The first witness in the public corruption trial of former El Paso County Judge Luther Jones and former District Clerk Gilbert Sanchez on Thursday gave a behind-the-scenes look at how he tried to land a multimillion-dollar county contract.
Roger Miller, president of Altep Inc., said he contributed money to the campaigns of a county judge and several commissioners in an attempt to land a digitization contract for the district clerk's office in 2004.
He said he made the contributions at Jones' suggestion.
Jones and Sanchez are each charged with one count of mail fraud, one count of wire fraud and deprivation of honest services.
A federal indictment accuses them of rigging the digitization contract to ensure that a company represented by Jones would win the bid. The bid was never awarded.
Jones and Sanchez denied any wrongdoing and pleaded not guilty.
Miller testified that separate meetings were set up for him by Jones with then County Judge Dolores Briones and Commissioners Betti Flores, Charles Scruggs and Miguel Teran.
His company was hoping to land the $53 million digitization contract with the county for the district clerk's office. Sanchez was the district clerk at the time. (Only three commissioners' votes are needed to approve a contract.)
Miller said they met at places like the Village Inn and Landry's and at the Cafe Central during a fundraiser for Briones. He gave a $500 check for Briones' election campaign.
"I believe that was the amount suggested
Miller said he failed to sign a $1,000 check for Scruggs' election campaign but it cleared anyway. "He was very nice. He was interested in our company. ... I was impressed with him," said Miller, who also gave Flores a $1,000 campaign contribution.
Unlike Briones and Scruggs, Flores did not appear to be interested in what Miller had to say, he testified.
"She did not seem very interested. She was eating," Miller said. "She was not with us. She seemed to be under the influence. She did not look at me when I was talking."
Miller, who was also in contact with Sanchez during this time, also gave Teran campaign contributions totaling $1,500.
He told the court that he hired Jones at the recommendation of Martie Jobe, a lawyer and former county commissioner, to advise him on how to bid for a government contract.
Until then, he said, he had worked only with private clients and with a school district in the Lower Valley.
The agreement among Miller and Jones and Jobe called for Jones and Jobe to receive one-third of the net profits of any contract awarded by the county, Miller testified
At one point, he said "Bud" Moore, a salesman for his company, conveyed to him that Sanchez wanted to attend the El Paso Civil Bar seminar in Las Vegas that Miller's company helped to sponsor but didn't have money in his budget for the trip.
He said Moore suggested that Miller use one of his free tickets for the trip for Sanchez.
"I declined -- I didn't think it was appropriate," Miller said.
According to his testimony, Miller had ongoing communications with Jobe, Jones and Sanchez and with Fernando Parra, a computer technician who worked in the district clerk's office.
Flores, who pleaded guilty to public-corruption charges, and Parra, who pleaded guilty to pornography and bribery charges, are expected to testify.
Lawyers for Jones noted that neither Parra nor Flores has been sentenced and stand to benefit from their plea agreements with prosecutors.
Miller testified toward the end of Thursday's proceeding that he was told his company was chosen for the contract, but he did not know at that point who had decided that.
He was also given a list of the competing vendors' bids at the County Courthouse, allegedly before the bids were open.
He also said he did not know that his firm was not supposed to have contact with the dis trict clerk's office while the request for proposal was being prepared. One such communication was an email on how to tailor the specifications so that other bidders could be eliminated.
During Thursday's opening statements, a lawyer for Jones said that Jones plans to take the stand in his defense.
He also said the only reason Jones is on trial is that Flores and Parra were pressured by prosecutors to testify against him.
The trial resumes today in U.S. District Judge Frank Montalvo's court.
The FBI investigated allegations against Jones and Sanchez and many other prominent El Pasoans as part of a sweeping investigation into alleged public corruption.
Sanchez and Jones are expected to face another trial next year.
They and nine others are accused of taking part in an alleged scheme of bribes and kick-backs to obtain government contracts for a local health-care provider.
Diana Washington Valdez may be reached at dvaldez@...; 546-6140.