We couldn’t escape the year without another Rio Grande Valley official facing charges of corruption.
This time it’s Brownsville Independent School District member Sylvia Atkinson, who also is executive director of high school programs and community outreach at Texas Southmost College and has served as superintendent or assistant superintendent at several Valley school districts. Atkinson faces multiple federal charges of soliciting and taking bribes in return for her votes on the allocation of BISD contracts.
She joins Edinburg Mayor Richard Molina, who along with 17 other people, including his wife Dalia, are accused of multiple counts of organized election fraud and illegal voting related to the 2017 city election in which Molina was elected. The charges were filed in June and Molina’s trial originally was scheduled to begin Dec. 9, but has been postponed until March.
In addition, former 93rd state District Judge Rudy Delgado last month was sentenced to five years in federal prison following his conviction of bribery and obstruction of justice charges. He was charged in 2018 and convicted in July of this year based on allegations that he accepted bribes in return for favorable rulings in his court.
Those are just the major cases filed this year. Other officials, including another BISD trustee, Erasmo Castro, and San Benito school board President Michael Vargas have been arrested for more common charges such as driving under the influence of alcohol or drugs. Sadly, this is not an anomaly. Every year several Valley elected officials are brought up on various charges of corruption that range from voter fraud to bid rigging to conspiracy charges related to facilitating the sale and distribution of illegal drugs.
Nor is it localized to one specific area or position; this year it’s a judge, a mayor and a school board member. This year we also saw former sheriffs of Cameron and Hidalgo counties — people elected to enforce the law, not defy it — released after serving their prison sentences for unrelated crimes. Over the years we’ve seen city and county commissioners, county and district clerks and even state legislators stand accused of violating the law, and the trust of those who elected them.
Atkinson and Molina have pleaded not guilty and as always, they are presumed innocent throughout the legal process. But their arrests only add to the long, unfortunate string of criminal cases that continue to mar the Valley and add to its reputation as a den of corruption.
The next election season already is heating up, with party primaries scheduled for March and local, state and federal seats on the ballot.
Let the latest arrest remind voters of the need to do their homework and learning as much as they can about the candidates. Certainly, many will appear to have impeccable credentials before they are elected and opportunities for corruption present themselves, but diligence could reveal information that help bring the best candidates into office.
And, we hope, reduce the election of people who place personal wealth and influence above the laws they swore to uphold, and the people they promised to serve.