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A virtual ribbon was cut by South Texas College administrators, officially launching the college’s sixth state-of-the art campus in early August. Although the new virtual campus doesn’t feature beautiful green spaces or ambitious new architecture, what it does offer is something equally exciting and fitting for a new digital age. STC’s newest campus is one of the edgiest of its kind because it is an online virtual campus. STC’s new eSTC Virtual Campus went live on Tuesday, August 9, allowing the college’s over 30,000 students to enroll in one of more than 500 course sections toward earning one of 15 degrees and five certificates – available to earn all online. “The dawn of the Internet in daily life more than two decades ago meant the advent of a new era in the way we live and work; it has transformed every facet of our lives,” explained STC President Shirley A. Reed. “In a brave move that few colleges have dared to take, we are offering every service available to our traditional campus students – all online.” See story later in this posting.

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South Texas College on Thursday, July 28, received approval from the Texas Higher Education Coordinating Board to offer a third university-level degree: the Bachelor of Applied Technology in Medical and Health Services Management. The new baccalaureate degree prepares graduates for entry to mid-level management positions at health care or medical facilities. Course work focuses on health care facility management principles, technological innovation in delivery of health care services, health information processing technology and government regulations related to health care services. Featured in Austin moments after the state board’s approval are, from left: STC President Shirley A. Reed, Rep. Sergio Muñoz Jr., D-Mission, and STC Vice President for Academic Affairs Juan Mejía. See story later in this posting.

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Rep. Verónica Gonzáles, D-McAllen, featured here on January 28 during a legislative tour at the University of Texas-Pan American, on Friday, August 5, announced her bid to seek a fifth two-year term as the state legislator for House District 40, which includes much of Edinburg. “Over the past seven years, I have had the honor and privilege of working for and with people from all different backgrounds, occupations and perspectives,” Gonzáles noted. “I am also grateful for the support I have received from my law firm, friends and residents of Hidalgo County, which make my public service possible. I look forward to continue building upon these relationships and creating new ones to ensure that the next legislative session is a success for District 40.” From right, following last January’s legislative tour’s presentation on border control technology, are: Fred Schwien and Lee Moss with the Boeing Corporation; UTPA President Robert S. Nelsen; Sen. Juan “Chuy” Hinojosa, D-McAllen; Rep. Gonzáles; and Ray Prewett, Texas Citrus Mutual.” See story on her election bid later in this posting.

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Some of the underwriters and sponsors of the Hobo Hap’nin Reunion, set for Saturday, September 17, recently gathered at the Edinburg Chamber of Commerce train depot to finalize the details of the event. Levels of support range from $500 to $5,000, with many benefits and recognition for support extended to enhance the historic train depot that was constructed in 1927. Featured promoting the upcoming event are, seated from left: Letty González, president, Edinburg Chamber of Commerce; Elva Jackson Garza, representing sponsor Edwards Abstract and Title Co.; and Maggie Kent, representing sponsor General Dentistry Center & RDS. Standing, from left: Marty Martin and Flo Prater, members of the Depot Restoration Committee; Naomi Perales, representing sponsor Texas Gas Service; Sandra Casas, representing sponsor H.E.B.; Edna Peña, representing sponsor Gotta Lovette; and Edinburg City Councilmember Elías Longoria, Jr., member of the Depot Restoration Committee. See story later in this posting.

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Plans are well underway for the Rio Grande Valley Hispanic Chamber of Commerce’s Hispanic Heritage Fiesta & Cook Off scheduled for the Friday, October 7 and Saturday, October 8 at the RGV Livestock Show Grounds in Mercedes. The event will include a sanctioned IBCA cook off with cash prizes totaling more than $10,000. Items to cook are brisket, pork spare ribs, chicken, pan de campo, beans and chef’s choice. In addition, live entertainment will be available all day, vendor’s selling their food, services and goods and a Kiddie Land area. Also, SPI Bikefest will hold a poker run, bike skills contest, and bike show. Featured accepting the sponsorship check from Superior Health Plan are, front row, from left:  Ronnie Bernal, vice chair of Small Business for the RGVHCC; Cynthia M. Sakulenzki, president and CEO of the RGVHCC; Mary Lou Cavazos with  Superior Health Plan; and Marti Miller, vice chair of membership for the RGVHCC. Featured back row, from left: Hari Namboodiri, member of the Advisory Board for the RGVHCC; Rick Álvarez, vice chair of Government Issues for the RGVHCC; and and Brent Smith, treasurer for the RGVHCC. See story later in this posting.

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The Leadership Edinburg steering committee is currently accepting applications for Class XXIII.  All interested applicants should call the Edinburg Chamber of Commerce at 956/383-4974 to register. Leadership Edinburg (LE) is a nine-month program which gives its class members the opportunity to practice their leadership skills and brush up on different community topics that include history, education, healthcare, politics, and quality of life plus a fundraising session and a community service project in which all members of the LE willingly give back to the community. More than 520 graduates have taken the Leadership Edinburg Challenge. Individuals who want more information about Leadership Edinburg may call the Edinburg Chamber of Commerce at 956/383-4974. Featured promoting Leadership Edinburg are members of its steering committee, from left: Jay Flores; Adelita Ozuna; Imelda Rodríguez; Cindy Castillo; Letty González; Flo Prater; and Marty Martin.

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The Edinburg Cultural Activities Board (CAB) has scheduled its first monthly Jardín del Arte for Friday, August 12, beginning at 6 p.m. at Edinburg City Hall, 415 West University Drive. The event, which is free and open to the public, is designed to connect the community to vibrant art, music and culture. Refreshments will be available during the gathering, which will last through 9 p.m. More information about Jardín del Arte, including how artists can submit an application to display and sell their work, can be found at http://www.edinburgarts.com. Anyone looking for information can also call Letty Leija, committee member and Director of the Dustin Michael Sekula Memorial Library, at 956/383-6246.

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Nelda T. Ramírez appointed Interim Executive Director for Edinburg Economic Development Corporation

By DAVID A. DÍAZ

Nelda T. Ramírez, who is marking her 11th year in promoting Edinburg’s successful job-creation measures, business development policies, and state legislative agendas, on Wednesday, August 3, was appointed Interim Executive Director for the Edinburg Economic Development Corporation.

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

Ramírez, the veteran EEDC Assistance Executive Director, succeeds Pedro Salazar, who tendered his resignation earlier this summer after accepting an offer to help lead commercial lending efforts with Lone Star National Bank at that firm’s headquarters in McAllen.

Ramírez’ selection as Interim EEDC Executive Director was approved on a unanimous vote by the five-member EEDC Board of Directors, with Board Member Felipe García excused on important business.

That action took place during the EEDC Board of Director’s Budget Work Session, a public meeting that began at 11 a.m. on August 3 in the City Council Chambers at Edinburg City Hall.

“Nelda has a proven track record of leadership and effectiveness, as well as crucial insights into every key aspect of the Edinburg Economic Development Corporation,” said Mayor Richard García, who serves as President of the EEDC Board of Directors. “She has long-standing, tremendous professional relationships with business and community leaders throughout Edinburg and Texas.”

Ramírez led the EEDC during a key transition period in late 2009, when then EEDC Executive Director Ramiro Garza, Jr. left that post to become Edinburg’s City Manager. Salazar succeeded Garza in early 2010.

“Her selection to again lead EEDC’s outstanding team of staff professionals, coupled with her extensive credentials, provide crucial continuity with the EEDC’s and Edinburg City Council’s economic goals,” the mayor noted.

Ramírez said her tenure at the EEDC is an important advantage for the governmental entity.

“I have been EEDC’s Assistant Executive Director for about seven years, and Business Manager for the previous four years, so I am very familiar with all the projects and the processes of economic development for Edinburg,” she said.

Prior to coming to the EEDC, she worked for nine years with the Law Office of James (Jim) Darling, while he was the City Attorney for the City of McAllen. Darling, who several years ago resigned as McAllen City Attorney in order to run for public office in that community, was reelected last May to a second term on the McAllen City Commission.

“Through my work with Commissioner Darling at his private law firm when he was McAllen City Attorney, I received top-notch experience and education in the legal, business, and economic development fields,” Ramírez said. “Those skills I developed with Jim Darling and with the EEDC continue to serve Edinburg in many ways, ranging from drafting and procurement of contracts, helping coordinate and conduct public meetings, and working with local, state, and federal leaders on behalf of their constituents.”

Her first day on the job as Interim EEDC Executive Director included a full slate of key assignments, including updating board members on potential new projects, beginning final preparations for the EEDC’s upcoming proposed annual operating budget, and – in executive session – helping review offers of financial or other incentives to business prospects.

For the time being, she said she would be focusing on preparing the EEDC and its leadership on the more immediate major economic development and administrative initiatives, rather than throw her hat into the ring for the EEDC’s top administrative post on a permanent basis.

“Right now, we’re looking to keep going forward, and the EEDC board has not yet considered filling the Executive Director’s position on a more long-term basis,” she said. “In the meantime, I want to express my deep appreciation for the confidence again shown in me by the EEDC Board of Directors, and I want to say thank you to my predecessors, Pedro Salazar and Ramiro Garza, and to my colleagues on the staff, Letty Reyes and Dalila Razo, for sharing their invaluable skills, ideas, and successes with me.”

In addition to collecting and administrating a one-half economic development sales tax that is generated from eligible retail purchases within the city limits, the EEDC is designed to play a key role in assisting companies to expand, while helping to attract new business and industry to Edinburg.

Some of those services provided by the EEDC include, but are not limited to:

  • Site selection assistance;
  • Real estate database of properties and buildings;
  • Business seminars;
  • Job training assistance;
  • Data Information Center;
  • Coordination of state and local assistance; and
  • Access to business start-up resources.

In addition, the EEDC can arrange custom tours, schedule meetings with community leaders, arrange introductions to necessary business contracts, and serve as an advocate with state and local governmental entities.

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, 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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South Texas College receives approval to offer third Bachelor of Applied Technology degree

By HELEN J. ESCOBAR

It’s official. South Texas College has approval to offer a third Bachelor of Applied Technology degree. The new Bachelor of Applied Technology in Medical and Health Services Management received approval on Thursday, July 28 from the Texas Higher Education Coordinating Board.

The new baccalaureate degree prepares graduates for entry to mid-level management positions at health care or medical facilities. Course work focuses on health care facility management principles, technological innovation in delivery of health care services, health information processing technology and government regulations related to health care services.

Program graduates will be in a position to provide valuable expertise in the areas of health care systems management, finance, medical staff roles and responsibilities, reimbursement mechanisms, electronic medical records, privacy issues and legal issues related to the health care industry. According to several data sources, the average median hourly earnings projected for program graduates is expected to be in the range of $27.92 per hour.

Rep. Sergio Muñoz Jr., D-Mission, addressed the Coordinating Board, which helped further solidify the need for approval of the program.

“South Texas College is a vital part of our economy and the educational fabric of the Rio Grande Valley,” said Muñoz. “We are blessed to have an institution that is affordable and that offers a quality education to so many of our young people. I am always ready to support and fight for STC, and I want to be the first to congratulate the school and its administrators for their successful application for a third BAT degree.”

The first-term state lawmaker “played an instrumental role in helping us secure passage of this program,” explained Dr. Shirley Reed, STC president. “As a young member of the Legislature, he has come out ferociously in defense of education and has helped elevate state-wide debate about the needs of our community. I know we would not have secured this victory without his tenacious support.”

Juan E. Mejía, STC vice president for academic affairs, explained how the new university-level degree will address crucial needs in the Valley.

“The medical and health services management field is expected to expand in the Rio Grande Valley by almost 30 percent in the next 10 years, so we are working to fill that demand with smart, skilled local professionals,” Mejía said. “STC’s divisions of Nursing and Allied Health,  and Business and Technology, are producing record numbers of graduates that are perfect candidates for the program.”

He went on to further contend that the new bachelor’s degree program “makes sense because it gives our associate degree graduates the opportunity to continue growing as professionals in this booming field. In addition, there are also very talented professionals working in this field already who will benefit from attaining this degree. We look forward to continuing to respond to the needs of our communities with these kinds of innovative programs.”

The Coordinating Board committee complimented STC’s responsiveness to the workforce development needs of the Valley and reinforced that the college is on the cutting edge of developing new programs for Texas.

THECB board member Dennis Golden said at the meeting, “The application was very strong and very well developed. Bring us more programs like this to consider.”

“We want to extend our appreciation to all the members of the coordinating board and staff who had the vision, determination and courage to help us bring this important new degree to fruition,” said Reed. “Together with our Board of Trustees, the Valley legislative delegation, regional and local leaders and the entire college community, the Coordinating Board is playing an important role in helping transform our region for the better. They should take pride for helping STC expand the middle class in the Valley and strengthening the medical and healthcare infrastructure to ensure our community members have the best quality care available to them. This is another great milestone for us all.”

STC launched its first applied baccalaureate degree in 2005 and has seen continued growth, graduating 310 students from the program to date, with an additional 54 graduates expected in August 2011. Four hundred more students are currently enrolled in the college’s Bachelors Program working to earn STC’s Bachelor of Applied Technology Degree in Technology Management or Bachelor of Applied Technology in Computer and Information Technologies.

“As a community college we have a unique opportunity to prepare students with classroom knowledge, but also practical, technical, hands-on skills; that serves as the foundation of the success of our BAT Program,” added  Mejía. “It is why we have a five year average job placement rate of more than 90 percent – our BAT graduates are ready for the job on day one and in the medical field, there is no time to spare.”

The college is currently accepting students for its first Bachelor of Applied Technology in Medical and Health Services Management cohort for the fall 2011 semester. For additional information about STC’s Bachelors Program visit http://www.southtexascollege.edu/ba/BAT or call 956/872-7270 or 956/872-2036.

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Rep. Gonzáles to seek election to newly- redrawn House District 40, formerly held by Rep. Peña, who now has House District 41

By RICARDO LÓPEZ-GUERRA

Rep. Verónica Gonzáles, D-McAllen, on Friday, August 5, announced her intention to seek her fifth two-year term in the Texas House representing House District 40 in the Rio Grande Valley.

As a result of a legislative redistricting plan approved last spring by the Republican-led Texas Legislature, Gonzáles wound up with her home located in House District 40, forcing her to choose between seeking election to the newly-redrawn House District 40, or bowing out of the Legislature for the time being.

Rep. Aaron Peña, R-Edinburg, was also impacted by the legislative redistricting plan approved by the Republican majority in the Legislature. Following the redrawing of all 150 legislative district boundaries, Peña’s home is now located in House District 41, which had been Gonzáles’ district for the past seven years.

Legislative redistricting is a highly-political process that involves redrawing the boundaries of Texas’ 150 state representative districts and 31 senate districts every 10 years, which is required by federal law. The aim of redistricting is to make sure each of the legislative districts has about the same number of residents.

Initially elected as the first woman to represent District 41, Gonzáles, if elected in her new House District 40, would be the first female to represent District 40, which comprised of parts of Edinburg, Pharr, San Juan, Hidalgo, McAllen and Linn/San Manuel.

Following the passage in late spring of the legislative redistricting bill, which placed Gonzáles’ home in District 40, she confirmed that she would not change her residence in order to seek re-election in District 41.

“While the boundaries of the district I will represent are significantly different, the issues are not. I have spent the last four terms not only fighting for District 41, but for the entire region,” Gonzáles said.  “I am committed to continue the fight to ensure the Valley receives adequate funding, experienced legislative representation and a strong voice in our state’s decision making.”

If elected House District 40’s new state representative, Gonzáles would also bring with her four terms of experience and accomplishments.

“Over the past seven years, I have had the honor and privilege of working for and with people from all different backgrounds, occupations and perspectives,” Gonzáles noted. “I am also grateful for the support I have received from my law firm, friends and residents of Hidalgo County, which make my public service possible.  I look forward to continue building upon these relationships and creating new ones to ensure that the next legislative session is a success for District 40.”

Gonzáles, who was first elected in 2004, has earned many accomplishments during her legislative career. Gonzáles has served as Chair of the House Committee on Border & Intergovernmental Affairs since her initial appointment by Speaker of the House Joe Straus, R-San Antonio, in 2009. She is also serving her third term on the Public Health Committee and serves as Legal Counsel for the Mexican American Legislative Caucus.

Gonzáles has passed numerous pieces of legislation to address the diverse needs of Hidalgo County including: increasing the number of physicians and nurses to medically underserved areas; improvements for colonia residents; protecting victims of abuse; and making a college education more attainable, among many other measures.

Gonzáles, who was raised in San Marcos, has lived in Hidalgo County since 1991.

The first in her family to go to college, she graduated cum laude from Southwest Texas State University and earned her Doctorate of Jurisprudence from the University of Texas Law School.

She is a name partner in the law firm of Kittleman, Thomas & Gonzáles, L.L.P., and has earned many awards for her legal career including being named “Super Lawyer” by Texas Monthly magazine and “Extraordinary Woman in Law” by Texas Lawyer.

David A. Díaz contributed to this article.

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South Texas College launches state’s first “virtual campus” to allow students to earn degrees from comfort of home computers

By HELEN J. ESCOBAR

A virtual ribbon was cut by South Texas College administrators, officially launching the college’s sixth state-of-the art campus in early August. Although the new virtual campus doesn’t feature beautiful green spaces or ambitious new architecture, what it does offer is something equally exciting and fitting for a new digital age. STC’s newest campus is one of the edgiest of its kind because it is an online virtual campus

STC’s new eSTC Virtual Campus went live on Tuesday, August 9, allowing the college’s over 30,000 students to enroll in one of more than 500 course sections toward earning one of 15 degrees and five certificates – available to earn all online.

“The dawn of the Internet in daily life more than two decades ago meant the advent of a new era in the way we live and work; it has transformed every facet of our lives,” explained STC President Shirley A. Reed. “In a brave move that few colleges have dared to take, we are offering every service available to our traditional campus students – all online.”

Not only will students have access to a wide catalog of course offerings, they will also have access to online library services, admissions, advising, payment services, financial aid, bookstore and testing. An online chat function allows students to ask questions of Student Affairs Division staff. This is in addition to the existing ability to chat live with instructors and participate in group discussion boards.

“We have added a variety of exciting functionality to make the campus a place for students, faculty and staff to connect, just as they would in person at any of our five physical campus locations,” Reed added. “Students will rarely, and in some cases never, have to set foot on a traditional campus, but they will still feel the connection and opportunity of any other student. Our online students will also have access to all the free campus services and activities they choose including clubs, intramural sports, art shows, guest lecturers or free tutoring, just to name a few.”

STC has been offering distance education courses for 14 years, time that has provided the college the chance to perfect its online education model and tailor it to the needs of its students. Student feedback shows that success is possible for the dedicated student.

“It’s been really convenient taking online classes; that’s really the perfect word for it,” said 25-year-old STC student Sheena Faulkner. “I have earned somewhere between 30 and 40 credit hours all online at STC and I have been able to make my studies fit my schedule. I can study at my own pace, which I believe has helped me earn better grades and that’s really important because I plan to transfer to Texas A&M Kingsville to study animal science and one day become a veterinarian. I can do my class work at 1 a.m. if I need to and sometimes I have to because I work to pay my way through college. Also, I live 25 miles from the nearest campus and in this economy, taking online classes has saved me a lot of gas money. I know students like me will really appreciate all the convenience the eSTC Virtual Campus has to offer.”

The college has expanded its all-online degree offerings to include associate degrees in anthropology, business administration, criminal justice, English, human resources specialist, interdisciplinary studies, language and cultural studies – Spanish concentration, Mexican-American studies, psychology, social work, sociology, teaching and technology management. Additionally, students may elect to earn certificates in management or marketing, or that prepare them for being an accounting clerk, computer applications specialist or human resources assistant.

“During the spring 2011 semester, we served over 5,000 students through our online courses and by the year 2020, we expect to serve more than 10,000 students through eSTC,” said Juan E. Mejia, STC vice president for academic affairs. “We are focused on meeting the needs of every student, from stay-at-home parents, to professionals who are employed, to those in the military stationed abroad, and the many students who have embraced technology and wish to complete their degree from home. Students can expect the same academic rigor that they have come to expect and appreciate from our traditional courses. The difference is that with eSTC we are eliminating time and distance barriers and making education more affordable and flexible than ever.”

For additional information about STC’s eSTC Virtual Campus visit http://vc.southtexascollege.edu or call 956-872-2598.

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Hidalgo County begins holding public hearings on August 11 to redraw districts for county commissioners, JPs, and constables

By KARINA CARDOZA

Hidalgo County Commissioners’ Court will hold four public hearings over the next few weeks to give the public the opportunity to comment on proposed county commissioner precinct maps.

Every 10 years, the Hidalgo County Commissioners’ Court is tasked with the responsibility of redistributing the population equally among the four precincts. The 2010 Census figures indicated an imbalanced population distribution due to substantial population growth in some parts of the County, while other areas experienced a decrease in population. As a result, county commissioner precinct boundaries must be redrawn to evenly distribute the population. The redistricting will also affect justice of the peace and constable jurisdictions.

Three proposed maps have been drawn by the attorneys hired by the County for redistricting services. These maps can be viewed on the County’s website at http://www.co.hidalgo.tx.us/redistrict.

Residents are invited to attend the public hearings and submit their comments on the proposed maps. Public comments may also be submitted via the county’s website.

The schedule hearings and their locations follow:

  • Thursday, August 11
    6:00 p.m.
    Precinct 3 Pavilion Conference Room
    724 North Breyfogle
    Mission
  • Monday, August 15
    6 p.m.
    Precinct 4 Office
    1051 Doolittle
    Edinburg
  • Monday, August 22
    6 p.m.
    North San Juan Community Resource Center
    509 E. Earling Road
    San Juan
  • Monday, August 29
    6 p.m.
    Precinct 1 Office
    1902 Joe Stephens Ave.
    Weslaco

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Women’s Business Summit in Harlingen on August 26 will  feature journalist Vivian Hurtado and honor Sen. Juan “Chuy” Hinojosa

By AMY MINOR

Once again the Women’s Business Center will be hosting its annual Women’s Business Summit. This year, the event will take place on Friday, August 26 at Texas State Technical College in Harlingen from 7:30 a.m. to 2 p.m.

The Women’s Business Summit’s theme is “Creating Strategies for Today’s Successful Women” and will focus on productivity, creating a business culture, access to capital, procurement, customer service and marketing.

“The purpose of the summit is to bring solutions to business owners,” said María “Charo” Mann, executive director of the Women’s Business Center. “We asked local women in business what their struggles were and then looked for the best presenters to address these issues.”

The summit will kick off with informative sessions presented by speakers from Wells Fargo Bank, TXU, U.S. Small Business Administration, AT&T, Verizon Wireless, and The Southwest Minority Supplier Development Council.

The afternoon portion includes a luncheon featuring keynote speaker Viviana Hurtado, Ph.D.

Hurtado is the blogger behind The Wise Latina Club. She is a freelance writer for More magazine, a contributing Food Editor at the Washington Flyer magazine, a DC correspondent and sub-anchor for ABC News leading coverage on the global economic crisis, technology, and politics. At Al Jazeera English, she reported extensively from Latin America. She freelanced for the New York Times in Mexico City, contributing to the newspaper’s award winning coverage of the historic 2000 Mexican presidential elections.

There will be a special award presentation honoring local women in business and Sen. Juan “Chuy” Hinojosa, D-McAllen, will be recognized with the Community Advocacy Award.

“We expect an attendance of more than 300 small business owners and those interested in starting a business,” said Mann. “The cost is $25 and is open to both women and men.”

Reservations for the Women’s Business Summit are encouraged. Sponsorship opportunities are available. For more information or to register, call (956) 618-2828.

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Brownsville bail bondsman convicted of paying bribe to former State District Judge Limas

By ANGELA DODGE

A local bail bondsman charged for his role in former State District Court Judge Abel Limas’ scheme to solicit and accept bribes in exchange for official action has been convicted, United States Attorney José Ángel Moreno announced on Tuesday, August 8.

Francisco “Pancho” Cisneros, 46, of Brownsville, a local bail bondsman, pleaded guilty earlier that day to aiding and abetting extortion. The charge against Cisneros arose from investigation by the FBI, Drug Enforcement Administration and the Brownsville Police Department into Limas’ use of his position as the judge of that court to solicit and accept money from persons with cases pending in his court for favorable rulings or orders.

Cisneros was charged by an indictment returned on June 21, 2011, with aiding and abetting Limas’ extortion by paying a bribe to Limas in exchange for official action pursuant to the Hobbs Act (Title 18, United States Code, Sections 1951 and 2).

At the August 8 morning hearing before United States District Judge Andrew S. Hanen, Cisneros admitted paying $2,000 to a middle man to bribe Limas in exchange for an order changing the terms of a previously set cash or surety bond to a personal recognizance bond for a defendant in a criminal drug case pending in Limas’ court. Limas has admitted receiving $700 to issue the order.

Cisneros now faces a statutory maximum punishment 20 years imprisonment, a fine of up to $250,000 and a term of supervised release of up to three years for the conviction. Hanen has set sentencing for November 14. Cisneros has been permitted to remain on bond pending sentencing.

Assistant United States Attorneys Michael Wynne and Óscar Ponce are prosecuting this case.

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Edinburg Chamber of Commerce recognizes sponsors for September 17 Hobo Hap’nin’ Reunion to help pay for restoration of Depot

By EVANA VLECK

Securing underwriter support for the restoration of the historic train depot in Edinburg has been the focus of the Edinburg Chamber of Commerce Depot Restoration Committee. Advance planning since the month of May has paved the way for several commitments of support from local and surrounding businesses.

The Hobo Hap’nin Reunion is scheduled on Saturday, September 17, beginning at 6:30 p.m. at 602 W. University Drive, the home of the Edinburg Chamber of Commerce, Edinburg Economic Development Corporation and Edinburg Convention and Visitors Bureau.

The chamber board or directors, staff and committee have spearheaded the planning of the event and have worked to secure entertainment, live and silent auction items, underwriter support, decorations and catering.

“The committee is very pleased with the response from the membership and chamber investors,” said Elva Jackson Garza, chair of the Depot Restoration Committee.  “To date, we have confirmed $20,000 in various sponsorship levels and that is very gratifying.”

The following have committed their support of the event:

  • Betty Gaston, Gaston Properties;
  • D. Wilson Construction;
  • Edinburg Home Buyers & Business Expo;
  • Edwards Abstract and Title Co.;
  • General Dentistry Centers;
  • Gotta Lovette;
  • Hacienda Ford;
  • HEB;
  • Inter National Bank;
  • Leadership Edinburg Class XX;
  • Peña Eye Institute;
  • Sam Saldívar – State Farm Insurance;
  • Texas Gas Service;
  • UTPA Foundation; and
  • Valley Insurance Services.

Individual tickets will be on sale at $75 each. All proceeds collected will be utilized to restore the interior and exterior of the train depot.

The Depot Restoration Committee is asking for further support from anyone who is interested in preserving a very historic and beautiful architecturally designed facility.

For more information, please contact Letty González, president of the Edinburg Chamber of Commerce at 383-4974 or chamber@edinburg.com.

Interested individuals may also access the Chamber’s website at http://www.edinburg.com to view the four underwriter levels and to download other pertinent information regarding the Hobo Hap’nin Reunion.

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Hispanic Heritage Fiesta & Cook Off scheduled for October 7 and 8 by Rio Grande Valley Hispanic Chamber of Commerce

Plans are well underway for the Rio Grande Valley Hispanic Chamber’s Hispanic Heritage Fiesta & Cook Off scheduled for the Friday, October 7 and Saturday, October 8 at the RGV Livestock Show Grounds in Mercedes.

The event will include a sanctioned IBCA cook off with cash prizes totaling more than $10,000.  Items to cook are brisket, pork spare ribs, chicken, pan de campo, beans and chef’s choice.

In addition, live entertainment will be available all day, with vendors selling their food, services and goods, and a Kiddie Land area. Also, SPI Bikefest will hold a poker run, bike skills contest, and bike show.

Stepping up to the plate to sponsor the “Kiddie Land Play Area” is Superior Health Plan. Superior Health Plan is a managed health care company that provides health care for many Texans.

Superior works with the Texas Health and Human Services Commission to bring STAR (Medicaid), children’s Health Insurance Program (CHIP), CHIP Perinatal Care, and STAR+PLUS in many cities and counties across Texas. Their sister company, Superior Health Plan Network, manages the STAR Health program on a statewide basis.

CHIP Perinatal Care is designed to provide prenatal and delivery services to unborn children of low-income pregnant women who do not qualify for Medicaid. CHIP (including CHIP RSA) is health care coverage available to families who earn too much money to qualify for Medicaid, but who can’t afford to buy private insurance.

STAR (Medicaid) is health care coverage for many low-income families.  STAR Health (offered by Superior Health Plan Network) is health care coverage for children/young adults in foster care.

STAR+PLUS (Medicaid) is the health care coverage for qualified low-income people who are elderly or who have a disability.

“We are very excited to have Superior Health Plan as a sponsor and member,” said Cynthia M. Sakulenzki, president and CEO of the RGV  Hispanic Chamber of Commerce. “We want the low-income families of the Rio Grande Valley who are in need of insurance to get acquainted with Superior Health Plan.”

Friday night will feature a VIP Reception/Dance from 7 p.m. to 10 p.m., with cooking teams receiving two complimentary tickets. Tickets for the entertainment and beverages are $25.

On Saturday, gates will open at 8 a.m.

“Bikers will be signing up at the gate for the Poker Run and the other events being hosted by the SPI Bikefest,”  said G.J. Reyna, SPI Bikefest coordinator.

For more information on the Fiesta & Cook Off, interested individuals may call the RGV Hispanic Chamber at 928-0060 or visit their offices at 3313 N. McColl Road in McAllen.

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Congressman Hinojosa secures almost $50,000 grant for 10th anniversary of HESTEC at UT-Pan American

By PATRICIA GUILLERMO

Congressman Rubén Hinojosa, D-Mercedes, on Thursday, August 4, announced a grant for $49,999.00 was awarded by the National Science Foundation (NSF) to the University of Texas-Pan American (UTPA) for the Hispanic Engineering, Science and Technology (HESTEC) week that promotes the study of STEM fields – Science, Technology, Engineering and Mathematics – to area students.

“I am deeply proud of the achievements made by the HESTEC program over the past 10 years and am very happy to see UTPA receive this generous grant award from the National Science Foundation,” said Hinojosa. “Tens of thousands of students from Deep South Texas have been introduced to a new path of study in the STEM fields. These are careers that will carry them and our country into the future.”

HESTEC will use the funds to directly partner with two NSF-funded Science and Technology Centers to provide professional development for teacher, hands-on science activities for middle school students, and science shows and experiment stations for the entire community.

Students and staff from the Colorado State University Center for Multiscale Modeling of Atmospheric Processes (CMMAP) will bring their “Little Shop of Physics” to HESTEC where the hands-on science activities will reach some 30-70 educators, up to 4,000 middle school students, and thousands of community visitors. UTPA undergraduates will work directly with the CMMAP staff to operate the demonstrations and engage HESTEC participants.

Also included with the grant award is the participation of the Center for Coastal Margin Observation and Prediction (CMOP) at Oregon State University. Representatives from CMOP will provide professional development workshop for middle and high school teachers as part of the HESTEC Educators Day.

HESTEC is celebrating its 10th anniversary, beginning September 26 and running through October 1 on the UTPA campus.

“Ten years ago, I became fully involved with HESTEC week and in fact was one of the original organizers of the event,” said Hinojosa. “In order for America to be competitive in a global market, our students must immerse themselves in STEM fields. Opportunities exist worldwide for those who choose a career path in STEM fields. Why not have our children from deep South Texas be the ones to lead the way?”

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Former Pharr police officer receives 144 month prison sentence for protecting drug deliveries

By ANGELA DODGE

Jaime Beas, 34 of Pharr, has been sentenced to 144 months imprisonment for his conviction of extortion under color of official right, United States Attorney José Ángel Moreno announced on Thursday, August 4.

Beas, a former Pharr police officer, was sentenced that morning by U.S. District Judge Randy Crane.

Beas pleaded guilty to extortion under color of official right (Hobbs Act) on December 22, 2010.

According to allegations in the indictment and later acknowledged upon his plea of guilty, Beas admitted he agreed to provide protection for a vehicle that he knew contained cocaine in exchange for payment. On three occasions  –April 23, May 14 and June 14, 2010 – Beas received a total of $12,000 in exchange for providing protection for a vehicle which the defendant knew contained more than five kilograms of cocaine.

Beas used his capacity as a Pharr police officer in the commission of the crime, including using police issued equipment to protect the cocaine as he escorted it through the city of Pharr. At the time of his guilty plea, Beas admitted that on June 14, 2010, he was on duty as a Pharr police officer and knowingly used his police issued vehicle, uniform, badge, radio and firearm to escort approximately 40 kilograms of cocaine through the city of Pharr in order to avoid detection from law enforcement. Beas also admitted that he received approximately $4,000 in United States currency in exchange for his services. Beas was subsequently arrested on July 9, 2010.

At the August 4 sentencing hearing, Crane noted that in addition to helping to escort cocaine through Pharr, Beas was also involved in the exportation of defense articles into Mexico. According to the indictment, these defense articles included a grenade, a Romanian AK-47, M-16 rifle and body armor. Previously, Crane noted that Beas was assisted by an uncle that was enlisted with the United States Navy.

Beas was sentenced to 144 months custody with the U.S. Bureau of Prisons to be followed by a three-year-term of supervised release. Beas has been in federal custody since his arrest where he will remain pending transfer to a Bureau of Prisons facility to be designated in the near future where he will serve his sentence.

The investigation leading to the charges was conducted by the FBI and the Texas Department of Public Safety. Assistant United States Attorney Robert Wells Jr. prosecuted the case.

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Two Brownsville women indicted, arrested for allegedly defrauding state Medicaid program

By ANGELA DODGE

Felicitas Vélez Alanís, 50, and her daughter-in-law Erika Ortega Alanís, 26, both of Brownsville, on Thursday, July 28, were arrested on charges of health care fraud and conspiracy to commit health care fraud, United States Attorney José Ángel Moreno announced along with Texas Attorney General Greg Abbott.

A McAllen grand jury returned a six-count sealed indictment on Tuesday, July 26, charging Vélez Alanís and Erika Alanis with one count of conspiracy to defraud the Texas Medicaid program and five counts of submitting false and fraudulent claims to the Texas Medicaid program. The indictment was unsealed on July 28 after the pair was taken into custody by federal and state authorities that morning.

An indictment is a formal accusation of criminal conduct, not evidence.

A defendant is presumed innocent unless convicted through due process of law.

Vélez Alanís allegedly owns and operates Vel-Ala Inc.– a Texas corporation which does business as Nisi Medical Equipment and Supply in and around Brownsville and Harlingen and elsewhere in South Texas. Her daughter-in-law, Erika Alanís, allegedly assisted in the day to day operation of the company.

Nisi Medical Equipment and Supply is enrolled with the Texas Medicaid program to provide durable medical equipment (DME) to Texas Medicaid beneficiaries. The term DME means medical equipment and supplies used in the home and includes blood-testing strips, blood glucose monitors, alcohol wipes, diabetic supplies and other medically necessary items.

The six-count indictment alleges Vélez Alanís and Ericka Alanís conspired to send false and fraudulent bills to the Texas Medicaid program in the name of Nisi Medical Equipment and Supply. The indictment also alleges that between on or about January 1, 2005, through on or about October 12, 2006, the women submitted more than $646,000 in false and fraudulent bills to the Texas Medicaid program for diabetic supplies which Nisi Medical Equipment and Supply never purchased or supplied to Medicaid beneficiaries.

The delivery records and billing records of Nisi Medical Equipment and Supply show that the Texas Medicaid program was routinely billed for more items than were actually delivered and the purchase records allegedly reveal that the Texas Medicaid program was billed for medical supplies and items that Nisi Medical Equipment and Supply had never purchased. Medicaid paid more than $554,000 on the allegedly false and fraudulent claims submitted to it.

Each of the six counts of the Indictment carries a maximum punishment of 10 years in prison and up to a $250,000 fine plus up to three years of post prison supervised release in addition to restitution.

The investigation leading to the charges in this case was conducted by the FBI and the Texas Attorney Generals Medicaid Fraud Control Unit. Assistant United States Attorney Casey N. MacDonald and Special Assistant United States Attorney Rex G. Beasley are prosecuting the case.

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Air Evac Lifeteam announces plans to open air ambulance base at McAllen Medical Center

By JULIE HEAVRIN

Air Evac Lifeteam recently announced they will be opening an air ambulance base in McAllen this fall.

The base, scheduled to begin operations in October, will be located on the campus of McAllen Medical Center, but will serve all hospitals and communities within a 70-mile radius.

Air Evac Lifeteam, the largest independently owned air medical provider in the United States, provides on-the-scene medical care and rapid medical transport, as well as transfers between medical facilities. The company has been in business for 26 years with its focus on provide air medical services to communities in rural America.

“We’re excited to offer this service to the residents of South Texas,” said Seth Myers, president and CEO of Air Evac Lifeteam. “We’ve been talking with officials with South Texas Health System and EMS agencies in the area for several months about locating a base in the region to work with them to meet the healthcare needs of their communities. They have welcomed us to the area with open arms. We are happy to make this vision a reality.”

“We are looking forward to our partnership with Air Evac Lifeteam,” said Joe Riley, CEO of McAllen Medical Center. “Air ambulances are vital when speed and accessibility could make a difference between life and death. As the designated Advanced Level III Trauma Center for the Upper Valley, it becomes even more critical to our patients when minutes matter most. McAllen Medical Center looks forward to the added technology and skill needed to keep a patient stable before reaching the hospital in order to provide superior health care and treatment.”

The McAllen base will be one of 104 bases in Air Evac Lifeteam’s network of air ambulance services and the 21st base in Texas. It will provide employment for 12 to 15 people.

An Air Evac Lifeteam crew, which includes a registered nurse, paramedic and pilot, is on call at each base 24 hours a day, seven days a week. Crew members are trained in advanced pre-hospital care, allowing them to continue medical care at the scene and en route to the hospital. This same training also allows for critical care hospital-to-hospital transfers.

The helicopter is also equipped with state-of-the-art medical equipment, including the use of Night Vision Goggles (NVGs). NVGs are particularly useful on nights with little illumination in identifying emergency scene landing zones in difficult terrain, such as mountains and hills, by raising night-time vision to 20/20.

“The people of this region are very fortunate to have quality health care services in place with their local hospitals and EMS agencies,” Myers said. “Our goal is to be an extension of those services when quick medical transport to definitive medical care is needed.

“The opening of this base is part of an ever-expanding commitment by Air Evac Lifeteam and the health care community in this region to improve access to trauma care for residents of south Texas,” he added. “This base will be supported by our other base in southern Texas at Laredo.”

Air Evac Lifeteam was one of the first air ambulance services in the country to offer a membership program. Members pay an annual fee and, if they are flown by Air Evac, they do not have to pay for the flight. Memberships are valid throughout Air Evac Lifeteam service areas, so members are covered while traveling through Air Evac Lifeteam service areas.

Annual memberships are $50 for an individual, $55 for a couple and $60 for a household or three or more. For more information about Air Evac Lifeteam services or employment opportunities, call 1/800/793-0010 or visit http://www.lifeteam.net

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