School Superintendent’s Land Deal With Insurance Agent Draws Scrutiny

mullen Diane Mullen

“There needs to be some kind of investigation, that way there is transparency at Harlandale,” says Julie Gimbel, President of the Harlandale Educational Association, the union which represents teachers.

School superintendent’s land deal with vendor draws scrutiny

Mon, Sep 28 2015, 11:24 PM EDT

By Jaie Avila

SAN ANTONIO – The superintendent of the Harlandale Independent School District is facing questions about a land deal. The News 4 Trouble Shooters have uncovered Rey Madrigal purchased waterfront property from a vendor that does business with the district.

Trouble Shooter Jaie Avila is investigating whether the superintendent received a sweetheart deal.

A warranty deed News 4 obtained shows Superintendent Madrigal bought the property from the CEO of an insurance agency. That agency has been competing to win contracts with the district that are worth more than a million dollars.

The empty, waterfront lot is in City-by-the-Sea, that’s near Rockport. Madrigal purchased the lot in March from Diane Mullen and her husband Sam. Diane Mullen is the CEO of Mullen Pension and Benefits, which has been trying to win a lucrative insurance contract for district employees.

At last month’s school board meeting, Superintendent Madrigal recommended board members give the contract to Mullen.

“If you are asking me for my recommendation, my recommendation would be to stay with a company in the San Antonio area so my recommendation would be Mullen’s insurance,” Madrigal said during the board meeting.

Gina Castaneda and other community members say Madrigal should have disclosed the land deal during the meeting, if not earlier.

“I would consider that a kickback. I would consider that a big conflict of interest,” Castaneda says.

A district spokeswoman says Madrigal has been friends with the Mullen’s for years. The couple still owns the home right next to the lot they sold to Madrigal.

Teachers and community members are now asking if Madrigal received a special deal on the property in exchange for his support.

An attorney for Diane Mullen claims Madrigal paid $105,000 for the lot. Two similar lots of the same size on the same street are up for sale for $149,000 and $169,500.

“There needs to be some kind of investigation, that way there is transparency at Harlandale,” says Julie Gimbel, President of the Harlandale Educational Association, the union which represents teachers.

For days News 4 attempted to get Superintendent Madrigal’s side of the story. We requested an interview last Friday and Madrigal agreed. However, hours before the scheduled interview Madrigal cancelled and told us to call his personal attorney instead.

His attorney, Jefferson Brim, told us: “The deal is clearly not a conflict under the law.” But Brim refused to elaborate, saying Madrigal wants to brief the Harlandale School Board first. School Board President David Abundis also declined an on-camera interview until after that briefing.

As for Diane Mullen, her attorney says the Mullen’s told Madrigal to disclose the transaction and make sure the school board approved.

The Harlandale School Board has now called a special meeting for Wednesday night, when Madrigal and his attorney will give board members details on the land purchase. But teachers and community members worry that it will be done in closed session out of the view of the public.

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