News Column

Ex-El Paso ISD Associate Superintendent Gets 4 Years in Corruption Case

Aug. 22, 2012

Adriana M. Chavez, El Paso Times, Texas

A former El Paso Independent School District associate superintendent, appearing bearded and frail in federal court on Wednesday, was sentenced to four years in prison for cheating the district out of more than $2 million.

Tomas Gabaldon, 56, pleaded guilty in December to a charge of attempt and conspiracy to commit mail fraud. U.S. District Judge Frank Montalvo handed down the sentence during a hearing Wednesday morning.

As part of a plea agreement with federal prosecutors, Gabaldon admitted to accepting bribes, along with an EPISD trustee, to award a multimillion-dollar Medicare reimbursement contract with the district between 2003 and 2007.

Gabaldon's indictment, which was filed in November 2010, doesn't name the company involved or the trustee, but the trustee appears to be Sal Mena, who pleaded guilty in 2009 to public corruption charges. Mena has yet to be sentenced.

Gabaldon started working as associate superintendent for special education in 2003. He resigned in 2005, two years before EPISD ended its contract with Strategic Governmental Solutions.

He remains free on bond and is scheduled to surrender to U.S. Marshals to begin serving his sentence on Oct. 2. On Wednesday, he walked into the courtroom using a walker, his head shaking with tremors caused by Parkinson's Disease. A family member held his arm as he sat in the courtroom audience

and waited for his name to be called.

Last month, his attorney Richard Jewkes filed a request for Montalvo to consider sentencing Gabaldon to house imprisonment or a sentence below the agreed-to sentencing guideline cap of four years because of Gabaldon's ill health.

In the document, Jewkes said Gabaldon suffers from advanced Parkinson's Disease, acute coronary syndrome and oscillopsia, which Jewkes described as "uncontrollable shaking of the eyes."

However, a stern Montalvo said he was disturbed by Gabaldon's misconduct, and troubled that Gabaldon apparently gave a $35,000 loan to a friend the day before he was indicted in 2010. The judge accused Gabaldon of loaning out money that didn't belong to him.

"This was more than just a mistake, this was a pattern of conduct compounded by an inefficient and reckless system of checks and balances at the El Paso Independent School District," Montalvo told Gabaldon.

In response, Gabaldon told Montalvo he had obtained the money after selling the water rights to a piece of land he owned, and his friend is paying back the loan in monthly payments.

Before he was sentenced, Gabaldon apologized to the court and the El Paso community, stating, "I'd like to express, with sincerity of heart..., my sincere apologies to your honor and to the people."

According to former EPISD board members, Strategic Governmental Solutions received $4.3 million from EPISD between 2003 and 2007 to manage Medicare-Medicaid reimbursement and to perform other special-education services for the district. The company no longer exists.

As part of his sentence, Gabaldon must pay more than $2 million in restitution to EPISD. The district had also requested an additional $109,000 in restitution for "attributable harm of reputation to the district," but Montalvo called those damages "consequential" and should not considered part of the restitution amount.

Jewkes had previously argued that the U.S. Bureau of Prisons may not be adequately equipped to treat Gabaldon or "ensure his chances of survival," but Montalvo ordered that arrangements be made for Gabaldon to serve his sentence at the Bureau of Prisons Federal Medical Center at Carswell in Fort Worth, or the Federal Medical Center at Butner in Butner, N.C.

A New York businessman, Joseph O'Hara, was indicted on fraud charges along with Gabaldon. Prosecutors allege O'Hara and another person, who hasn't been publicly identified, bribed Gabaldon and the EPISD trustee to secure the lucrative contract.

A jury trial for O'Hara is scheduled to begin in February.



Source: (c)2012 the El Paso Times (El Paso, Texas). Distributed by MCT Information Services