Board president’s suicide comes amid FBI accusations of vote-buying in Donna election - The Monitor: News

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Board president’s suicide comes amid FBI accusations of vote-buying in Donna election

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Alfredo Lugo, former Donna school board president

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Posted: Friday, January 3, 2014 11:30 am

Donna school board President Alfredo Lugo hanged himself in his home on New Year’s Day, authorities confirmed Thursday.

The motive for the suicide was not immediately clear, but it came shortly after federal authorities arrested three women accused of buying votes for school board candidates in the most recent Donna ISD election.

Lugo and three of his incumbent allies were all reelected in that election in November 2012.

The FBI arrested Diana Castañeda, Guadalupe Escamilla and Rebecca Gonzalez last month. Escamilla and Gonzalez are accused of acting as politiqueras to pay voters $10 to $20 per ballot cast for particular candidates for Donna school board, according to court documents.

Criminal complaints against the three women do not name Lugo nor any other Donna school board trustees or candidates. It’s unclear whether the recent arrests prompted Lugo to hang himself.

FBI agents began looking into Gonzalez in December 2012, after three unidentified witnesses said they had been driven to the polls and paid to vote for particular candidates, according to a criminal complaint. Gonzalez told agents that a campaign manager gave her $40 on multiple occasions to pay voters and that the candidates themselves had instructed her to pay $5 to $10 per vote.

According to similar documents, Escamilla told federal agents in March that two candidates for the Donna school board had given her $100 to pay voters to cast ballots for them and that she did so, offering money, cigarettes and food.

The complaint against Castañeda does not specifically mention Donna, but says she told the FBI in March she accepted payment from a candidate and a campaign manager in the 2012 primary and general elections to bribe about 10 voters. On a few occasions, she drove voters to buy drugs after they voted.

Castaneda went before U.S. Magistrate Judge Dorina Ramos Thursday where her bond was set at $30,000 — the same as it had been for Escamilla and Gonzalez.

Board member Michael Flores — who ran with Lugo, Ernesto Lugo and Nick Castillo last year — said he knew the three women and remembered them helping out with campaigns, suggesting that possibly one of his or his slate mates’ campaign managers had hired them.

He denied asking anyone to buy votes on his behalf, saying of himself and his allies: “I don’t think we’re that stupid.”

“We did meet with 42 people who were going to be assisting in the campaign,” he said. “We were very adamant about people not doing anything illegal, not buying votes… What happened after that, I don’t know.”

Flores declined to say whether federal investigators had questioned him about the race, saying he wanted his attorney to advise him. He said he wouldn’t comment on anything having to do with Alfredo Lugo — including whether the election issues had played any role in his death — out of respect for the Lugo family.

Board Vice President Efren Ceniceros, who was related to Lugo through marriage, also declined to comment. No other board members could be reached Thursday.

FBI spokeswoman Michelle Lee said she could not confirm or deny any investigation into Lugo, nor whether agents had interviewed him before his death. Neither Superintendent Roberto Loredo nor police Chief Ruben De Leon returned calls Thursday.

The Monitor does not typically report on suicides unless they involve an elected official or other public figure, or if the act occurs in public.

Lt. Ricardo Suarez emphasized that there was no indication whatsoever of Lugo’s motive and said the Police Department would be closing the case.

“It’s a suicide, so we want to let the family mourn their loss,” he said.

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