County tells Hernandez to resign from office
July 13th, 2017 under Top Stories
By NICK WINCHESTER
PRESIDIO COUNTY — The county will ask Lorenzo Hernandez to step down from his position as Presidio County Precinct Three Commissioner via a letter penned by Presidio County Judge Cinderela Guevara.
FBI agents arrested Hernandez in Midland on June 29 on federal bribery, fraud, and deprivation of honest services charges. Carlos Nieto, the Special Projects Coordinator for the City of Presidio and Presidio Independent School District board member, was also arrested on federal corruption and bribery charges.
Both men appeared before U.S. Magistrate Judge David Fannin for their arraignment and detention hearing on last week. The judge heard testimony from an FBI special agent, who detailed how Hernandez and Nieto were allegedly caught committing federal fraud and taking bribes in an FBI-orchestrated sting operation. Fannin set bail bond for the pair at $20,000 with a 10 percent cash deposit. However, following the hearing, prosecutor U.S. Assistant Attorney Monty Kimball made an appeal, keeping both men in Sierra Blanca jail until their appeal hearing on July 19 in Alpine.
During a regular meeting of the Presidio County Commissioners’ Court on Tuesday, July 11, commissioners voted unanimously for Guevara’s letter to be sent to Hernandez.
Commissioner Loretto Vasquez made the motion to authorize Guevara to request Hernandez take a voluntary leave of absence. Commissioner Brenda Bentley seconded. The motion carried all in favor.
In the letter, however, Guevara’s wording is stronger, going beyond that written on the agenda – which phrases the county’s request to Hernandez as a “voluntary temporary leave of absence” – requesting that Hernandez instead resign immediately.
Under the Texas Local Government Code, the county is unable to forcibly remove Hernandez. He must either voluntarily take a temporary leave of absence while his criminal charges remain pending, or resign altogether.
If, in the event Hernandez refuses to relinquish his position, the county also approved County Attorney Rod Ponton to file a removal petition in 394th State Judicial District Court, which could order the temporary suspension of Hernandez until the federal criminal charges are resolved, pursuant to Chapter 87 of the Texas Local Government Code.
Hernandez and Nieto have pleaded not guilty, and a tentative trial date has been set for September.
Meeting last week, the city of Presidio abolished Nieto’s job, effectively firing him. The Presidio school board has yet to meet.
Vasquez made the motion to authorize Ponton to initiate the process of filing a removal petition to temporarily suspend Hernandez. Aranda seconded, and the motion carried unanimously.
In the interim, the commissioners will appoint a person to take up the duties of Precinct Three Commissioner.
Commissioners also voted Hernandez off the Presidio International Port Authority (PIPA) board, upon which Hernandez stood as the officer and treasurer.
Commissioners decided it was in the public interest to remove him, and pertinent due to the recently granted Presidential Permit for the Presidio bridge expansion, which Guevara said they did not want to put at risk.
Bentley made the motion to remove Hernandez from his position on the PIPA board. Commissioner Vasquez seconded. The motion carried all in favor.
The county also established a number of measures to ensure stringent accountability in the future, including amendments to the county’s conflict of interest policy, which will be in accordance with the Texas Ethics Commission rules. County employees and elected officials will be required to sign a conflict of interest disclosure form. Employees will sign a disclosure form once a year, while elected officials will sign one at the beginning of their terms, at the same time as they take the oath of office.
The commissioners also assigned a committee who will review and revise the current personnel, purchasing, conflict of interest, and vehicle policies. The committee will consist of the County Judge, County Attorney, Precinct One Commissioner Brenda Bentley and Katie Sanchez of the Office of Budget and Management.
Ponton said it is “important to show the public that the county is serious.”