EDINBURG — Modest and humble, the words her brother used to describe her, also fit the profile of the victims Adelina Briseño targeted in a home building scam.
District Judge Israel Ramon Jr. sentenced Briseño, 41, to 30 years in prison Thursday after she pleaded guilty to a first degree felony theft charge last week.
Before he made his sentencing decision, the judge heard from 10 of her 47 victims who told similar stories: they contracted Briseño’s company, Briseño Construction, to build a home for them, paying between 50 to 60 percent of the total price up front with the promise it would be enough to assure the home would be built within three to four months. The rest of the payment would be made in monthly installments of $500.
None of the victims’ homes were ever completed and despite many of them cancelling their contract with her, no one received a single penny back. All of the witnesses who testified were asked how much they paid her — $9,910, $16,500, $22,500, and $50,000 were just a few of the answers they gave.
One man said he used all of the money his wife received after a car crash, while another woman said her husband, who still works as a tractor operator at age 73, took $40,000 out of his retirement plan to cover the down payment — money that “took him 25 years to come up with.”
Assistant District Attorney Victoria Muniz said the total amount of restitution Briseño owes is $985,935.
In retrospect, victims testified the deal seemed too good to be true.
But for many, it offered them a chance at homeownership, an opportunity to move out of living with family members into a space they could call their own. And for many, homeownership still eluded them Thursday, two to three years after they first came into contact with Briseño Construction.
Hidalgo County Sheriff’s Office investigators arrested Briseño and her eldest daughter, 23-year-old Alejandra Melendez, in April 2017, after victims of the company’s home building scam contacted authorities after months went by without any work being done on their homes.
Melendez also faced the same first degree felony theft charge as her mother, but as a result of Briseño’s decision to plead guilty and waive her right to appeal the judge’s sentence, the Hidalgo County District Attorney’s Office agreed to dismiss Melendez’s charge.
Briseño’s attorneys, Rogelio and Antonio Solis, told the judge Briseño engaged in a “bad business practice,” using money from the victims to finish other homes, noting the company finished 150 homes.
Through testimony given by Briseño’s younger daughter Natalia, Muniz alluded to the fact that Briseño used the victims’ money to send her daughters on vacation to New York City and Las Vegas, paid for them to go shopping at the outlet mall in San Marcos, TX and purchased expensive vehicles for them.
Muniz asked the judge to sentence Briseño to 47 years in prison, one for each victim, while Rogelio Solis asked for probation or the minimum sentence of five years given Briseño has no prior criminal record. She faced up to life in prison.
In handing down her 30 year sentence, the judge ordered Briseño to pay the nearly $1 million in restitution. It’s unlikely the victims will see that money — Briseño declared bankruptcy and even Solis told the judge that, “The amount of restitution is high enough that there is possibly no way that Ms. Briseño would ever be able to pay that back.”
Because Briseño is not a U.S. citizen, she will likely be deported to Mexico after completing her sentence or being released on parole. She could be parole eligible as early as completing a quarter of the sentence.