• San Antonio lawyer Alberto Acevedo says he bribed judge, got favorable treatment

    Express-News Reporter Guillermo Contreras, who covers the federal-courts beat, has been writing scoop after scoop about an FBI investigation at the Bexar County courthouse in San Antonio. The latest bombshell is a story about this plea deal for local defense lawyer Alberto “Al” Acevedo Jr., who lays out in excruciating detail how he bribed Bexar County District Judge Angus McGinty by giving him cash, paying for car repairs and selling the judge’s Mercedes for him:

    “In exchange for these bribes, Judge McGinty provided favorable judicial rulings which benefited me and my clients,” Acevedo says in the court document. “Judge McGinty provided these favorable judicial rulings as requested, and as opportunities arose. These favorable rulings included leniency at sentencing and less restrictive conditions of release.”

    San Antonio lawyer AcevedoThe clients included a man who was convicted of DWI and sentenced by McGinty to three years imprisonment. In court, McGinty had said the defendant had committed so many offenses it didn’t make any sense to put him on probation. Yet after Acevedo asked him to reduce the sentence, the judge did just that and sentenced him to four years community supervision:

    On Sept. 10, Gabriel A. Lopez stood before then-state District Judge Angus McGinty and received three years in prison and a $1,500 fine for his no-contest plea to drunken driving.

    He admitted his blood alcohol level was 0.21 — more than 21/2 times the legal limit. It was his third driving-while-intoxicated conviction.

    “There comes a time when someone has committed so many offenses that it doesn’t make sense to put them on probation,” McGinty told Lopez, 35, who appeared with attorney Leandro Renaud.

    The judge noted Lopez had 11 prior criminal cases and had received probation four times, while three of those were revoked.

    “That’s unacceptable, Mr. Lopez,” McGinty admonished. “I do not think probation is appropriate.”

    But just three days later, on Sept. 13, Lopez stood before McGinty again, this time with lawyer Al Acevedo Jr. And this time, he walked out a happier man after the judge changed Lopez’s sentence to four years of probation.

    “Mr. Lopez, when you were here last, and I sentenced you, it’s because I thought you had earned the right to go to” prison, McGinty said. “Your attorney has done a good job of pointing out some facts that I didn’t adequately consider before.”

    In reality, the FBI has alleged, Acevedo had the good graces of the judge because he had served as McGinty’s personal car service — paying for repairs on the jurist’s two luxury cars with the expectation that the scales of justice would tilt heavily in favor of Acevedo’s clients.

    Later, Acevedo’s law partner congratulated Acevedo. “I guess it does make a difference givin’, givin’ people money, right?”

    Acevedo laughed. “Sure does,” he replied.

    Other clients that benefited from the judge’s leniency included an alleged bank robber and a man charged with aggravated robbery.

    McGinty resigned after word of the federal investigation spread but hasn’t yet been charged.

  • Firm tied to San Antonio official landed plum job at the Rim shopping center

    Fernando De Leon, assistant director of land development for the city of San AntonioCity hall reporter Josh Baugh and I learned a few more scraps of information about fired city employee Fernando De León; the permit company owned by his sister; and possible reasons why the FBI and police are investigating them.

    First, some background:

    On March 26 — a lazy, Friday afternoon in the newsroom — Josh got a tip that FBI agents were at the city’s “One Stop” center. The tipster said the FBI was carting out files from Fernando De León office, and leading him away in handcuffs.

    The One Stop center is a spacious city building that feels more like a trendy art museum than a staid government building. It’s the home of the city’s Planning and Development Services Department. Developers and builders visit the One Stop center to apply for permits to develop land, construct new buildings, and renovate existing structures. De León, an assistant director at Development Services, was one of many employees who reviewed those plans.

    I know De León. The last time I saw him was a month or so earlier, when I visited his colleague’s office for a story about the cracked retaining wall at the Hills of Rivermist. In the newsroom, I was walking by Josh’s desk and saw De León’s picture on the computer. “What’s up with Fernando?” I asked. Josh told me about the tip.

    I think my exact words at that point were: “Holy shit.”

    I offered to help find out what was going on and called Development Services. A receptionist answered. I asked for De León. He was unavailable. I asked for his boss, Roderick Sanchez. He was unavailable, too. I said I heard there were guys in suits over there and asked what they were doing. She blurted “Oh, my God,” and said she couldn’t talk about it.

    I got my stuff and started running out to my car to head to Development Services. Josh caught up with me and said it was too late — the FBI had been there earlier that day and had left. So now we had some catching up to do to find out what had happened. It was about 5 p.m., and we had a few hours to go before deadline.

  • FBI and police quiz San Antonio official who oversaw land development

    Fernando De Leon, assistant director of land development for the city of San AntonioFor longtime observers of local politics, the terms “City Hall” and “FBI” conjure memories of a bribery investigation that snared former city councilmen Enrique Martin and John Sanders.

    On Friday, FBI agents and San Antonio white-collar crime detectives showed up at the city’s Planning and Development Services department and seized a computer and files belonging to Fernando De León, an assistant director in charge of issuing land development permits. Authorities later questioned De León for several hours that same day at police headquarters downtown. De León was not arrested and he was released after the interview.

    WOAI’s Brian Collister reported in February that San Antonio police were investigating building inspectors in the same city department. The inspectors check residential and commercial structures, and inspect things like electrical systems and plumbing. If the building isn’t up to code, the inspector is supposed to tag the flaw and the owner is supposed to fix it. The city is investigating whether inspectors took money to sign off on work that wasn’t up to city code.

    Friday’s development added a new wrinkle to this story — it was the first sign that the FBI is investigating the city department. And De León oversaw land development, not building inspections. His name is tied to hundreds, if not thousands, of development plans that govern things like lot densities of subdivisions and tree preservation requirements. De León held an important position in a city that is grappling with the growing pains of urban sprawl. Here’s the city’s description of his responsibilities:

    The Land Development Division is involved with the review and approval process of Master Development Plans (MDPs), Plats, Tree Preservation, Infrastructure, Traffic Impact Analysis (TIAs), and Zoning. The Construction and the Environmental Inspectors assist the Division in the field. The Land Development Division serves as staff to the Planning Commission, Zoning Commission and Board of Adjustments.

    District Attorney Susan Reed said investigators are examining “irregularities in the permitting process” that De León oversaw.

    I last bumped into De León in February when I was at Development Services covering the retaining wall collapse at the Hills of Rivermist. He’s a friendly, soft-spoken guy.

    How did the FBI and San Antonio police team up? It appears they were initially conducting separate investigations of Development Services:

    Officials said city and federal investigators “crossed paths” during two separate investigations of the department. The city got involved in October, when the Office of Municipal Integrity received a complaint about the four building inspectors.

    When that office determined it was a criminal matter, it turned the case over to the city manager’s office, which in turn handed it over to the Police Department, officials said.

    Meanwhile, federal authorities were quietly conducting their own inquiry. …

    “We did cross paths,” [Police Chief William] McManus said. “We partnered up.”

    Here’s a time line of events in the investigation that have been made public so far. I’ll add more events as we learn more.