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President Barack Obama and Vice-President Joe Biden, along with members of the national security team, on Sunday, May 1, are shown receiving an update on the mission against Osama bin Laden in the Situation Room of the White House in Washington, D.C. "As nervous as I was about this whole process, the one thing I didn’t lose sleep over was the possibility of taking bin Laden out," the president told 60 Minutes correspondent Steve Kroft in the Roosevelt Room of the White House on Wednesday, May 4. "Justice was done. And I think that anyone who would question that the perpetrator of mass murder on American soil didn’t deserve what he got needs to have their head examined." The transcript, along with video, of the 60 Minutes interview with Obama is available online at http://www.cbsnews.com/8301-504803_162-20060530-10391709.html. Seated, from left, are: Brig.-Gen. Marshall B. ‘Brad’ Webb, assistant commanding general, Joint Special Operations Command; Deputy National Security Adviser Denis McDonough; Secretary of State Hillary Clinton; and Secretary of Defense Robert Gates. Standing, from left, are: Admiral Mike Mullen, chairman of the Joint Chiefs of Staff; National Security Adviser Tom Donilon; Chief of Staff Bill Daley; Tony Binken, national security adviser to the vice-president; Audrey Tomason, director for counterterrorism; John Brennan, assistant to the president for homeland security and counterterrorism; and Director of National Intelligence James Clapper. A classified document seen in front of Clinton has been obscured by the White House, which provided what has become an iconic photograph in American history.

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The Edinburg school district’s Vision Academy of Excellence, a high school senior recovery school, was recognized earlier this spring by the Texas House of Representatives for helping non-traditional students graduate from high school. The recognition came via Texas House Resolution 770 authored by Rep. Aaron Peña, R-Edinburg. The resolution was introduced during Edinburg Day at the State Capitol. Featured acknowledging the legislative honor are, front row, from left: Nelda Ramírez Garza, director of the ECISD Vision Academy of Excellence; Edinburg City Councilmember Alma Garza, who completed her term of office on Tuesday, May 17; and Rep. J.M. Lozano, D-Kingsville. Featured, middle row, from left: Rep. Armando "Mando" Martínez, D-Weslaco; and Rep. Verónica Gonzáles, D-McAllen. Featured, top row, from left: Rep. Sergio Muñoz, Jr., D-Mission; Rep. Aaron Peña, R-Edinburg; President Robert S. Nelsen, the University of Texas-Pan American; Edinburg Mayor Richard García; Rep. José Aliseda, R-Beeville; and Johnny Rodríguez, chairman of the board of the Edinburg Chamber of Commerce.

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Norma Catalina Olivarez and Kristy Dee De La Garza, featured front row, third and fourth from left, respectively, were publicly recognized by the Edinburg School Board for recently being named Elementary and Secondary Teachers of the Year for 2011-2012. Their honors were bestowed upon them during the annual Teacher of the Year Banquet held on May 2. Formally congratulating the two outstanding educators during a May school board meeting are, front row, from left: ECISD board trustee and board secretary Ciro Treviño; ECISD board trustee and vice president Carmen González; honoree Norma Catalina Olivarez; honoree Kristy Dee De La Garza; and Jeffrey Moats, president of the Edinburg Teachers Credit Union, who presented $1,000 checks to each woman, as well as $200 checks each to every campus teacher of the year. Featured, back row, from left: Dr. Martín Castillo, ECISD board trustee; Dr. René Gutiérrez, Superintendent of Schools; and David Torres, ECISD board trustee. See story later in this posting.

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The McAllen Chamber of Commerce scheduled its annual Top 25 Scholarship Banquet for Thursday, May 19, 2011 to honor the top 25 graduates from each of the three McAllen high schools – McHi, Memorial, and Nikki Rowe. The chamber has sponsored this event for the past 26 years to show support of McAllen graduates wishing to continue their education and as a reward for a job well done. The Chamber’s Top 25 committee once again diligently worked to achieve its goal to raise $75,000 to award this year’s top 25 graduates each a $1,000.00 scholarship. Committee members featured, front row, from left: Glenda McClendon; Rachel Archaute; Isela Herrera; Muryel García, Leticia Hernández; and Yajaira Villarreal. Featured, back row, from left: Luis Cantú; Antonio Rosales; and Bill Stoker.

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Communication students from The University of Texas-Pan American heard first-hand from media professionals in public relations, advertising and health communication fields at the second annual Communication Showcase hosted by the Department of Communication April 28-29 at the Communication Radio and TV Studios’ Media Theater. The showcase kicked off April 28 with an emphasis on health communication, which is one of the fastest growing academic fields of study within communications. The showcase continued April 29, with a panel of media professionals in public relations and advertising who were invited to exemplify the other side of mass communication careers beyond print and broadcast journalism, which was the focus of last year’s showcase. Featured, from left: Dr. Aje-ori Agbese, UTPA assistant professor of communication; Liana Cisneros, director of community relations and group sales manager for the Rio Grande Valley Vipers; Tricia Barrera, public relations coordinator for the Texas Organ Sharing Alliance; Cynthia Puryear, senior strategist of corporate communications for Mitchell Communications Group; Dr. Timothy Mottet, chair of the UTPA Department of Communication and Henry W. and Margaret Hauser Endowed Chair in Communication; Helen Escobar, public relations coordinator for South Texas College; and Shannon Ponce, director of community outreach for Palm Valley Animal Center. See story later in this posting.

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Want to be eligible to win awesome door prizes while enjoying a wonderful lunch and watching the latest women’s spring fashions being modeled by local ladies and professional models?  Then come to the RGV Hispanic Chamber of Commerce Women’s Spring Luncheon & Style Show, scheduled for Tuesday, May 24, from 11a.m. to 1 p.m at Embassy Suites Hotel. Vendors will also be present selling jewelry, clothing, crafts, etc. Many local businesses have also donated gifts for door prizes. A special treat will be a $5 discount of the ticket price if an attendee wears a hat to the luncheon.  Featured gathering to discuss the Style Show part of the event are, from left: Becky Malcik, owner of Bec’s; Lisa Olivo representing Our Secret; Sandy Pena, owner of Lionel’s; and Cynthia M. Sakulenzki, president and CEO of the RGV Hispanic Chamber of Commerce. See story later in this posting.

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Administrators from The University of Texas-Pan American praised all of the institution’s staff members Wednesday, April 20 during the 23rd annual Staff Employee Awards Ceremony for continuing their hard work and dedication to UTPA despite looming budget cuts from the state. In this portrait, employees of UTPA’s Budget Office received the Teamwork Excellence Award from UTPA President Robert S. Nelsen. This year, the university honored 177 employees who have completed working at least five years of service at the institution by the end of the 2010 calendar year. Seventy people received certificates for serving five years, 48 received certificates for working 10 years, 28 received certificates for 15 years of service, 19 people received certificates for 20 years of service, six people received certificates for 25 years of service, and four people received certificates for 30 years of service. Featured, from left: María Teresa Capistrán; María E. Rincón García; Esmeralda G. Ríos; Richard E. Wilson; UTPA President Nelsen; Juan Claudio "J.C." González; Francisca Anita Rivera; Eduvina Rodríguez; Roy Treviño; and Martin Baylor, UTPA Vice President for Business Affairs. See story later in this posting.

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As part of its efforts to inform the public of key developments in their city, the Edinburg Chamber of Commerce scheduled a Wednesday, May 18 Public Affairs Luncheon to hear updates on local economic trends. Pedro Salazar, the executive director for the Edinburg Economic Development Corporation, was scheduled to address the gathering, set from 11:30 a.m. to 1 p.m., at the Echo Hotel and Conference Center. "Through the efforts of the board of directors and EEDC staff, Edinburg will continue to benefit with the creation of hundreds of jobs in 2011,” said Elva Jackson Garza, vice chair of the Board of Directors for the  Edinburg Chamber of Commerce. Featured, from left: Mark Peña, a member of the EEDC Board of Directors and partner in the law firm of Lewis, Monroe & Peña; Elva Jackson Garza, vice chair for the Public Affairs Committee (and representing Edwards Abstract and Title Co.); Pedro Salazar, EEDC executive director; Kathy Salazar, purchasing agent, and Agustín Hernández, Jr., attorney with Linebarger Goggan Blair & Sampson, LLP; Melissa Rodríguez, Edinburg Chamber of Commerce ambassador; and Johnny Rodríguez, chairman of the Board of Directors for the Edinburg Chamber of Commerce (representing Austin Personnel Service).

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Edinburg retail economy for March 2011 shows best improvement among major Valley cities

By DAVID A. DÍAZ   

Edinburg’s retail economy in March 2011, as measured by the amount of local and state sales taxes generated by a wide range of local businesses, was up 17.28 percent over the same month last year, which represented the best improvement for that month among the Valley’s major cities, according to the Texas Comptroller of Public Accounts.

For the first three months of 2011, Edinburg’s retail economy is performing 14.83 percent better than the same period in 2010.

In March 2011, Edinburg’s retail economy generated $1,672,045.16 in local sales taxes, compared with $1,425,614.92 in local sales taxes reported in March 2010.

In addition, the 17.28 percent improvement registered by Edinburg is better than the statewide average increase for cities, which was 4.7 percent, according to Texas Comptroller Susan Combs.

Edinburg’s March 2011 figure also was better than the average of retail sales activities generated
by cities in Hidalgo County. In March 2011, the average of all retail sales activities in Hidalgo County was 4.87 percent better than in March 2010, according to the state agency.

The March 2011 sales tax activities report for Edinburg also represents the fifth consecutive month that the city’s retail sector reported sales higher than the same month the previous year, said Pedro Salazar, the executive director for the Edinburg Economic Development Corporation.

The Edinburg Economic Development Corporation (EEDC) is the jobs-creation arm of the City of Edinburg. 

"We have been creating jobs at a faster pace than any other city in South Texas," said Salazar. "In a nutshell, more jobs result with increased spending, and that’s why our retail sector is growing.”

According to Salazar, this trend will continue as several large projects are under construction:

  • The $175 million Santana Textiles Manufacturing plant;
  • The $100 million Rio Grande Produce Park;
  • The $14 million Edinburg Medical Conference Center;
  • The  90,000-square-foot expansion of the city’s premier shopping venue, The Shoppes at Rio Grande Valley; and
  • The construction of University Plaza, a combination of 45,000-square-feet of new retail and restaurant venues, with additional plans for an upscale apartment complex. University Plaza will face the University of Texas-Pan American on the south side of West University Drive.

Those ongoing construction projects will be adding more jobs in the summer and the fall.

The EEDC also expects to make several more important job announcements in the coming weeks and throughout the summer, Salazar added.

Of the Valley’s most populous cities, Pharr came closest to Edinburg’s top monthly  mark, with the Hub City reporting a 7.54 percent improvement in March 2011  from  the same month in 2010. Brownsville and McAllen, the first and second most populous communities in the Valley, reported decreases in their retail activities in this latest state report.

For March 2011, Brownsville registered a 1.80 percent drop in retail sales from March 2010, while McAllen reported a 0.55 percent decrease between March 2011 and March 2010.

Edinburg’s March 2011 retail economy showing is part of a continuing positive trend documented by the state comptroller of public accounts.

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.

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 2000 – for about a 10 percent improvement.
 
Also according to Combs:

Under the reporting system used by that state agency, the local and state sales taxes generated on retail sales in March 2011 were reported to the state comptroller’s office in April. On Friday, May 13, 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.

The March 2011 sales tax figures for each community also include January, February and March sales taxes reported by quarterly filers.

State sales tax revenue for March 2011 was $1.87 billion, up 11.4 percent compared to March 2010.

“This is the 13th straight month in which state sales tax revenue has increased,” Combs said.  “Business spending in sectors such as the oil and gas industry helped boost sales tax collections. Tax revenue from retail spending also showed growth.”

Combs distributed $600.1 million in local sales tax allocations on Friday, May 13, up 5.8 percent compared from the same period in 2010.

So far this calendar year, local sales tax allocations to cities, counties, transit systems and special purpose taxing districts are up 7.1 percent compared to a year ago.

Combs sent the latest sales tax allocations of $403.4 million to Texas cities, up 4.7 percent compared with the same period in 2010. 

Calendar year-to-date, city sales tax allocations are up 6.2 percent compared to the same period last year.  Texas counties will receive sales tax payments of $37.4 million, up 11 percent compared to one year ago. Calendar year-to-date, county sales tax allocations are 12.6 percent higher than last year.

In addition, $25.6 million will go to 174 special purpose taxing districts throughout the state, up 13.9 percent compared to the same month last year.  Ten local transit systems will get $133.5 million in sales tax allocations, up 6.4 percent compared to a year ago.

The sales tax allocations to local governments represent March sales reported by monthly tax filers and January, February and March sales reported by quarterly tax filers.

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: 

http://www.window.state.tx.us/taxinfo/allocsum/compsum.html. 

The comptroller’s June sales tax allocation will be made on Friday, June 10.

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 

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PTV NuStats in Edinburg wraps up hiring phase, reaches 229 staff members

By DAVID A. DÍAZ  

PTV NuStats of Edinburg, which in conducting important surveys on travel patterns for several state governments, has successfully wrapped up an important hiring phase, bringing more than 100 new and returning workers onto its local staff, according to the Edinburg Economic Development Corporation.

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

PTV NuStats will begin a new hiring ramp up around mid to late August for the start of their fall season.  

"This latest hiring campaign is part of PTV NuStats’ growing base of clients, and more area residents were able to secure steady, part-time work in a state-of-the-art research environment," said Letty Reyes, EEDC project manager. "For students from the University of Texas-Pan American and South Texas College, and for workers looking for convenient part-time schedules, such as homemakers or retirees, this represented an excellent opportunity to make extra money in a safe, comfortable, and interesting fashion."

Recruited by the EEDC in the spring of 2007, PTV NuStats was attracted to Edinburg by the presence of the University of Texas-Pan American, with its potential labor pool of talented college students, including many who are bilingual, as part of its strategy to expand its offerings and expertise for clients worldwide.

But the city’s excellent higher education and public education attributes were also important in drawing qualified applicants, said Pedro Salazar, the EEDC’s executive director.

"Providing traffic studies for various states involves learning and applying certain skills that involve taking the information from their surveys and mapping it on their computers," said Salazar. "You have to have a technically-savvy workforce to do this, and Edinburg has such a skilled labor force for this and many other types of top-notch, computer-oriented professions."

Located at 1920 SE Industrial Drive Suite B in Edinburg, PTV NuStats incorporates cutting-edge hardware and software technology for computer assisted telephone interviewing in social surveys. They have 100 workstations in their facility, which encompasses more than 7,000 square feet.  Prior to the recently-concluded hiring campaign, the Edinburg firm had a staff of 110 employees, most of those serving as research representatives.

Sue Foster, manager of the firm’s Human Resources Department at its Austin headquarters, said the PTV NuStats leadership was pleased with the successful hiring campaign, which began earlier this year.

"Initially, we were looking to bring on about 75 new staff members, but we reached almost 100 new hires," said Foster. "This brings us up to our capacity of 229 employees."

The work environment, starting hourly wages of between $8.50 and $9 per hour, and the flexible schedules offered to its workforce are among the attractive incentives provided to its staff members, added Elizabeth Soto, Senior Human Services Coordinator for PTV NuStats.

Both Foster and Soto noted that their firm is different from other types of call centers.

"Many call centers handle customer inquiries or try to make sales over the telephone, but PTV NuStats only deals with outbound calls – conducting interviews over the phone," said Soto. "The types of surveys we conduct are as interesting as they are influential, such as helping document travel behavior, immigrant studies, education and health. The work performed by our research representatives literally help shape public policies throughout the nation, and that is a very satisfying aspect to this position."

As an example of the type of work performed by NuStats, company officials point to how they recently provided the Chicago Transit Authority (CTA) with valuable research data on the agency’s customers who speak little or no English. The data will help the CTA understand their customer’s needs and provide better accessibility to its services.

NuStats interviewed more than 1,000 Chicago area residents, who do not speak English well, via computer assisted telephone interviews (CATI). In addition, the firm conducted 11 focus groups in community-based organizations, such as churches and community centers. The research study area included Chicago and suburban Cook County where there are heavy populations of limited English-speakers in the following five languages: Spanish, Tagalog, Polish, Chinese and Korean.

All interviews were conducted in the native language. The goal was to help the agency understand the demographics, background, consumer culture, knowledge and use of transit, as well as current travel needs and behavior.

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 towww.EdbgCityLimits.com

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Legislature should adopt at statewide level a successful dropout prevention program now underway in PSJA school district

By SEN. JUAN "CHUY" HINOJOSA

I want to tell you a story about hope and success, about a man with a vision. A vision for the future of Texas.

The Pharr-San Juan-Alamo Independent School District was a school district plagued with a dropout rate double the Texas average before Dr. Daniel P. King made his way there. Today things are different.

King is a man who had already shown promise, turning Hidalgo ISD around in just a few years. He took a school district ranked in the bottom five percent in Texas into a school district that exceeds the state and national levels.

Once in PSJA, King set out to bring business, community leaders, students and teachers together to bring dropouts back to school. That was the first step: he re-engaged them. Now, he prevents students from dropping out at all.

Because of the strong efforts of King and the community, PSJA ISD reduced its dropout rate by 80 percent, increasing graduates by almost 90 percent in three years – a figure that exceeds state and regional averages. As Adriana Rodríguez, a student of PSJA explained, "Yesterday, college was a dream. Now it is a reality.”

This man has changed the lives of hundreds of young people, making a real difference for our children. There is no magic here, no secret ingredient, and it certainly isn’t rocket science. It took three mayors, three police chiefs, community volunteers, concerned parents, school board members, and a dedicated superintendent to convince students of just how important it is to go back to school – to convince them of their importance and that someone is paying attention.

For this to work on a larger level, everyone has to care. Teachers, students and parents hold the future in their hands. According to a Texas A&M study, dropouts cost the state $9.6 billion in lost revenue and expenses associated with lost wages, welfare, incarceration, and diminished tax revenue. That is a lot money lost. That is a lot of potential walking out of our classrooms.

Texas is 43rd in the nation when it comes to graduating students. The PSJA model gives us a blueprint that works. The Texas Education Agency and U.S. Department of Education have recognized it as "Best Practice."

Jobs for the Future, a national organization based in Boston, Massachusetts which promotes education reform and workforce development, testified in support of Senate Bill 975. That group has recommended that it be made available statewide. This is what SB 975 sets out to do. This bill will allow Texas to recover high school dropouts using that same successful model.

It is important to see the value of the transformation that took place in PSJA – it’s priceless. Other school district like Mission and La Joya are already duplicating this program successfully, but I want to make this program available across Texas.

At the end of the day, the best gift we can give our children is education, particularly in an increasingly globalized world where they are competing with people all over the world.

Education is the best equalizer, and this program is a path to success.

Specific provisions of the bill

  • Authorize South Texas College to partner with school districts in Hidalgo County with a dropout rate higher than 15% to operate a dropout recovery program on its campus starting September 1, 2012. Allow for statewide implementation September 1, 2013.
  •  Allow students less than 26 years old to participate if they lack three or fewer credits to graduate or failed a school exit exam;
  • Allows a community college that operates a dropout recovery program to receive from the partnering school district a negotiated amount out of the Foundation School Program for participating students.  The colleges can also receive grants, donations and other funds such as dropout prevention and recovery program funds appropriated to TEA;
  • Require that students enrolled in the program receive a diploma from their school district;
  • Require that the dropout recovery model include classes, academic support,  transition counseling and information on support services that will ensure quality preparation and successful transition to college and to a career (to the extent that funds are available for student success in the first year of college);
  • Allow the school district to retain accountability for each student; and
  • Allow the school district to retain control over the amount of funding that follows the student to a community college that decides to operate a dropout recovery program, (the amount would be "negotiated" in the articulation agreement that establishes the partnership).

On May 11, 2011, the Texas Senate approved Hinojosa’s Dropout Recovery bill, Senate Bill 975, which would allow Texas to recover high school dropouts using the successful model of the Pharr-San Juan-Alamo (PSJA) Independent School District. SB 975 was scheduled for a public hearing on Wednesday, May 18, before the House Committee on Higher Education.

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Former Rep. Jim Solis of Harlingen admits to role in extortion scheme with former judge

By ANGELA DODGE

Former Rep. José Santiago “Jim” Solis, a Democrat from Harlingen, has been convicted of aiding and abetting the extortion by former state district judge Abel Corral Limas, United States Attorney José Ángel Moreno announced on Friday, April 29.

Solis, 47, pleaded guilty to a one-count criminal information on April 29 before U.S. District Court Judge Andrew Hanen. The criminal information which charges Solis with aiding and abetting extortion by former state judge Abel Corral Limas, in violation of Title 18, United States Code, Sections 1951 and 2 (The “Hobbs Act”) was filed earlier that day in Brownsville.

Solis, a life-long resident of Harlingen, has practiced law in south Texas for many years, focusing primarily in personal injury cases. Solis served as a member of the Texas House of Representatives, representing District 38, for seven terms – retiring from the Legislature in 2007. 

At the April 29 hearing, Solis admitted his part in Limas’ use of the office of judge of the 404th District Court as a criminal enterprise to enrich himself and others, including Solis, through extortion. Limas accepted money and other consideration from attorneys in civil cases pending in his court, including Solis, in return for favorable pre-trial rulings in certain cases, including a case involving a helicopter crash at South Padre Island in February 2008. Solis specifically admitted to paying Limas $8,000 in May 2008, a payment they described as eight “golf balls,” for favorable rulings.

Solis faces a maximum prison term of 20 years, a fine of up to $250,000 or twice the amount of pecuniary gain – whichever is greater, and a term of supervised release of up to five years.  As part of his plea agreement, Solis agreed to and did forfeit $250,000 to the government on April 29.

Sentencing is set before Hanen on August 1. Solis was released on bond on April 29.  

The ongoing investigation leading to the charges against Solis case is being conducted by the FBI, Drug Enforcement Administration and the Brownsville Police Department. Assistant United States Attorneys Michael Wynne and  Óscar Ponce are prosecuting this case.

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Third felony drug trafficking conviction results in life sentence without parole for area man

By ANGELA DODGE

A third conviction for drug trafficking has netted a Starr County resident a lifetime in federal prison without parole, U.S. Attorney José Ángel Moreno and Immigration and Customs Enforcement – Homeland Security Investigations Special Agent in Charge Jerry Robinette announced on Friday, May 13. 

Gilbert López, 52, of Rio Grande City – the last of  four persons charged with conspiring to possess with intent to distribute almost 2000 kilograms of marijuana and more than 400 kilograms of cocaine – has been sentenced to a mandatory life term in federal prison without parole.

U.S. District Judge Randy Crane handed down the mandatory sentence at a hearing on May 13 in federal court in McAllen.

Indicted in 2006, along with three others, López pleaded guilty in March 2007. The life sentence was mandated under applicable federal law, upon the filing of an enhancement by the United States based upon López’ two prior drug trafficking felony convictions.  
 
“While some may mistakenly view smuggling and trafficking in narcotics as a path to a quick profit, this lifetime prison sentence of a recidivist criminal demonstrates that serious consequences await those who engage in the smuggling,” said Robinette.

According to the record of this case, from January 1, 2006, to June 5, 2006, López and his co-defendants, knowingly and intentionally entered in an agreement to possess with the intent to distribute more than five kilograms of cocaine and more than 1,000 kilograms of marijuana.

On June 5, 2006, Border Patrol agents patrolling near the river in Starr County saw a pickup truck leaving a road that went directly to the river and followed that pickup truck to a residence where the truck pulled into the garage. As the agents approached the driver, identified as Gilbert López, he ran into the house.

The agents saw numerous bundles of drugs in both the bed of the pickup truck and also the cab driven by López. One agent ran to the back of the house and saw three men jumping out of a window. He was able to arrest one of the men, Eddie Díaz. The other two individuals who fled were later identified as the truck driver, Gilbert López, and Daniel López (no relation).

A subsequent investigation revealed that the owner of that residence was José Ángel Díaz. A search warrant was executed at the house and in addition to the drugs found in the truck driven by Gilbert López, agents found more marijuana and cocaine inside the living room of that house. Agents seized a total of 468 kilograms of cocaine and 1,960 kilograms of marijuana.

Co-defendants Eddie Díaz, 50, of Rio Grande City, Daniel López, 43, of Garcíasville, and José Ángel Díaz, 56, of Rio Grande City, have all pleaded guilty to conspiracy to distribute narcotics and have been sentenced to 60, 150 and 210 months in federal prison without parole, respectively. Each is presently serving his sentence in the custody of the Bureau of Prisons.

Gilbert López is in federal custody and will remain in custody pending transfer to a Bureau of Prisons facility to be designated in the near future.  

The investigation leading to the charges was conducted by Border Patrol and ICE-HSI. Assistant U.S. Attorneys Juan F. Alanis and Aníbal Alaniz prosecuted the case.

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U.S. citizen who resides in Reynosa sentenced for his part in weapons smuggling scheme

By ANGELA DODGE

A U.S. citizen who conspired with others to export semi-automatic firearms and ammunition into Mexico has been sentenced to prison, United States Attorney José Ángel Moreno announced on Friday, May 13.

Chief U.S. District Judge Ricardo Hinojosa on May 13 sentenced Juan Sauceda, 29, a resident of Reynosa, to 40 months in federal prison without parole for conspiring to unlawfully export weapons from the United States to Mexico. Sauceda pleaded guilty to the federal felony offense on February 8, admitting to having agreed with others to export into Mexico approximately 10 semi-automatic firearms, 87 firearms magazines and 1,570 rounds of ammunition without the necessary license or authorization.

Sauceda was arrested on November 23, 2010, after U.S. Customs and Border Protection officers conducting southbound inspections at the Hidalgo, Texas, port of entry found and seized 10 semi-automatic firearms (including several .223-caliber Sig Sauer 556 semi-automatic rifles), 87 high-capacity firearms magazines and 1,570 rounds of 7.62x39mm ammunition concealed in the vehicle Sauceda was driving. Further investigation by special agents of Homeland Security Investigations assisted by the Bureau of Alcohol, Tobacco, Firearms and Explosives led to the filing of federal charges and ultimately Sauceda’s conviction.

Sauceda has been in federal custody without bond since his November 2010 arrest and will remain in custody pending transfer to a Bureau of Prisons facility where he will serve out his sentence. Upon completion of his prison term, the court has further ordered Sauceda to serve a two-year-term of supervised release. As a convicted felon, Sauceda will be prohibited by law from possessing firearms or ammunition.

Assistant U.S. Attorney Christopher Sully prosecuted the case.

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Andrea Gutiérrez of McAllen among three Hidalgo County residents honored for service as legislative scholars at Texas Capitol

By DANIELA SANTONI

The Texas Senate on Wednesday, May 4, recognized 17 young Texans – including three from Hidalgo County – who are part of an elite group of university students who have been serving this spring on Capitol staffs as part of the Senator Gregory Luna Memorial Legislative Scholars Program.

This unique fellowship program is named after the late longtime Texas senator from San Antonio, who was a strong education advocate and onetime chair of the Senate Hispanic Caucus.  During his tenure in the Texas Legislature (1985-1998) representing Bexar County,  Luna was a champion of the people and strove to dissolve barriers for Texas’ less fortunate citizens. 

Andrea Gutiérrez of McAllen, who has been serving on the Capitol staff of Sen. Juan "Chuy" Hinojosa, D-McAllen, Ryan Delgado from McAllen, who has been serving on the Capitol staff of Sen. Jose Rodriguez, D-El Paso (himself a graduate of then Pan American University), and Roy Attwood from San Juan, who is serving on the Capitol staff of Sen. Carlos Uresti, D-San Antonio, were publicly recognized for their achievements by Senate Resolution 765, which was authored by Uresti.

In his resolution, Uresti noted that the legislative scholars "demonstrated outstanding dedication and achievement in Senate," adding that the state lawmakers "hereby commend these promising students for their remarkable service this session and wish them continued success as they prepare to become the future leaders of our great state."

Hinojosa said he was proud of all the scholars, especially those from Hidalgo County, and reserved special praise for his own staff member.

"It was an honor to introduce Andrea Gutiérrez, an exceptional young lady from my district who is currently working on her second legislative session in my office," said Hinojosa. "Her interest in Texas politics led her to this excellent program, and I have to say I am grateful to have her working with us – she has done a terrific job."

The scholars are in charge of various activities such as research, constituent relations, drafting talking points, staffing committee hearings, tracking legislation and various other legislative tasks.

"Andrea has been very successful, to the point that she oversees legislation in the Senate Agriculture Committee," Hinojosa continued. "I’ve had several Luna scholars in my office, and it’s always a pleasure to see these young people evolve professionally."

Besides allowing students and recent graduates to receive invaluable professional experience, the Legislative Scholars Program launches these students into careers in public policy, law and public service.

"I know Andrea wants to go to law school some day and return to the Valley to serve the people of her community," Hinojosa concluded. "I hope her time in my office and her experience allows her to be successful in her future endeavors."

The other legislative scholars who were praised by the Texas Senate, and the respective offices in which they work, are:

  • Lionel Aguirre from Austin (Sen. Kirk Watson, D-Austin);
  • Ryan Alter from Austin (Sen. Craig Estes, R-Wichita Falls);
  • Elisabeth Crawford from Coatepec, Veracruz, México (Sen. Carlos Uresti, D-San Antonio);
  • Wendilyn Ilund Díaz from Austin (Sen. Royce West, D-Dallas);
  • Andrea García from Falfurrias (Lt. Gov. David Dewhurst);
  • María García from San Antonio (Sen. Leticia Van de Putte, D-San Antonio);
  • Omar Gómez from Corpus Christi (Sen. Kel Seliger, R-Amarillo);
  • Matthew Hall from Fort Worth (Sen. Robert Duncan, R-Lubbock);
  • Cathryn Ibarra from Houston (Sen. John Whitmire, D-Houston);
  • Robert López from San Antonio (Sen. Mario Gallegos, D-Houston);
  • Yesenia Lugo from Little River (Sen. Eddie Lucio, D-Brownsville); 
  • Daniel Vásquez from Houston (Sen. Leticia Van de Putte, D-San Antonio);
  • Lissette Villarreal from Dallas (Sen. Wendy Davis, D-Ft. Worth); and
  • Priscilla Weninger from Houston (Sen. Judith Zaffirini, D-Laredo).
      
    The honorees are all part of the sixth class of the Senator Gregory Luna Legislative Scholars and Fellows Program, conducted by the Senate Hispanic Research Council and named in memory of Luna.

According to the Senate resolution, Luna was "a true champion for the underrepresented and underserved in Texas," and he "dedicated his life to public service and fought for educational equity."

As "a tribute to Luna’s admirable work in the Senate, this prestigious program was created to provide professional opportunities for undergraduate and graduate-level students from across the state to gain invaluable experience by serving as full-time legislative assistants in the Texas Senate and acquire the skills necessary to become successful leaders for our great state," the Senate resolution noted. 
   
David A. Díaz contributed to this article.

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UTPA communication showcase offers a look into 21st century mass communication

Communication students from The University of Texas-Pan American heard first-hand from media professionals in public relations, advertising and health communication fields at the second annual Communication Showcase hosted by the Department of Communication April 28-29 at the Communication Radio and TV Studios’ Media Theater.

The showcase kicked off April 28 with an emphasis on health communication, which is one of the fastest growing academic fields of study within communications, said Dr. Timothy Mottet, professor and Henry W. and Margaret Hauser Endowed Chair in Communication.

Researchers Dr. Karla Lawson and Dr. Sarah Duzinski, from Dell’s Children’s Hospital in Austin, visited with students and answered questions regarding a future in the niche field of health communications. All visits were integrated into UTPA health and instructional communication classes.

"We’re seeing the growth of health communications across the United States and a lot of departments of communication are now building health communication programs," said Mottet. "There are several faculty members within our department who play a role in the area of health communications."

The showcase continued April 29, with a panel of media professionals in public relations and advertising who were invited by Mottet to exemplify the other side of mass communication careers beyond print and broadcast journalism, which was the focus of last year’s showcase. Mottet said the purpose of the shift was to garner awareness of the 21st century mass communication curriculum and the convergence of media.

"I want students to have an accurate understanding of where the industry is today and how to survive in an economy that is not robust," said Mottet. "I also want students to leave and think about how they can add value to a company. Without a doubt our students have value and our students need to learn how to sell their skills."

Panelists Tricia Barrera, public relations coordinator for the Texas Organ Sharing Alliance; Helen Escobar, public relations coordinator for South Texas College; Shannon Ponce, director of community outreach for Palm Valley Animal Center; Cynthia Puryear, senior strategist of corporate communications for Mitchell Communications Group; and Liana Cisneros, director of community relations and group sales manager for the Rio Grande Valley Vipers, discussed the state of the industry and their personal experiences. They also gave advice on the type of skills employers are seeking and provided feedback on student projects that were submitted for critique.

"The Hispanic market is one of the biggest ones that we’ve been missing in the past years," Barrera told students during the state of the industry address . "In the Valley I see a lot of potential as far as the growth and economics. Marketing is going to boom in our region and we need to stay in the Valley and embrace where we live…we’re a growing outlet."

Puryear’s employer, Mitchell Communications Group, recently selected two students from UTPA – junior Lilli López and senior Amanda Pérez – to participate in the agency’s "Big Break" internship program March 14-19. A video highlighting López’ and Pérez’ experiences was presented at the showcase.

She told students that the industry is hard and competitive at times, but for anyone who is focused, there is an opportunity locally, regionally and nationally because there is a need for media professionals.

"Everybody has a story that needs to be told," Puryear said. "Don’t be afraid, go out there and dive in. You’re in demand, just being graced with Amanda and Lilli for one week at our agency, I am amazed at what UTPA can offer."

At the end of the two days, Mottet said he was happy graduating seniors who are working toward becoming media professionals attended the showcase. He called this audience a critical group of students to reach.

"Students from UTPA bring with them not only an education, but a set of cultural competencies that other people value," Mottet said. "When these cultural competencies, our students can help agencies and firms develop campaigns for Latino and other diverse markets…this added value is something that can’t be taken away from you."

••••••

Norma Olivarez, Kristy De La Garza named Edinburg 2011-2012 Teachers of the Year

By GILBERT TAGLE

Edinburg  school district educators Norma Catalina Olivarez and Kristy Dee De La Garza have been named Elementary and Secondary Teachers of the Year for 2011-2012.

Olivarez and De La Garza’s selection as the district’s top teachers was announced during the annual Teacher of the Year Banquet recently held to honor the respective 40 elementary and secondary campus teachers of the year in the Edinburg Consolidated Independent School District.

Besides being recognized at the banquet and showered with flowers and accolades in their classrooms, Olivarez and De La Garza each received a $1,000 check for their personal use courtesy of the Edinburg Teachers Credit Union’s Board of Directors.

Additionally, each campus teacher of the year received a $200 check in recognition of what they do for children.

Olivarez and De La Garza will represent ECISD as their names are entered in the Region One Teacher of the Year contest.

Norma Catalina Olivarez

Olivarez, a 13-year veteran educator, teaches grade levels three to five at Alfonso René Ramírez Elementary. She is a former migrant worker and a 1991 graduate of Rio Hondo High School. She has a Bachelor’s degree in Interdisciplinary Studies and a Master’s degree in Educational Leadership, both  from the University of Texas-Pan American.

During her teaching career at ECISD, Olivarez has taught at Canterbury Elementary, Travis Elementary, Cano-González Elementary, and Austin Elementary. Besides teaching, she has been a curriculum assistant at Cano-González Elementary and Canterbury Elementary. She has also served a science curriculum writer.

In the following remarks, Olivarez describes her educational philosophy:

“As one of today’s teachers, I play a vital role in the classroom by being a role model that dispenses hope, warmth, acceptance, and stability for my students.

“The words, No Child Left Behind, are words that are charged with emotion. While those words may not be a part of every parent’s ultimate fear for their children, the emotional connotations of being left in a society without the skills to be successful or being placed in an educational environment that was not conducive that child’s learning needs, can affect a child’s ability to find success in life.

“The issue of student achievement can only be addressed if we, as educators, teach in ways that motivates students to learn. Instruction must make the connection with the real world and what the students find meaningful in order to take into account the various ways that individuals learn best.

“The teacher sit down and listen approach will reach a certain percentage of externally motivated students, but will not reach those students who need to be personally involved. Those students who need a personal involvement type of learning will beLeft Behind’, as the policy-makers say.

“As educators we must promote the love of learning, and that only comes by meeting the students’ need for personal involvement, relevance, and competence. With sound practices based on education psychology and research, no child should be left behind at any given level.”

Kristy Dee De La Garza

De La Garza teaches sixth grade science at Francisco Barrientes Middle School. She is a 1995 graduate of Edinburg North High School. She has a Bachelor of Science degree in Health Sciences and Human Services from the University of Texas-Pan American and attended Baylor University, where she majored in biology.

Her initial work in education began with serving as Director of Development for the Abriendo Puertas/Opening Doors grassroots parental involvement organization launched by Texas A&M University in 2005. While working with Abriendo Puertas/Opening Doors, De La Garza focused on teaching mothers about the importance of education for their children, the importance of a college degree, the college acceptance process, and career opportunities their children. She is a recipient of the Congressional Award for Community Service.

De La Garza has taught on the subject of College Readiness and Incorporation of Science in General Education while serving on the HESTEC (Hispanic Engineering Science and Technology Week) team at the University of Texas-Pan American. She teaches College Readiness/Parental Involvement throughout her campus and alongside volunteers of Abriendo Puertas/Opening Doors.

Before entering the field of education, she had a successful career in the field of banking, management and finance.

In her following remarks, De La Garza describes her educational philosophy:

“A warrior with a servant’s heart – that’s what I strive to be. My students are my children and I fight for them to have every opportunity to be successful regardless of their needs. I take them into my heart – that’s the way I was raised.

“Teaching our children is an art. It comes with many challenges and many blessings all at once. Not every person has the innate ability to be an effective teacher who will eventually make a significant impact to a person’s soul. It is most certainly the greatest opportunity to mold and shape our children, but it also an opportunity to entice them to challenge their self-worth and their personal interests.”

My teaching philosophy is simple. If I build individual relationships with my children, they will never feel as insignificant as a number. They will believe and know that someone has a vested interest in their future. Regardless of their troublesome or daily situations, I provide a place of solace and transparency within my classroom. It is a place to let ‘walls’ down and figure out how to overcome barriers.

“I always encourage my students to continuously think of the impact of their choices and action. I encourage them to have fun in the class because learning is not a task, but it is a tool that they will take with them throughout life. No one lesson is the same (in my classroom). There is a new and different dynamic in the lesson for a student to look forward to learning each and every single day.”

“I thoroughly enjoy the daily impact that my students make in my life and that I make in theirs. I preach the gospel of education daily. This “gospel” of which I speak will one day provide my students an intangible so significant that it will change their lives. This intangible is that educational foundation which will provide the freedom for my students to have viable and productive choices that will lead to their success. To see my students with these opportunities is the greatest honor of all.”

•••••• 

UT-Pan American staff members honored for hard work at 23rd annual awards ceremony

By JENNIFER BERGHOM

Administrators from The University of Texas-Pan American praised all of the institution’s staff members Wednesday, April 20 during the 23rd annual Staff Employee Awards Ceremony for continuing their hard work and dedication to UTPA despite looming budget cuts from the state.

Addressing a full room at the Student Union Theater, UTPA President Robert S. Nelsen told employees he felt humbled by and proud of them for their commitment to the University and the sacrifices they have made in their jobs.

"You folks are my heroes," Nelsen said. "It is your hearts, your passion, that makes a difference in this Valley."

This year, the university honored 177 employees who have completed working at least five years of service at the institution by the end of the 2010 calendar year. Seventy people received certificates for serving five years, 48 received certificates for working 10 years, 28 received certificates for 15 years of service, 19 people received certificates for 20 years of service, six people received certificates for 25 years of service, and four people received certificates for 30 years of service.

Dr. Ana María Rodríguez, senior vice provost for undergraduate studies, and William Lee Morris, director of the Student Data Analysis and Projects Office, were honored for 35 years and 45 years of service, respectively.

UTPA also honored 17 people who retired during the 2010 calendar year who had served the University for at least five years.

During the ceremony, UTPA administrators and fellow staff employees also gave accolades to workers who have gone above and beyond their job descriptions in serving the university.

Receiving Staff Senate Awards were:

  • Yolanda Vidales from the Division of Academic Affairs;
  • Carolyn Laverty of the Division of Business Affairs;
  • Noel Ysasi of the Division of Student Affairs;
  • Michael Sandoval of the Division of Information Technology; and
  • Blanca Coronado of the Division of University Advancement.

Receiving Meritorious Service Awards were:

  • Rubén Díaz, Jr.;
  • Yvonne Susanna Galán;
  • Ai Ling Li;
  • Anita Reyes;
  • Verónica R. Stoller of the Division of Academic Affairs;
  • Juanita D. Caballero;
  • Marta Salinas-Hovar;
  • Eva Martínez and Maggie Rangel of the Division of Business Affairs;
  • Griselda C. Castilla, Marisela M. González, Ofelia Jiménez and Delma Denise Olivarez of the Division of Student Affairs;
  • Héctor Rodríguez Jr. and Anne Harwell Toal of the Division of Information Technology; and
  • Jeanette L. Benavides of the Division of University Advancement.

Employees from the Division of Information Technology received the Outstanding Suggestion Award.

Staff members from the Budget Office received the Teamwork Excellence Award.

And Maricela Espinoza of the Clinical Laboratory Sciences Program in the Division of Academic Affairs received the Distinguished Service Award

••••••

Congressman Rubén Hinojosa votes to extend national flood insurance program

By PATRICIA GUILLERMO

The House Committee on Financial Services on Friday, May 13, unanimously approved H.R. 1309, the National Flood Insurance Reform Act of 2011 that would authorize the National Flood Insurance Program through 2016. 

Congressman Rubén Hinojosa, D-Mercedes, co-sponsored the bill, and the committee inserted Hinojosa’s amendment into the technical corrections amendment offered by Subcommittee Insurance Chairwoman Judy Biggert (R-IL). Hinojosa’s amendment will remove the 250 year floodplain mapping language from the bill and was agreed to by a vote of 54 to zero.

“We spent $300 million in deep South Texas repairing dams and levees between the U.S. Mexico border,” said Hinojosa. “Requiring FEMA to map 250 year floodplains when the underlying 100 year floodplain maps contain substantial inaccuracies would be extremely costly and foolhardy.”

The bill would improve the NFIP’s financial stability, reduce the burden on taxpayers, and provide avenues to increase private sector participation in the flood insurance market.  It would extend the reauthorization of the NFIP program five years.

In response to concerns expressed by homeowners brought into the NFIP through remapping, the legislation would allow FEMA to suspend the mandatory flood insurance purchase requirement for up to three years if such relief is sought by a particular community. The bill would also mandate that both FEMA and the U.S. Government Accountability Office (GAO) assess the option for privatization of the program.

Hinojosa’s amendment would prevent the following unintended and potentially disastrous consequences of expanding flood insurance mapping requirements to include larger geographic areas of the country.

As reported out of the Insurance, Housing and Community Opportunity Subcommittee, H.R. 1309 would direct FEMA to update the 100-year flood insurance rate maps, where flood insurance is currently required to obtain a federally regulated mortgage loan and begin mapping the 250 year floodplains.  There is already controversy surrounding the inaccuracies of FEMA’s 100-year flood maps. 

A significant portion of H.R. 1309 is designed to address those map inaccuracies by providing more oversight in the form of a Technical Mapping Advisory Council of engineers, surveyors, and other independent map experts charged with reviewing and making recommendations to improve the scientific integrity and credibility of the maps. 

“We need to wait until FEMA and the Technical Mapping Advisory Council have concluded their investigation and corrected current 100-year floodplain maps before they attempt to map the 250 year floodplains,” said Hinojosa. “My amendment has saved South Texas hundreds of millions of dollars.” 

••••••

Women’s Spring Luncheon & Style Show scholarship fundraiser set for Tuesday, May 24

Want to be eligible to win awesome door prizes while enjoying a wonderful lunch and watching the latest women’s spring fashions being modeled by local ladies and professional models?  Then come to the RGV Hispanic Chamber of Commerce Women’s Spring Luncheon & Style Show, scheduled for Tuesday, May 24, from 11am to 1:00pm at Embassy Suites Hotel.

The scholarship fundraiser has 10 stores participating at the annual event:

  • Banana Republic;
  • Simply Elegant;
  • Pickles & Ice Cream;
  • Boot Jack Downtown;
  • Spa La Posada;
  • Lionel’s Western Wear;
  • Bec’s;
  • Dillard’s; and
  • Our Secret. 

Vendors will also be present selling jewelry, clothing, crafts, etc.  Many local businesses have also donated gifts for door prizes. A special treat will be a $5 discount of the ticket price if an attendee wears a hat to the luncheon. 

DebiLou Productions will assist at coordinating the Style Show and providing the professional models.

“We encourage the community to come and support our fundraising event for the scholarships that we give out at the end of the year” said Adelita Muñoz, a member of the chamber’s Education Committee. 

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