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Architect Indicted in Pay-to-Play

Thursday, January 23, 2014

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A Texas architect has been swept into a growing pay-to-play scandal involving bribes for school district and municipal construction contracts in the City of Progreso.

Jesus Bustos, 67, the owner of the IDE*A Group LLC, in McAllen, TX, was arrested Jan. 15 on charges of conspiracy and bribery associated with a federally funded program, U.S. Attorney Kenneth Magidson said in an FBI announcement.

Jesus Bustos Michael Vela Omar Vela
Photos (from left): LinkedIn, Facebook, Progreso ISD

Architect Jesus Bustos (left) has been indicted in a bribery scheme involving public construction contracts in Progreso, TX. He is acccused of bribing officials previously indicted in the case, including school board president Michael "Mikey" Vela (center) and his brother, Mayor Omar Vela (right).

Bustos was charged in a sealed superceding indictment that was returned Jan. 8 and unsealed upon his arrest. If convicted, he faces up to 10 years in prison and a fine of up to $250,000.

The FBI did not disclose the size of the bribes Bustos is accused of paying, but his company's website lists more than $23 million in public contracts in Progreso, including work at every school in the school district, from 2005 to 2012.

'My Back is Itching. Scratch It'

The indictment accuses Bustos of bribing public officials in Progreso, TX, to obtain contracts on public construction projects for his firm.

Progreso Middle School Progreso school gym
Photos unless indicated: IDE*A Group LLC

The IDE*A Group received both a $1.54 million middle-school contract (left) and a $600,000 gymnasium contract from the Progreso ISD in 2006. The school board president and his brother, the mayor, have both been indicted.

Previously indicted in the alleged scheme were Jose Guadalupe "Lupe" Vela Jr., the former director of maintenance and transportation for the Progreso Independent School District (PISD), and his sons—Progreso Mayor Omar Leonel Vela and former School Board President Michael "Mikey" Vela.

The Vela family defendants are accused of using their control of Progreso municipal government and the PISD Board of Trustees to extract bribes and kickbacks from contractors, including the IDE*A Group, for nine years. PISD receives more than $1 million per year in federal funds from the United States Department of Education, according to the indictment.

“It’s the barter system ....," the mayor allegedly told his attorney in explaining how public contracts were doled out. "You know, my back is itching. Scratch it.”

Conspiracy and Control

Beginning in June 2004, the FBI said, the Vela family members allegedly conspired with Bustos and others to obtain bribes and kickbacks from IDE*A Group and a construction company that the city and school district hired as contractors.

According to the indictment, bribes were also paid by an attorney who was hired as local counsel to advise the school board and by a company that supplied the city and school district with electrical and plumbing supplies.

The indictment alleges that Jose Vela "maintains political control" in Progreso through his sons, the FBI said.

"Jose Vela allegedly controls members of the PISD Board through a system of reward and retaliation, in which board members who vote as Jose Vela directs are rewarded with bribe money, while those who do not follow his direction are retaliated against.

North Elementary School Progreso Cultural Arts Center

In 2009, the IDE*A Group landed a $5.6 million public contract for design services at the new North Elementary School (left) in Progreso. In 2012, the firm received a $7.5 million contract for design and engineering services on the city's new Cultural and Performing Fine Arts Center.

"Through this system of political control, the Vela family was able to obtain bribes from Bustos and other willing contractors," the FBI repoted.

About the Architect

According to his LinkedIn profile, Bustos founded the IDE*A Group in 1995 after attending the University of Texas at Austin School of Architecture.

The company's website lists a wide variety of commercial and public projects, including a series of contracts in Progreso during the years cited:

  • A $5.6 million design services contract for the new West Elementary school in 2005;
  • A $1.0 million football stadium in 2005;
  • A $600,000 new gymnasium addition at West Elementary in 2006;
  • A $1.54 million addition to the Dorothy Thompson Middle School in 2006;
  • A $750,000 design-build project for Progreso Community Park in 2006;
  • An $800,000 library and classroom addition in 2007;
  • A $5.6 million design services contract for the new North Elementary school in 2009;
  • A $200,000 Science Lab addition at Progreso High School in 2012; and
  • A $7.5 million design and engineering contract for a new Cultural and Performing Fine Arts Center in 2012.

On several projects, IDE*A Group reports that it was brought in to replace an architectural firm that had been fired for cost overruns.

"We advised the school district to strongly adhere to construction documents and not to deviate nor accept any major changes in materials that the general contractor might recommend," the company said of the middle school project.

The firm lists its core values as integrity, diversity and excellence—in that order.

The IDE*A Group did not respond Wednesday (Jan. 22) to a request for comment.


Tagged categories: Architects; Design; Engineers; Good Technical Practice; Government; Government contracts; Laws and litigation; Schools

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