prison for filing fraudulent tax returns; order to repay government more than $900,000 restitution
By ANGELA DODGE
Israel E. González Jr., of Mission, has been sentenced to 30 months in federal prison without parole and ordered to pay $936,15910 restitution to the IRS for filing fraudulent U.S. Income Tax returns, United States Attorney José Ángel Moreno and Rodney E. Clarke, special agent in charge of Internal Revenue Service – Criminal Investigations (IRS-CI) announced on Tuesday, April 19.
González, sentenced that afternoon by U.S. District Judge Randy Crane, pleaded guilty on January 28 to filing fraudulent U.S. Income Tax returns. According to the allegations in the indictment filed of record in this case, González prepared and presented to the IRS 16 U.S. Individual Income Tax Returns for income tax years 2004 through 2006 for clients claiming various false deductions, including various Form 1040 Schedule C deductions such as business depreciation. In January, González admitted to the court that he submitted a false U.S. Income Tax return for one of his clients on April 1, 2006, in which he falsely claimed his client had business depreciation in the amount of $109,550, knowing his client was not entitled to such a deduction.
In addition to the prison term and restitution order, the court has ordered Gonzalez serve a one-year-term of supervised release. González has been permitted to remain on bond until May 9, 2011, when he has been ordered to surrender to the U.S. Marshals Service to begin serving his sentence pending transfer to a Bureau of Prisons facility to be designated in the near future.
The charges are the result of an investigation conducted by special agents of the IRS-CI. Assistant U.S. Attorney Robert Wells prosecuted the case.
Parents would have access to more information about child care providers under bill approved by Senate
By WILL KRUEGER
The Texas Senate on Thursday, April 21, unanimously voted to expand Texas parents’ access to information about the quality of child care providers.
Senate Bill 264 by Sen. Judith Zaffirini, D-Laredo, would require local workforce boards to provide parents with information regarding quality child care indicators for each licensed or registered child care provider in the area.
"Access to accurate, timely information about the quality of child care providers is critical to parents making reasoned choices," Zaffirini said. "SB 264 would empower parents and help ensure they are informed consumers."
Zaffirini long has championed enhancing the quality of child care and early childhood education in Texas. In 2003 she passed legislation (SB 23) that created a pilot project for integrated child care programs and developed Texas’ school readiness certification system. Her SB 23 (2005) built on the success of the pilot project by expanding the integration model and increasing accountability.
"Quality child care programs can enhance a child’s language social skills, relationships with teachers and peers, self-perception and ultimately school-readiness," said Zaffirini, who also serves as chair of the Senate Higher Education Committee. "What’s more, these programs provide a positive long-term economic development impact because they allow parents to re-enter the workforce with the knowledge that their children are prepared for school."
SB 264’s supporters include the Texas Association of Business and the National Child Care Coalition.
The bill was sent to the House of Representatives for consideration.