Wednesday, December 17, 2008

PoliTex as Usual: Texas Lawmaker Gets Perks from Gambling / Horse Racing Industry

Hot News frum BigMouth Broad Casting; Dec. 16th, 2008

Lawmaker got cabin from contributor

A powerful South Texas lawmaker who oversees the gambling industry — and is the subject of a wide-ranging corruption probe — quietly received the rights to a fishing cabin near South Padre Island from a family that's developing a racetrack in McAllen, records obtained by The Associated Press show.

Papers filed with the Texas General Land office show Joseph V. LaMantia III transferred a rare fishing cabin permit to state Rep. Kino Flores, D-Palmview, in 2006, a year before the Texas Racing Commission gave final approval for Tesoros Race Park, in which the LaMantia family holds a major stake.

Neither Flores nor LaMantia returned phone calls from the AP. Flores' attorney, Roy Minton, said he was aware of the cabin but didn't believe it would hold any interest to Travis County prosecutors looking at Flores' relationship with the LaMantias as well as two convicted drug dealers from whom Flores acquired his Rio Grande Valley ranch.

One of the convicted felons, Roel Benavides, got a job with the Texas Commission on Environmental Quality after Flores recommended him at the state agency, said Flores' attorney, Roy Minton. The TCEQ forced Benavides to resign in August after discovering he had lied about his criminal past, agency employment records show.

A probe began over discounted air travel Flores allegedly received from the LaMantias but has since widened to include Flores' land holdings. Minton has said he knows of no wrongdoing by Flores. Travis County prosecutors in Austin can examine allegations of misdeeds by state officials.

The fishing cabin, accessible only by boat, belongs to the state as part of a unique public-private partnership that allows people to acquire cabins on government-owned land along the Texas coast. There are only 413 state coastal cabins, which are acquired by permit and often held for years by those who hold them, officials said. Joe LaMantia III acquired one of the cabins, about 30 miles north of South Padre Island, in 1986, officials said. He transferred his cabin rights to Flores in August 2006, records show.

Flores paid a $325 permit transfer fee for the cabin, which measures 2,166 square feet, including a porch and outhouse, records show. Flores also has to pay $1,200 a year for the permit and can renew it every five years, records and interviews indicate.

LaMantia III is a manager with L&F Distributors, a family-owned Budweiser supplier for the more than 1,200-mile Texas-Mexico border region. He is also a stakeholder in Muy Buena Suerte Ltd., a limited partnership made up entirely of LaMantia family members. Muy Buena Suerte Ltd., which in English means "very good luck," owns 59 percent of Tesoros Race Park, a $23 million horse track approved for Hidalgo County, according to records filed with the Texas Racing Commission.

Tesoros Race Park received its final approval from the Texas Racing Commission in August 2007 and was scheduled to open for simulcast races in early 2009 with live racing to follow later in the year. But the city of McAllen, which would extend utilities to the track, has not received any permit applications. The family also owns a controlling stake in a racetrack planned for Laredo that was approved last year.

Flores, a colorful and combative lawmaker with close ties to House Speaker Tom Craddick, chairs the House Licensing and Administrative Procedures committee, which oversees gambling and liquor industries in Texas.

Regarding Benavides' TCEQ job, Minton said he didn't know if Flores was aware that Benavides had been convicted at least twice for drug-related crimes and had served several years in federal prison when the lawmaker agreed to vouch for him at the TCEQ.

"(Flores) either signed a letter or did something giving him a recommendation, but I mean he didn't get him the job," Minton said.

The AP requested emails sent to or from Benavides during his tenure at TCEQ, but officials said his account had been deleted and that his emails are "not recoverable."


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1 comment:

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