January 18th, 2018
Nieto, Hernandez get May trial date
By JOHN DANIEL GARCIA
and ROBERT HALPERN
PRESIDIO COUNTY – Carlos Nieto and Lorenzo Hernandez have a new federal criminal trial date: Monday, May 21.
A federal court order by Senior U.S. District Judge Robert Junell on Wednesday, January 10 rescheduled the jury trial from an initial setting of March 19.
Nieto, a longtime Presidio ISD school board member and board president, City of Presidio Special Projects Coordinator, Presidio Education Foundation board member, and Presidio County Appraisal District board president; and Hernandez, a former Presidio educator and coach, former Presidio mayor and council member, and sitting Presidio County Commissioner at the time of his arrest, were snared in an FBI sting operation last year. Both men have pleaded not guilty, and are free on bond awaiting trial.
A six-count federal grand jury indictment charges Hernandez with two counts of bribery concerning programs receiving federal funds; conspiracy to commit mail and wire fraud; and two counts of wire fraud and the deprivation of honest services.
The indictment charges Nieto with one count of conspiracy to commit mail and wire fraud and one count of mail fraud and the deprivation of honest services.
The indictment alleges that since August 2015, the defendants conspired to defraud Presidio County and its citizens of money by corruptly ensuring, through their positions and influence, that a particular company would be awarded a county contract for a document management system. The company was an FBI front.
The indictment further alleges that Hernandez and Nieto solicited and received $19,800 and $8,300, respectively, for their efforts. On May 9, 2017, Hernandez voted to award the contract to that particular company.
All of the charges, with the exception of the bribery charges, call for up to 20 years in federal prison if convicted. Each bribery charge calls for up to 10 years in federal prison if convicted.
Nieto and Hernandez resigned from their elected and appointed positions after their arrest and indictment, and the City of Presidio abolished Nieto’s position.
Last week, Nieto’s attorney, Joe Spencer of El Paso, filed a joint motion to continue the case, citing a heavy volume of evidence to be reviewed by the defense in discovery. U.S. Magistrate Judge David Fannin of Marfa approved the continuance on Monday, January 8.
Spencer is going it alone after Nieto’s initial attorney, Liz Rogers of Alpine, withdrew from the case in December, citing a heavy case load at this time, and saying her former client was in good and capable hands with Spencer, a Presidio native and formidable criminal defense attorney. The Nieto’s and Spencer’s are pioneer Presidio families.
Lubbock attorney David Guinn remains the attorney of record for Hernandez.
When contacted Tuesday in El Paso, Spencer said he simply needed more time to review the evidence in the case, which includes “voluminous data, including reports, audio, and video recordings,” according to federal court records.
“It’s going fine,” he said of the defense, adding that he was sorry lose Rogers as co-counsel. “She’s a good lawyer.” Asked whether he would seek to sever the case from Hernandez, Spencer said, “I don’t know if there’s a basis to sever the case. I don’t know if we want to.”
He did say there wouldn’t be a plea, “not on behalf of Mr. Nieto. Carlos isn’t guilty,” Spencer said. “He didn’t take the vote” to award a county contact to the bogus FBI company.
As to his client’s well-being, Spencer said Nieto is “as good as can be expected,” considering his initial bond release conditions prevented him from returning to Presidio and prevented him from attending the funeral of his father, Edmundo, who passed away while Nieto was initially jailed.
Nieto currently lives in El Paso, but a subsequent bond hearing – with Far West Texas state Sen. Jose Rodriguez of El Paso as a character witness – now allows Nieto to go home on weekends.
As to where the trial will be – El Paso, Pecos, or Midland – Spencer said that apparently hasn’t been decided. “We’re in a legal purgatory,” Spencer said, explaining that Junell has taken senior status, a form of semi-retirement, and a new federal judge nominee is working its way through the U.S. Senate.
Trump has nominated Walter David Counts III, a U.S. magistrate judge in the Western District of Texas, to the life appointed federal bench.
On January 11, the U.S. Senate voted to confirm Counts by a vote of 96-0. He is currently awaiting his judicial commission.