“J.J. Garza came out on camera talking about the money he received and how he would explain it if it ever came up.” – Javier Pena, Attorney
You can have 100% backing from administration but it takes four votes to get a school district contract. If administration has strong leadership you have a good chance of successfully counting to four. If administration leadership is weak you have an uphill battle unless you’re successful in doing something really stupid.
“The only way that we would be able to get into any school district was to be able to directly have a relationship with the decisionmakers — the school board, the trustees” – Josh Cerna, Convicted Felon
“It’s a common practice but it’s wrong” – Arnulfo C. Olivarez, Convicted Felon
Former Harlandale ISD trustee sentenced in insurance contract scheme
By Guillermo Contreras, Staff Writer June 19, 2018
Former Harlandale ISD board member Joshua Cerna, rear, walks to the federal courthouse with his lawyer, Chris Gober, for his sentencing on Tuesday, June 19, 2018, in connection with an FBI investigation into millions of dollars in rigged insurance contracts. Cerna, 44, pleaded guilty to a charge of conspiracy to commit wire fraud, admitting he helped corrupt the insurance company selection process at San Antonio, Edgewood and South San Antonio independent school districts.
Former Harlandale ISD board member Joshua Cerna was sentenced Tuesday to a year in a halfway house and ordered to pay more than $40,000 in connection with an FBI investigation into millions of dollars in rigged insurance contracts at other area school districts and at the now-defunct Bexar Metropolitan Water District.
Cerna, 44, pleaded guilty in September 2016 to a charge of conspiracy to commit honest services wire fraud, admitting he helped corrupt the insurance company selection process at San Antonio, Edgewood and South San Antonio Independent School Districts.
He admitted that with insurance broker Sam Mullen of the Mullen Group, Cerna and insurance consultant William Haff — who advised the districts about group insurance coverage — forged a conspiracy that lasted from 2007 through 2015. Cerna turned FBI informant after he was confronted in 2014.
Cerna asked U.S. District Judge Xavier Rodriguez for leniency, reminding the judge that he admitted his wrongdoing early on and helped the FBI gather video and audio-recorded evidence. Cerna also said that he recently spoke with his 11 and 13-year-old sons in an effort to teach them there’s consequences for one’s conduct.
“As a family, we’re going to fail,” Cerna said. “We’re going to fail one another. We’re going to fail our faith.”
Cerna could have faced a sentence similar to the 37 months in federal prison the judge handed to Mullen in April. But because of Cerna’s help in the case, Assistant U.S. Attorney Mark Roomberg proposed a sentence of eight months of incarceration.
“They corrupted the contracting process of four different government agencies,” Roomberg said. “It’s always been our position that if you’ve been convicted of public corruption, you have to go to jail.”
Cerna’s lawyer, Chris Gober, asked for a sentence that includes halfway house or house arrest so he could continue to work in his undisclosed new job. Gober told the judge Cerna could pay for the costs and a fine, if need be.
The judge ordered Cerna to a halfway house so he can continue working, and to pay the $29,280 cost of housing him there. The judge also fined Cerna $10,000. Cerna must also serve two years of federal supervision after his release from the halfway house.
A veteran of local politics, Cerna served 11 years on the Harlandale school board. He also worked as a vice president of government relations at the Mullen Group and used his connections to help bring more business to Mullen and his then-wife, Diane, the chief executive officer.
“The only way that we would be able to get into any school district was to be able to directly have a relationship with the decisionmakers — the school board, the trustees,” Cerna testified at a bribery trial in December for former SAISD board trustee Olga Hernandez, who was acquitted.
Cerna testified that the relationships sometimes involved campaign contributions, or even gratuities. Their goal was to push districts to buy insurance products that would get the Mullen Group greater returns on commissions, Cerna said.
The FBI spent more than seven years investigating the Mullen Group and its contracts at various school districts, and Hernandez was the only school official to be charged. She was accused of accepting several gratuities from the Mullen Group that helped influence her vote, and the feds also alleged she swayed fellow trustees to support the Mullen Group. But in a rarity for federal court, jurors acquitted Hernandez of all charges — several months after she had resigned her seat.
Haff awaits sentencing.
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