July 19th, 2017
Hernandez, Nieto released on bond, but Nieto can’t return to Presidio
By JIM STREET
ALPINE, PRESIDIO – Lorenzo Hernandez and Carlos Nieto were ordered to be released on a $20,000 bond each following a bond appeal hearing in federal magistrate court Wednesday in Alpine. However, Nieto won’t be allowed to return to his hometown of Presidio, while no residency restrictions were placed on Hernandez, U.S. District Judge David Guaderrama ruled. Nieto must live within the Western District of Texas, which stretches from El Paso to San Antonio.
The two were arrested June 29 and charged with accepting bribes to help a fake company created in an FBI sting operation win a $300,000 contract from Presidio County. Nieto’s attorney Liz Rogers argued that her client should get three weeks – or at least two weeks – in Presidio to meet with family and visit the grave of his father, Edmundo Nieto, who died the week Nieto was arrested and indicted. Guaderrama countered that most of Nieto’s family was present in the courthouse Wednesday and he could find a room in the courthouse for a meeting.
The judge said Nieto could have an escorted trip to Presidio to visit his father’s grave. But he ordered Nieto to live with a niece, Melissa Ramirez, in El Paso. Father Fabian Marquez of El Paso offered to escort Nieto to the grave. He also offered to provide a place to live. Marquez was the parish priest in Presidio. Rogers said Nieto also had an offer of a residence and help finding a job in Austin.
She introduced several of Nieto’s friends and family members who testified he would not be a flight risk and would not try to influence the investigation in Presidio. They all agreed they would sign a surety for his release. She asked those in the audience who supported Nieto to stand and about 50 people rose, the majority of the audience in the cramped courtroom.
But Assistant U.S. Attorney Monty Kimball of Alpine put Presidio City Administrator Jose “Joe” Portillo on the stand who testified that Nieto controls everything in Presidio.
Portillo, a retired Texas Department of Public Safety official, said he hired an auditor recently without checking with Nieto, and Nieto berated him over his decision.
He said if Nieto were released to Presidio, he might use his influence to intimidate people against providing evidence.
Portillo said Nieto has a “bad temper, not a lot of decorum.”
Guaderrama referred to a letter submitted by City of Presidio and Presidio County Attorney Rod Ponton, who wrote to the judge that Nieto not return to Presidio.
Ponton was in the audience as an observer but did not testify.
Letters were also submitted to the federal judge by the city of Presidio, signed by Mayor Pro-Tem Alcee Tavarez and Portillo, and Presidio County Judge Cinderela Guevara. Both letters stated that Nieto should not return to Presidio.
There was less testimony about Hernandez, but Kimball noted Hernandez’s brother is a fugitive from U.S. justice and lives in Ojinaga, Chihuahua, Mexico, across the Rio Grande from Presidio, and Kimball questioned the defendant’s ability to cross into Ojinaga at any time. However, Nieto and Hernandez had earlier surrendered their passports.
But Hernandez’s partner in a trucking business, Obed Escondidos, said Hernandez didn’t like to go to Ojinaga, even though he went there often in connection with his business. The FBI, however, documented 233 trips Hernandez made to Ojinaga between 2013 and 2015. Guaderrama said he agreed with an earlier decision by U.S. Magistrate David Fannin of Marfa, who set bond at $20,000 each, with conditions including wearing an ankle monitor and confiscating their passports at a hearing on July 6. After that hearing in Pecos federal court, Kimball appealed Fanin’s ruling, keeping Hernandez and Nieto in jail since their arrest.
Hernandez’s attorney David Guinn M. Guinn Jr. of Lubbock said other conditions placed on the defendants were common in release orders, that they report regularly to a probation officer, and random testing for drugs and alcohol use.
He said they are not to try to influence witnesses but there was no restriction on whom they could talk to.
The company was a creation of the FBI and claimed it could digitize court records. Hernandez and Nieto allegedly sought bribes from an FBI investigator in exchange for getting the contract approved, which the Commissioners Court did in May on a 3-1 vote.
Earlier this week, Nieto resigned from the Presidio school board, the school district’s education foundation, and the county appraisal district board. The Presidio City Council two weeks ago abolished his position as special projects coordinator.
Hernandez, a former Presidio mayor and council member, is a current Presidio County Commissioner, but commissioners’ court has asked him to resign and directed Ponton to seek his removal in state district court if he doesn’t step down.