Former USDA Loan Specialist and Starr County Contractors Plead Guilty to Bribery Charges


McALLEN, TEXAS — In a significant corruption case, a former U.S. Department of Agriculture (USDA) loan specialist and two contractors from Starr County have pleaded guilty to bribery charges. The charges stem from a scheme in which the loan specialist, Roberto Rodriguez, 52, of Rio Grande City, received payments in exchange for referring federal home repair program applicants to local contractors.

Rodriguez, who worked for USDA Rural Development, was responsible for handling the Section 504 Home Repair program. This program provides loans to very-low-income homeowners for repairs, improvements, or modernization of their homes. It also offers grants to elderly, very-low-income homeowners to remove health and safety hazards.

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In a federal courthouse in McAllen, Rodriguez appeared before Chief U.S. District Judge Randy Crane and pleaded guilty. The contractors involved, Jose Sandoval and Daniel Jesus Diaz, also admitted their roles in the bribery scheme. According to Assistant U.S. Attorney Patricia Cook Profit, Rodriguez received approximately $45,000 in bribes, based on bank records.

Rodriguez admitted to accepting money from both Sandoval and Diaz, estimating that he received $7,000 to $8,000 from each contractor. The payments were made regularly, with Diaz confessing to paying Rodriguez once or twice a month. Sandoval, who had a long-standing relationship with Rodriguez, made frequent payments as well.

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The Section 504 Home Repair program, overseen by USDA Rural Development, is vital for supporting low-income homeowners in rural areas. The program’s integrity is crucial for ensuring that the funds reach those in need. However, Rodriguez’s actions undermined the trust and efficiency of this essential service.

The sentencing for Rodriguez, Sandoval, and Diaz is scheduled for July 30. Each faces a maximum sentence of 15 years in federal prison. This case highlights the importance of accountability and transparency within federal programs, especially those aimed at assisting vulnerable populations.

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The USDA’s mission is to promote economic development and improve the quality of life in rural America. Incidents like this not only disrupt the distribution of aid but also damage public trust in government institutions. The USDA has more than 70 programs designed to assist rural communities, and the integrity of these programs is paramount.

Federal authorities are likely to increase scrutiny on similar programs to prevent future corruption. This case serves as a reminder of the need for rigorous oversight and ethical conduct in public service.

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In conclusion, the guilty pleas of Rodriguez, Sandoval, and Diaz represent a significant step towards justice. It also serves as a stark warning to others who might consider exploiting federal programs for personal gain. The upcoming sentencing will determine the consequences for their actions and hopefully restore some trust in the system designed to help those most in need.

Source: Valley Central

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