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20131203a1

Edinburg leaders, along with state legislators and top officials with The University of Texas System, were on hand in Harlingen at the UT Regional Academic Health Center on Wednesday, November 20, to participate in the symbolic distribution of almost $200 million for higher education in the Valley, including $124 million that will be used for the first major phase of a UT medical school in Edinburg. “These funds represent the fuel that will begin to power the economic engine that will drive South Texas into the future,” said Rep. Terry Canales, D-Edinburg, featured center. “This will unquestionably be the first of many distributions from the Permanent University Fund (PUF) which South Texas has long sought, more so deserved, and is finally receiving, thanks to decades of work by selfless leaders who dared to dream what has become a reality.” Mayor Pro Tem Elías Longoria, Jr. and Dr. Havidán Rodríguez, Provost for the University of Texas-Pan American who also serves as a member of the Edinburg Economic Development Corporation (EEDC) Board of Directors, also participated in the public event. “This is just the beginning. The taps have been opened,” said Mayor Pro Tem Elías Longoria, Jr., who attended the mid-afternoon gathering. “This is such great progress for us. We know this is going to happen. And now, we start touching and feeling something solid and concrete. You know that we’re there, or getting there to that point of completion. We’re excited.” Rodríguez shared the sentiments. “It’s incredible. This is an opportunity to bring new students to the Rio Grande Valley, specifically to Edinburg, to ensure that they get an excellent education here,” he said. “In addition, we know that students that get medical degrees in a certain region, and do their medical residencies in a certain region, close to three-quarters of them remain in that region. So that means more doctors for the Rio Grande Valley.” Featured, from left: Ernest Aliseda of McAllen, a member of the UT System Board of Regents; Sen. Eddie Lucio, Jr., D-Brownsville; Rep. Terry Canales, D-Edinburg; Dr. Robert S. Nelsen, President, The University of Texas-Pan American; Sen. Juan “Chuy” Hinojosa, D-McAllen; and Rep. Robert “Bobby” Guerra, D-McAllen. See story later in this posting.

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20131203a2

Eliminating “Pan American” from the name of the new university/medical school system being developed for the Rio Grande Valley is not required by state law, and would devalue the diplomas of upwards of 70,000 alumni, says former Rep. Roberto Gutiérrez, D-McAllen. The veteran lawmaker, featured here on Thursday, October 24, at the Student Union Building at The University of Texas-Pan American, has shared his reasons in a letter, dated November 29, addressed to Paul L. Foster, Chairman of the UT System Board of Regents. That landmark legislation – which includes the Valley’s other state senators and state representatives as joint authors or cosponsors – requires the University of Texas System to establish a new university and medical school that will combine the talent, assets and resources of UT-Pan American, UT-Brownsville and the UT Regional Academic Health Centers in Edinburg, Harlingen and Brownsville. But first, the new university needs a name, and Senate Bill 24 places the responsibility of selecting the name on the nine-member UT System Board of Regents, which includes Ernest Aliseda of McAllen. SB 24, authored by Sen. Juan “Chuy” Hinojosa, D-McAllen, and sponsored by Rep. René Oliveira, D-Brownsville, was approved earlier this year by the Texas Legislature. “Sadly, there is a broad misconception that SB 24 prohibits keeping the name The University of Texas-Pan American or Pan American,” Gutiérrez noted. “Many alumni have revealed to me that they have not spoken out because they have been led to believe that abolishing that name ‘is a done deal.’ Nothing could be further from the truth.” See story later in this posting.

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20131203a3

More than 20 news media outlets from across the state ran stories about The University of Texas System Board of Regents’ unanimous decision on Thursday, November 14, to send $196 million from the Permanent University Fund to South Texas. Francisco Cigarroa, M.D., the Chancellor of the UT System, has helped champion the creation of a UT medical school in the Valley in part by being readily accessible to news reporters. In this image, taken at the UT-Pan American Student Union Building on Thursday, October 24, Cigarroa was interviewed by Laura García, who writes for the Valley Town Crier, the Edinburg Review, and http://www.YourValleyVoice.com, and Daniela Díaz, who writes for the Monitor in McAllen. The PUF appropriations will construct new facilities in Cameron and Hidalgo counties, including a $70 million Science Building at UT-Pan American and a $54 million UT medical school classroom building in Edinburg, as part of the UT System initiative to establish a new university and medical school in the Rio Grande Valley. The regents’ vote was historic because it marks the first time PUF money will go to South Texas.

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20131203a4a

On the heels of successful programs to increase funding for research at UT’s emerging research institutions, The University of Texas System Board of Regents unanimously voted Thursday, November 14, to begin a similar program for UT System’s four comprehensive universities. The regents authorized $1 million from the Permanent University Fund to begin the UT System Research Incentive Program for the Comprehensive Universities, or UTrip-CU. The UT System’s comprehensive universities include UT-Brownsville, UT-Pan American, UT-Permian Basin and UT-Tyler. The UTrip-CU money will be used to augment philanthropic gifts that support research at these four institutions. Ernest Aliseda of McAllen, featured third from left in this image taken at UT-Pan American on Thursday, October 24, is one of the nine regents serving on the UT governing board. Featured, from left: Rudy Ramirez, Executive Director, Edinburg Housing Authority; Debbie Crane Aliseda, President, McAllen School Board; Ernest Aliseda, Member, UT System Board of Regents; Hidalgo County Judge Ramon Garcia; Hidalgo County Precint 2 Commissioner Héctor “Tito” Palacios; and Francisco Cigarroa, M.D., Chancellor, The University of Texas System. See story later in this posting.

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20131203a4

A new state law to ensure punishment for online predators who use Internet communications to “groom” children for sexual assault will be among the legislative priorities for Rep. Terry Canales, D-Edinburg, featured with one of his children, Terry Andrés Canales II. “As a parent, I want to make sure that law enforcement has every tool necessary to catch and prosecute online predators,” he said. “Next session (in 2015), I will work with my fellow lawmakers to pass legislation that will not fall victim to a legal argument that the law violates the First Amendment right of free speech, as we have recently seen. I feel it is of the utmost importance that the Texas Legislature passes a viable and enforceable law to punish online predators in order to protect our children.” The proliferation of child predators using the Internet to target young victims has become a national crisis, according to the Office of the Texas Attorney General. A study shows one in seven children will be solicited for sex online in the next year. See story later in this posting.

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20131203a5

Longtime public servant and community activist Elvia Ríos, 64, earlier this fall officially filed for Justice of the Peace Precinct 2, Place 2 in Hidalgo County for the March 2014 Democratic Party primary election. Lupe Silva (Aboud) is her campaign treasurer. Ríos, who was born and raised in McAllen, said if elected, she plans to be a proactive judge who works with educators, community groups, and law enforcement to address situations that lead to the cases heard in court. “My strong sense of fairness and integrity will guide both my campaign and judicial decisions,” Ríos said. “I welcome the community’s input and plan to take advantage of every opportunity to go out and meet the citizens of Precinct 2, Place 2. The time is right for me to give back to my community.” Ríos said she views the Justice of the Peace court as “the people’s court.” The Justice of the Peace Precinct 2, Place 2 covers McAllen, Pharr, San Juan, Alamo, and the City of Hidalgo. JPs perform the functions of a magistrate and conduct inquests. A justice of the peace presides over truancy cases, traffic violations, hears civil suits under $10,000, issues arrest warrants, and performs marriages. See story later in this posting.

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20131203a6

The leadership of the 2013-2014 Board of Directors for the Edinburg Chamber of Commerce was recently announced as part of that organization’s work on behalf of the community. The new board members were formally welcomes during the group’s annual Installation Banquet, held at the ECHO Hotel and Conference Center on Thursday, October 24. Dina Araguz, seated, center, who is the immediate past Chair of the Board of Directors, and Robert McGurk, standing, right, is the new Chair of the Edinburg Chamber’s governing board, are featured in this image. “I am very excited about our new Board of Directors,” said McGurk, who is Vice President of Elsa State Bank and Trust Co. in Edinburg. “We have a great group of individuals who are passionate about the Chamber and the City of Edinburg. We will continue to move forward and strengthen our bond with the community, our partners and the members we serve.” Featured, seated, from left: Jennifer Garza, Chief Executive Officer, Edinburg Regional Medical Center; Dina Araguz, Branch Manager, International Bank of Commerce in Edinburg; and Lucy Canales, Partner, Linebarger Goggan Blair & Sampson, LLP. Standing, from left: Jacob De León, Funeral Director, Memorial Funeral Home; Martin V. Baylor, Vice President for Business Affairs, The University of Texas-Pan American; and Edinburg Municipal Judge Toribio “Terry” Palacios, Chair-Elect of the Edinburg Chamber of Commerce Board of Directors and Senior Partner, Law Office of García, Quintanilla & Palacios in McAllen; and Robert McGurk.McGurk has previously served as a Loaned Executive for United Way of South Texas, the Texas Association of Sports Officials, City of Edinburg Architecture Review Board, Edinburg Kiwanis Board (President), and Weslaco Kiwanis Board (President). He currently serves as the Chairman of the City of Edinburg Planning and Zoning Commission.

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20131203a7

More than 170 community members and other local leaders attended the Edinburg Chamber of Commerce’s annual Installation Banquet at the ECHO Hotel and Conference Center, held on Thursday, October 24, which included the appointment of the chamber’s Board of Directors for 2013-2014. Several of the top leaders for the governing board included, from left: Elva Jackson Garza, a former member of the Board of Directors for Edinburg Economic Development Corporation, and Vice President and Marketing Manager, Edwards Abstract and Title Co.; Maggie Kent, Individual Member; and Marissa Castañeda, Chief Operations Officer, Doctors Hospital at Renaissance. Standing, from left: J.J. Flores, Chorizo De San Manuel, Inc.; Greg Martin: Martin Farm & Ranch Supply Inc., Hiren Govind, Best Western Plus-Edinburg Inn and Suites; and Marty Martin, DR – Broker, Rio Valley Realty.

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20131203a8a

The Board of Directors of the Rio Grande Valley Hispanic Chamber of Commerce recently attended a strategic planning session, focusing on updating the group’s program of work, updating their image, and improving their member benefits. They discussed the chamber’s mission statement and founding principles, which focus on helping the small business owner.  Since then, the RGV Hispanic Chamber of Commerce has obtained both small and large members from throughout the Valley as well as corporate partners, both local and national.  In refreshing their image, a new chamber logo was approved. More information on the RGV Hispanic Chamber of Commerce and membership is available by calling 928-0060.  The offices are located at 3313 N. McColl Road in McAllen. Featured with the new logo are, front row, from left, RGV Hispanic Chamber of Commerce leaders Jenise Díaz, Vice Chair of Public Relations; Adelita Muñoz, Vice Chair of Women’s Issues; Cynthia M. Sakulenzki, RGVHCC President and CEO; Ronnie Bernal, Chair Elect; Marti Miller, Secretary; and Yoli Gonzalez, Vice Chair of Events.  Back row, from left: Hari Namboodiri, Advisory Board; Travis French, Vice Chair of Small Business & Economic Development; Brent Smith, Treasurer; Pete Morales, Vice Chair of International Affairs and Dr. Havidán Rodríguez, Vice Chair of Education.

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20131203a9

Leadership Edinburg (LE) Class XXV recently completed a series of seminars designed to help its members gain knowledge in areas that have a direct impact on their community. One of their goals involves raising money to complete projects relating to the improvement of the historic Southern Pacific Depot, which serves as the home for the Edinburg Chamber of Commerce. Featured in this image, taken at the Central Station of the Edinburg Fire Department, are, kneeling, from left: Ramiro Rodríguez, Edinburg Fire Department; Serafín Castro, Magic Valley Electric Cooperative; Karen K. Pittman, International Bank of Commerce; and Frank Arévalo, Elsa State Bank & Trust Co. in Edinburg. Standing, from left: Agustín Lozano, Jr., Bert Ogden Dealer Group; Brittany N. Sawyer, Card Service Providers; Nicolás A. Lerma, Card Service Providers; and Jonathan J. Voje. The University of Texas-Pan American; Stephanie Ozuna, The University of Texas Pan- American; Barbara C. Reynolds, Echo Hotel & Conference Center; Mario García, South Texas Independent School District-BETA; Rogelio E. Chanes, Teach for America-Rio Grande Valley Office; and Mario Lizcano, Doctors Hospital at Renaissance. See story later in this posting.

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20131203a10

The City of Edinburg and The Edinburg Economic Development Corporation on Friday, November 1, announced plans for the construction of an events arena to be built just off Interstate 69 Central (U.S. Expressway 281). The announcement, which included Edinburg City Councilmember Richard Molina, featured left, and Edinburg City Councilmember Homer Jasso, Jr. was made during a press conference held at Edinburg City Hall. Mayor Richard H. García noted that not only will this project enhance the economy by millions of dollars but it will also improve the quality of life for Edinburg residents and visitors. “People want to visit and live in cities where they can get educated, where they can work and where they can play. We’ve created more than 3,500 jobs in the last three years, we have the University of Texas-Pan American about to become an even larger UT system campus complete with a medical school. Now, we will also have a place for entertainment.” City leaders say the arena will not only host professional basketball games and other sporting events but will also serve as a location for concerts, graduations and meetings. A name for the arena has not been determined, but the Edinburg mayor says that in itself will create investment opportunities for companies. The 115,799 square-foot arena will be built on 40 acres of land located on the east side of I-69C on Alberta Road. It will feature 8,500 seats and 2,400 parking spaces. The entire property includes nine additional pad sites for the development of a future hotel, restaurants and more parking spaces. Construction cost for the arena is estimated at $50 million with a boost to the local economy of $96 million during the construction phase and $45 million annually once operational. It is expected to create approximately 150 new jobs. See lead story in this posting.

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Edinburg announces construction of $50 million arena that will anchor major new development along U.S. Expressway 281

By REBECCA SWEAT

The City of Edinburg and The Edinburg Economic Development Corporation on Friday, November 1, announced plans for the construction of an events arena to be built just off of Interstate 69 Central (U.S. Expressway 281).

The announcement was made during a press conference held at Edinburg City Hall.

Mayor Richard H. García also announced that the anchor tenant at the arena will be the Defending NBA Development League Champion Rio Grande Valley Vipers. The Vipers will begin playing in the new facility in 2017.

“We are excited to accept the invitation from the City of Edinburg and Edinburg Economic Development Corporation to be a part of this exciting new project,” said Bert Garcia, president of the RGV Vipers. “Just a few months ago we announced the building of the Edinburg Sports and Wellness Center, which will serve as our primary practice facility. The Vipers look forward to being an even larger part of the Edinburg community by being a part of this arena project.”

Mayor García and Bert García are not related.

The 115,799 square-foot arena will be built on 40 acres of land located on the east side of I-69C on Alberta Road. It will feature 8,500 seats and 2,400 parking spaces. The entire property includes nine additional pad sites for the development of a future hotel, restaurants and more parking spaces.

Construction cost for the arena is estimated at $50 million with a boost to the local economy of $96 million during the construction phase and $45 million annually once operational. It is expected to create approximately 150 new jobs.

Mayor García noted that not only will this project enhance the economy by millions of dollars but it will also improve the quality of life for Edinburg residents and visitors.

“People want to visit and live in cities where they can get educated, where they can work and where they can play. We’ve created more than 3,500 jobs in the last three years, we have the University of Texas-Pan American about to become an even larger UT system campus complete with a medical school. Now, we will also have a place for entertainment.”

City leaders say the arena will not only host professional basketball games and other sporting events but will also serve as a location for concerts, graduations and meetings. A name for the arena has not been determined, but the Edinburg mayor says that in itself will create investment opportunities for companies.

Meanwhile, EEDC Director Gus García Jr. (no relation to the mayor or Vipers president) said this latest development is part of major economic advances being developed as a result of a strong partnership between the Edinburg City Council and the EEDC, which is the jobs-creation arm of the Edinburg City Council.

“This is a culmination of several entities coming together to create entertainment, hotels, restaurants and jobs. We are very excited to have this group invest in Edinburg,” said the EEDC executive director. “I’m excited to say this is the first of many projects the EEDC and the City Council tasked me with when I came on board in June. Talks began four months ago and we are now seeing the fruits of that labor.”

Gus García Jr. said this latest news reflect “exciting times for Edinburg. Get ready for several new project announcements coming very soon.”

Currently, the RGV Vipers play at the State Farm Arena in the City of Hidalgo, and have three years remaining on the current contract.

“The Vipers have called State Farm Arena home for our first six seasons. It has been a great experience and we look forward to fulfilling the current three-year agreement.” Vipers President Bert García said. “The move to the new arena in 2017 will still allow for us to be in a central RGV location, and will also offer more seating and sponsorship options for the team, which will help the organization generate more revenue and grow.”

For more information about the RGV Vipers 2013-14 season and season ticket information, call the Vipers at 956-972-1144 or visit http://www.rgvipers.com.

The two-time champion Rio Grande Valley Vipers are the NBA Development League affiliate of the NBA Houston Rockets. The Vipers won the NBA Development League Championship in 2010 and 2013. In 2013, the Vipers were also named the NBA Development League Development Champions, which recognizes the team that best embodies the NBA D-League’s goals of developing NBA-caliber basketball talent via call-ups and assignments.

The NBA Development League is the NBA’s official minor league, preparing players, coaches, officials, trainers, and front-office staff for the NBA while acting as the league’s research and development laboratory. Featuring 14 teams with direct affiliations to NBA franchises, the league offers professional basketball at an affordable price in a fun, family-friendly atmosphere.

Thirty percent of players in the NBA at the end of the 2012-13 season boasted NBA D-League experience. In fostering the league’s connection to the community, its teams, players and staff promote health and wellness, support local needs and interests, and assist in educational development through NBA D-League Cares programs. Fans can watch all NBA D-League games on nbadleague.com.

The Edinburg Economic Development Corporation is the jobs-creation arm of the Edinburg City Council. It’s five-member governing board, which is appointed by the Edinburg City Council, includes Mayor Richard García as President, Fred Palacios as Secretary-Treasurer, and Felipe García, Jaime A. Rodríguez, and Dr. Havidán Rodríguez. For more information on the EEDC and the City of Edinburg, please log on to: http://www.EdbgCityLimits.com

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Edinburg city leaders on hand for distribution of $124 million for first major phase of upcoming University of Texas medical school in Edinburg

By DAVID A. DÍAZ

Edinburg leaders, along with state legislators and top officials with The University of Texas System, were on hand in Harlingen at the UT Regional Academic Health Center on Wednesday, November 20, to participate in the symbolic distribution of almost $200 million for higher education in the Valley, including $124 million that will be used for the first major phase of a UT medical school in Edinburg.

“This is just the beginning. The taps have been opened,” said Mayor Pro Tem Elías Longoria, Jr., who attended the mid-afternoon gathering. “This is such great progress for us. We know this is going to happen. And now, we start touching and feeling something solid and concrete. You know that we’re there, or getting there to that point of completion. We’re excited.”

Dr. Havidán Rodríguez, Provost for the University of  Texas-Pan American, also serves as a member of the Edinburg Economic Development Corporation (EEDC) Board of Directors, also participated in the public event.

“It’s incredible. This is an opportunity to bring new students to the Rio Grande Valley, specifically to Edinburg, to ensure that they get an excellent education here,” Rodríguez said. “In addition, we know that students that get medical degrees in a certain region, and do their medical residencies in a certain region, close to three-quarters of them remain in that region. So that means more doctors for the Rio Grande Valley.”

The EEDC is the jobs-creation arm of the Edinburg City Council.

The first two years of medical school will take place in Edinburg, with the third and fourth years of education to be conducted at the UT Regional Academic Health Center in Harlingen.

Medical education residencies, which usually involves another three years of training in a medical specialty, will take place in hospitals throughout the Valley.

UT System Board of Regents Vice Chairman Gene Powell of San Antonio, formerly of Weslaco, and Regent Ernesto Aliseda of McAllen ceremonially presented a $196 million Permanent University Fund (PUF) check to the presidents of The University of Texas at Brownsville and UT-Pan American in Edinburg.

“These funds represent the fuel that will begin to power the economic engine that will drive South Texas into the future,” said Rep. Terry Canales, D-Edinburg. “This will unquestionably be the first of many distributions from the Permanent University Fund (PUF) which South Texas has long sought, more so deserved, and is finally receiving, thanks to decades of work by selfless leaders who dared to dream what has become a reality.”

PUF is a public permanent endowment established in 1876 by the Texas Constitution and draws revenues from gas, oil, and land leases from state land to support members of The University of Texas System and Texas A&M University System. But up until this year, state law did not allow UTB and UTPA to access PUF for major construction projects.

That was changed earlier this year by Senate Bill 24, authored by Sen. Juan “Chuy” Hinojosa, D-McAllen, and Rep. René Oliveira, D-Brownsville, which authorized the merger of UT-Pan American and UT Brownsville, and sped up the planned creation of a UT medical school in the Valley, which will include a major campus in Edinburg by the UTPA campus. SB 24 allowed the new university system to receive money from the PUF.

In addition to Canales, Rep. Sergio Muñoz, Jr., D-Mission, Rep. Armando “Mando” Martínez, D-Weslaco, Rep. Robert “Bobby” Guerra, D-McAllen, Rep. Óscar Longoria, Jr., D-La Joya, Rep. Eddie Lucio, III, D-San Benito, and Rep. J.M. Lozano, R-Kingsville, were House cosponsors of SB 24.

Sen. Eddie Lucio, Jr., D-Brownsville, and Sen. Judith Zaffirini, D-Laredo, were among the joint authors of SB 24.

The money was officially approved by the Board of Regents on Thursday, November 14, and is the first ever to be awarded to the South Texas institutions and the first for the new university. The first freshman class will begin at the yet to be named university in fall 2015.

The new university is expected to offer expanded learning and research opportunities, boost the quality of life, attract new businesses and fill critical needs in the health care field.

As part of the $124 million coming to the UT System in Edinburg, $70 million will be used to build an addition to the existing Science Building at UTPA, along with the construction of the inaugural $54 million UT medical school building.  The medical school building will be located next to the existing UT Regional Academic Health Center Research Division.

The UT medical school building will be built by Schunior Street, immediately north of the UT Regional Academic Health Medical Research Facility,

The Science Building is vital since it will provide the academic skills, equipment, and laboratories to prepare UTPA students to attend and succeed in the planned UT medical school in Edinburg, scheduled to open in Summer/Fall 2016.

“The facilities will provide the research experience that they need, with the expectation that our students will continue through a number of pre-med programs needed to apply to medical school here, and medical schools throughout the country,” UTPA’s Provost Rodríguez explained. “The idea is to get these folks trained, have them get their M.D.s, and return to the Rio Grande Valley, or stay in the Rio Grande Valley to provide the healthcare needs of our population.

The Edinburg Mayor Pro Tem, an alumnus of UT-Pan American, described the latest developments as being “just amazing” for the Edinburg campus, which for the Fall 2013 semester set a record enrollment of more than 20,000 students.

“When I went to school there were 7,000 students on campus and we thought that was huge, but it’s so beautiful to see,” Longoria said. “The City of Edinburg is going to benefit. There are so many things – the growth, the people that it is going to bring to our community, areas are going to continue to grow. I think more and more rooftops are going to be built, jobs are going be created, all these things are going happen all around the university.”

UT System Chancellor Francisco G. Cigarroa, M.D., Texas legislators and community leaders from throughout the Rio Grande Valley also took part in the event.

“It is because of the leadership of Gene Powell and the understanding that The University of Texas System needed to plant a larger flag in South Texas and to understand this great region of the state needs to have a research university,” said Cigarroa about the work that went into making south Texas PUF money a reality.

Powell said the idea for the unified university came up during a late night telephone conversation with Cigarroa in October 2012. He said all of the work that went into creating the university and securing funding was a strong team effort.

“I was fortunate to be chairman (of the UT System Board of Regents) when it happened,” said Powell.

The UT Board of Regents announced their idea in December 2012 to merge the universities and create four-year medical school. The new university and medical school will combine the talents, assets of UTB, UTPA and the RAHC.

Gov. Rick Perry used part of his State of the State address to call for the 83rd Texas Legislature to pass legislation creating the new university and granting access to this important funding. The Legislature successfully passed a merger bill this spring.

“Today, the students of south Texas are able to stay closer to home to earn their college degrees,” Perry told legislators in January. “This area of the state is crucial to our state’s future, and our investment in the children of south Texas will be returned a thousand-fold.”

A campaign is underway to seek community input on the new name of the institution until Friday, December 6. The Board of Regents is expected to decide the new university’s new name by the end of the year. Also, a search advisory committee is recruiting and reviewing candidates to serve as president of the new university.

The new university is expected to offer expanded learning and research opportunities, boost the quality of life, attract new businesses and fill critical needs in the health care field.

The Edinburg Economic Development Corporation is the jobs-creation arm of the Edinburg City Council. It’s five-member governing board, which is appointed by the Edinburg City Council, includes Mayor Richard García as President, Fred Palacios as Secretary-Treasurer, and Felipe García, Jaime A. Rodríguez, and Dr. Havidán Rodríguez. For more information on the EEDC and the City of Edinburg, please log on to: http://www.EdbgCityLimits.com

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$124 million approved for UTPA Science Building, inaugural UT medical school facility to be built in Edinburg, EEDC announces

By DAVID A. DÍAZ

The dream of South Texans to be viewed as an equal partner in the growth of Texas took a $124 million step forward on Thursday, November 14, when the University of Texas System Board of Regents unanimously approved the construction of two major facilities that will herald the coming of a UT medical school in Edinburg.

In a dramatic unanimous vote, the regents, who were meeting in Austin, put a fortune in state money behind their pledge to forever improve the education, health care, and economy of the Rio Grande Valley.

Regent Gene Powell of San Antonio, who was raised and lived in Weslaco into adulthood, made the motion to authorize the huge investment of UT money into the Valley.

“It is really a great moment today,” said Powell, one of the champions for South Texas, and then, with emotion in his voice, addressing his fellow regents, humbly emphasizing, “I can’t thank you all enough. I make the motion to approve it.”

Ernest Aliseda of McAllen, who was appointed earlier this year by Gov. Rick Perry to serve on the nine-member UT System Board of Regents, seconded the motion, drawing heartfelt applause from the audience at the public meeting, which included Edinburg City Manager Ramiro Garza, Jr., and Agustin “Gus” Garcia, the Executive Director for the Edinburg Economic Development Corporation.

The EEDC is the jobs-creation arm of the Edinburg City Council.

A $70 million addition to the existing Science Building at UTPA was funded, along with the inaugural $54 million UT medical school building that will be built on the UTPA campus.

The UT medical school building will be built by Schunior Street, immediately north of the UT Regional Academic Health Medical Research Facility,

The Science Building is vital since it will provide the academic skills, equipment, and laboratories to prepare UTPA students to attend and succeed in the planned UT medical school in Edinburg, scheduled to open in Summer/Fall 2016.

The advances for higher education in South Texas are the result of the passage of Senate Bill 24, authored by Hinojosa and sponsored by Rep. René Oliveira, D-Brownsville, which was approved by the Legislature last May.

Rep. Terry Canales, D-Edinburg, Rep. Sergio Muñoz, Jr., D-Mission, Rep. Armando “Mando” Martinez, D-Weslaco, Rep. Robert “Bobby” Guerra, D-McAllen, Rep. Óscar Longoria, Jr., D-La Joya, Rep. Eddie Lucio, III, D-San Benito, and Rep. J.M. Lozano, R-Kingsville, were House cosponsors of the legislation, known as Senate Bill 24, by Hinojosa and Oliveira.

Sen. Eddie Lucio, Jr., D-Brownsville, and Sen. Judith Zaffirini, D-Laredo, were among the joint authors of SB 24.

Sen. Kel Seliger, R-Amarillo, the Chairman of the Senate Higher Education Committee, also was a joint author of SB 24, while Rep. Dan Branch, R-Dallas, Chairman of the House Higher Education Committee, was a joint sponsor of that measure.

In addition to creating a UT medical school for Edinburg and the Valley, SB 24 merged UTPA with UT-Brownsville as part of a needed strategy that allows the new South Texas university system, and the UT medical school, to receive money from the Permanent University Fund (PUF).

PUF is a public endowment established in 1876 by the Texas Constitution and draws revenues from oil, gas and land leases to benefit the UT and Texas A&M systems. But  state law had prevented UT Brownsville and UT Pan American from accessing PUF revenue.

However, as a result of SB 24, the new, merged university system in the Valley became eligible to receive PUF funding. The new university and medical school will combine the talent, assets and resources of UT-Brownsville, UT-Pan American and the Regional Academic Health Center in Edinburg, Harlingen and Brownsville.

Edinburg, which through the Edinburg City Council and the EEDC Board of Directors had lobbied the Texas Legislature last spring on behalf of UT-Pan American and the long sought-after UT medical school, was an undisputed winner, said Rep. Terry Canales, D-Edinburg.

“The allocation of these funds is a culmination of the blood, sweat, and tears of generations of South Texas leaders fighting for the educational future of our people,” said Canales. “Our participation in the Permanent University Fund means we will finally be treated as equals, something we have long sought, but always deserved. This new university will unquestionably be the future economic engine that drives the Texas economy.”

A new name for the merged, Valleywide UT university system is currently being developed by the UT System.

“Confirming the allocation of these funds advances the goal of expanding access to educational opportunities and medical education, which will increase access to care for our Valley families and decrease our physician shortage,” Hinojosa said. “This is just the beginning. With future funding and construction projects, we are finally transforming a dream into a reality to benefit all of South Texas.”

The $124 million in funding coming to the Edinburg campuses will be invested accordingly:

• $70 million for a new Science Building in Edinburg will be used to build the most modern of its kind in the region. It will contain about 120,000 square feet of research labs and classroom space for STEM disciplines, including biology, physics, chemistry, math, pre-med and environmental studies. The building will be designed with interactive technology to allow students to participate in classes no matter their physical location; and

• $54 million for the South Texas Medical Academic Building in Edinburg, an 88,000 gross square-foot complex, will be devoted to teaching facilities that promote faculty and student interaction at the earliest stages of medical school. The building will include an auditorium, digital library, clinical skills center, preclinical laboratories and an anatomy teaching facility. The building will make extensive use of online and distance learning as part of a region-wide medical school interacting with and complementing facilities at Harlingen and Brownsville as well as supporting continuing professional education in the region. The plan is designed to complete the building in time to achieve the ambitious goal of matriculating the first medical school class in the Summer/Fall 2016.

“One of the reasons this new university was created was so that South Texas could finally access PUF funding for the first time,” Regents Chairman Paul Foster said. “This new university will prepare students for global leadership positions in higher education, health care, bio-medical research and emerging technology, and will serve as a gateway to the Americas that will create partnerships with education, health and research leaders from around the globe.”

The new university is expected to enroll its first class in fall 2015, and a campaign is under way to seek community input on the new name for the institution.

Echoing Foster’s sentiment about the push to bring 21st century educational opportunities to the more than 1.3 million residents in the area, UT System Chancellor Francisco G. Cigarroa termed the regents’ vote “a truly transformational moment for the region.”

“I am incredibly proud of the 83rd Legislature for authorizing the Board of Regents under the chairmanship of Gene Powell to create this new university, which is now PUF eligible,” Cigarroa continued. “I am also incredibly proud of this Board of Regents today under the chairmanship of Paul Foster for now allocating PUF to the new university in the Rio Grande Valley, making the dream become reality.”

The Edinburg Economic Development Corporation is the jobs-creation arm of the Edinburg City Council. It’s five-member governing board, which is appointed by the Edinburg City Council, includes Mayor Richard García as President, Fred Palacios as Secretary-Treasurer, and Felipe García, Jaime A. Rodríguez, and Dr. Havidán Rodríguez. For more information on the EEDC and the City of Edinburg, please log on to: http://www.EdbgCityLimits.com

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Former Rep. Roberto Gutiérrez asks UT System Regents to keep The University of Texas-Pan American as name for new university

By DAVID A. DÍAZ

Eliminating “Pan American” from the name of the new university/medical school system being developed for the Rio Grande Valley is not required by state law, and would devalue the diplomas of upwards of 70,000 alumni, says former Rep. Roberto Gutiérrez, D-McAllen.

That landmark legislation – which includes the Valley’s other state senators and state representatives as joint authors or cosponsors – requires the University of Texas System to establish a new university and medical school that will combine the talent, assets and resources of UT-Pan American, UT-Brownsville and the UT Regional Academic Health Centers in Edinburg, Harlingen and Brownsville.

But first, the new university needs a name, and Senate Bill 24 places the responsibility of selecting the name on the nine-member UT System Board of Regents, which includes Ernest Aliseda of McAllen.

SB 24, authored by Sen. Juan “Chuy” Hinojosa, D-McAllen, and sponsored by Rep. Rene Oliveira, D-Brownsville, was approved earlier this year by the Texas Legislature.

“Sadly, there is a broad misconception that SB 24 prohibits keeping the name The University of Texas-Pan American or Pan American,” Gutiérrez noted. “Many alumni have revealed to me that they have not spoken out because they have been led to believe that abolishing that name ‘is a done deal.’ Nothing could be further from the truth.”

Gutiérrez, who served as House District 41 state representative from January 1991 through December 2004, believes there is no need for a new name.

As part of his efforts, Gutiérrez shared his reasons, through a letter dated November 29 addressed to Paul L. Foster, Chairman of the UT System Board of Regents.

“The depth of support for the name Pan American is so powerful that in the 1990s, legislation was introduced to rename The University of Texas-Pan American to The University of Texas at Edinburg,” he recalled. “Needless to say, that proposal, filed by a Valley legislator, was dropped. Since then, tens of thousands of diplomas have continued to carry the name The University of Texas-Pan American.”

Gutiérrez, who also was House sponsor of legislation to create the UT Regional Academic Health Centers – from which the Valley’s UT medical school will emerge – reminded local political leaders that alumni whose diplomas bear the name Pan American represent a significant constituency.

“Not to be minimized are the negative political, professional, and personal consequences of eliminating Pan American from the huge number – upwards of 70,000 and higher – of diplomas that have proudly adorned the offices and homes of graduates, the majority who still live in the Rio Grande Valley,” Gutiérrez said. “Many of those alumni whose diplomas feature the name Pan American are from, or live in, Cameron County, which for many years also featured a branch campus in Brownsville bearing that distinguished name.”

According to the official website of UT-Pan American, “the name Pan American was selected to reflect the institution’s desire to bridge the cultures of North and South America and to reflect the cultural and ethnic diversity of the university.”

The University of Texas-Pan American remains the most appropriate unifying title, “and best of all, this current name would not limit our new university to a portion of the state,” he said. “It is indeed global in nature, as are the people of the Rio Grande Valley, and our contributions to Texas, the United States, and indeed, the world.”

The McAllen resident, who was the House sponsor of legislation that created South Texas College in the early 1990s, asked the regents to put consider how graduates of the state’s other major universities would feel if their diplomas were to have their names changed.

“How would the alumni of The University of Texas at Austin or Texas A&M University – the two flagship universities of our state – react if the name of their respective campuses were to be changed, thus condemning their diplomas to the ‘Ash Heap of History’, where evidence of their excellence would be forgotten or marginalized?” Gutiérrez asked. “We in South Texas have just as much pride, as much history, as bright a future, and as many achievements associated with The University of Texas-Pan American as any other college or university in the nation.”

The campaign to collect input on a name for the new university in South Texas was launched on November 11 and will run through December 6, according to the UT System.

A national search for the president and medical school dean is under way, and the new university is expected to enroll its first class in fall 2015.

“Selecting a name will be one of the most important decisions we will make about the new university, and we don’t want to do it without first hearing from the people of South Texas,” Regents Chairman Foster said.

The regents are expected to select a name by the end of 2013. The new university’s logo and school colors will be determined by the new president with input from students and the community.

There are four ways to submit comments and names:

“Like” the UT System Facebook page and comment on the proposed names that are posted Tweet @UTSystem using #ProjectSouthTX;

Send an email to ProjectSouthTX@utsystem.edu; or

Call (512) 499-4473 and leave a message.

For more information, visit http://www.ProjectSouthTexas.com.

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Regents approve research incentive program for UT-Brownsville, UT-Pan American, UT- Permian Basin and UT-Tyler

By JENNY LACOSTE-CAPUTO

On the heels of successful programs to increase funding for research at UT’s emerging research institutions, The University of Texas System Board of Regents unanimously voted Thursday, November 14, to begin a similar program for UT System’s four comprehensive universities.

The regents authorized $1 million from the Permanent University Fund to begin the UT System Research Incentive Program for the Comprehensive Universities, or UTrip-CU.

The UT System’s comprehensive universities include UT-Brownsville, UT-Pan American, UT-Permian Basin and UT-Tyler. The UTrip-CU money will be used to augment philanthropic gifts that support research at these four institutions.

A gift ranging from $25,000 to $99,999 would be matched by the UT System at 20 percent, which would mean an additional $5,000 to $19,999.90 for the institution. Gifts of $100,000 to $249,999 will be matched at 30 percent, and gifts of $250,000 or greater will be matched at 50 percent but will not to exceed $250,000.

In 2009, the Texas Legislature created the Texas Research Incentive Program, or TRIP, and the UT Regents created the UT Research Incentive Program, or UTrip, to leverage philanthropic gifts at UT’s four emerging research institutions.  Those institutions include UT Arlington, UT Dallas, UT El Paso and UT San Antonio.

“Research is integral to the mission of the UT System because it improves the lives of Texans and people throughout the nation and world,” Regents Chairman Paul Foster said. “We hope the matching funds provided by the UTrip-CU program will be the seed to encourage donors to give gifts to fund research at our comprehensive institutions. We are thrilled with the impact of the UTrip program at our emerging institutions, and we hope to see a similar success story at our comprehensive institutions.”

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Rep. Canales to file bill to punish online sexual predators who use Internet to prey on children

By DAVID A. DÍAZ

A new state law to ensure punishment for online predators who use online communications to “groom” children for sexual assault will be among the legislative priorities for Rep. Terry Canales, D-Edinburg, the House District 40 lawmaker said.

Canales’ pledge came after the Texas Court of Criminal Appeals on November 1 struck down a law passed in 2005 that banned adults from having sexually explicit conversations online with minors. The Court reasoned that the current law violated the First Amendment of the Constitution, which guarantees citizens the right to freedom of speech.

The law that the Texas Court of Criminal Appeals found to be unconstitutional was designed to prohibit ‘grooming’, which is when a person attempts to befriend and establish an emotional link with a child in order to lower the child’s inhibitions in preparation to sexually assault or exploit the child.

“As a parent, I want to make sure that law enforcement has every tool necessary to catch and prosecute online predators,” he said. “Next session (in 2015), I will work with my fellow lawmakers to pass legislation that will not fall victim to a legal argument that the law violates the First Amendment right of free speech, as we have recently seen. I feel it is of the utmost importance that the Texas Legislature passes a viable and enforceable law to punish online predators in order to protect our children.”

The proliferation of child predators using the Internet to target young victims has become a national crisis, according to the Office of the Texas Attorney General. A study shows one in seven children will be solicited for sex online in the next year.

“I am confident that we can improve that law so that online predators cannot claim ‘free speech’ in order to escape punishment for their despicable actions,” Canales emphasized. “It is incumbent upon the Legislature to keep our kids safe from online predators, and I have every intention to make that happen.”

Laws restraining the First Amendment right to free speech are presumed to be unconstitutional, unless they serve a compelling state interest and are narrowly drawn to limit their impact, the Texas Court of Criminal Appeals court ruled.

But supporters of the law argued that without the current provision, perverts will be free to bombard children with salacious emails and text messages, and parents and law enforcement would be unable to stop it.

The issue of online child predators became the focus of nationwide attention with the airing of the reality series, To Catch a Predator, hosted by Chris Hanson, which focused on the impersonation of young people (usually ages 12–15) on Internet chat rooms and detaining those male adults who contacted them over the Internet for sexual liaisons.

The Federal Bureau of Investigation has numerous reports online to help parents protect their children from Internet predators.

According to the FBI report, entitled A Parent’s Guide to Internet Safety:

While on-line computer exploration opens a world of possibilities for children, expanding their horizons and exposing them to different cultures and ways of life, they can be exposed to dangers as they hit the road exploring the information highway.

There are individuals who attempt to sexually exploit children through the use of online services and the Internet. Some of these individuals gradually seduce their targets through the use of attention, affection, kindness, and even gifts.

These individuals are often willing to devote considerable amounts of time, money, and energy in this process. They listen to and empathize with the problems of children. They will be aware of the latest music, hobbies, and interests of children.

These individuals attempt to gradually lower children’s inhibitions by slowly introducing sexual context and content into their conversations.

That report provides ideas for parents to help reduce the risk that an online predator can victimize their children, including:

• Communicate, and talk to your child about sexual victimization and potential online danger.

• Spend time with your children on-line. Have them teach you about their favorite online destinations.

• Keep the computer in a common room in the house, not in your child’s bedroom. It is much more difficult for a computer-sex offender to communicate with a child when the computer screen is visible to a parent or another member of the household.

• Utilize parental controls provided by your service provider and/or blocking software. While electronic chat can be a great place for children to make new friends and discuss various topics of interest, it is also prowled by computer-sex offenders. Use of chat rooms, in particular, should be heavily monitored. While parents should utilize these mechanisms, they should not totally rely on them.

• Always maintain access to your child’s online account and randomly check his/her e-mail. Be aware that your child could be contacted through the U.S. Mail. Be up front with your child about your access and reasons why.

• Teach your child the responsible use of the resources on-line. There is much more to the on-line experience than chat rooms.

• Find out what computer safeguards are utilized by your child’s school, the public library, and at the homes of your child’s friends. These are all places, outside your normal supervision, where your child could encounter an on-line predator.

• Understand, even if your child was a willing participant in any form of sexual exploitation, that he/she is not at fault and is the victim. The offender always bears the complete responsibility for his or her actions.

That report recommended that parents instruct their children on how not to reveal information about themselves on the Internet that can be used by predators, including:

• Never arrange a face-to-face meeting with someone they met online;

• Never upload (post) pictures of themselves onto the Internet or online service to people they do not personally know;

• Never give out identifying information such as their name, home address, school name, or telephone number;

• Never download pictures from an unknown source, as there is a good chance there could be sexually explicit images;

• Never respond to messages or bulletin board postings that are suggestive, obscene, belligerent, or harassing; and

• Always remember that whatever they are told on-line may or may not be true.

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RGV Vipers welcomed into Edinburg with free, international exhibition game against Mexico’s Huracanes Tampico at UT-Pan American

By DAVID A. DÍAZ

South Texas pro basketball fans did not have to wait four years after all to see the Rio Grande Valley Vipers against high-powered competition in their upcoming new hometown of Edinburg.

Even though the Vipers won’t be calling Edinburg’s planned $50 million multipurpose arena their home until 2017, they did play their first game in Edinburg on Sunday, November 17, with an exhibition game at the University of Texas-Pan American Fieldhouse against Huracanes Tampico.

The Vipers defeated Huracanes Tampico, 129-95.

The game, which was free to the public on a first-come basis, matched the Vipers, which is an affiliate of the NBA Houston Rockets, against one of the best teams in the Liga Nacional de Baloncesto Profesional (National Professional Basketball League) in Mexico.

Tip-off for the game took place at 3 p.m., which was sponsored by the City of Edinburg and the Edinburg Economic Development Corporation, which is the jobs-creation of the city council.

Sports professionals and journalists rate the Liga Nacional de Baloncesto Profesional, founded in 2000, and which is fielding 16 teams as of the 2012-13 season, as the best professional basketball league in Latin America, not just Mexico.

Jamario Moon (Charlotte Bobcats), S?n Míngmíng (Beijing Ducks), Horacio Llamas Grey (San Antonio Spurs), and Dennis Rodman (Detroit Pistons, San Antonio Spurs) are among the many pro basketball stars that have come out of The Liga Nacional de Baloncesto Profesional.

The RGV Vipers have produced their own world-class athletes, including Glenn Rice, Jr. (Washington Wizards) Greg Smith (Houston Rockets) Hasheem Thabeet (Oklahoma Thunder), Aaron Brooks (Houston Rockets), and Andrew Goudelock (BC UNICS, Kazen, Russia, and Los Angeles Lakers).

Plus, the Vipers are the defending NBA Development League Champion, with a previous championship already under their belt.

The NBA D-League, as it is more commonly referred, is loaded with top professional basketball talent, as evidenced by the October 29 announcement that an all-time high 103 players with NBA Development League experience are featured on 2013-14 NBA opening-day rosters, up from 86 such players on opening day rosters last season.

The 103 players represent 24 percent of all NBA players. NBA D-League alumni on opening day rosters have nearly tripled since 2006-07, with only 35 NBA D-Leaguers making NBA opening day rosters that season, according to NBA-D League officials.

Twenty-nine of 30 NBA teams feature at least one player with NBA D-League experience, while the Atlanta Hawks have a league-high seven NBA D-League alumni on their roster. The Houston Rockets, Indiana Pacers, Philadelphia 76ers and Phoenix Suns each have six former NBA D-Leaguers and an additional three teams have five former NBA D-Leaguers on squads.

Laura Cisneros, Executive Vice President for the Rio Grande Valley Vipers, said the game represented a major milestone for the Vipers.

“It’s the first time we are doing something international. We were trying to reach out to international competition, and they actually reached out to us,” Cisneros recalled, emphasizing the quality of Huracanes Tampico. “They are huge in Mexico.”

She said the entry of the RGV Vipers into Edinburg will increase the visibility of the team, which has called the State Farm Arena in Hidalgo home since 2007.

“It’s exciting. We are all looking forward to it. It’s something we think can get Edinburg known internationally as well as locally,” Cisneros noted. “In our league, we go up against teams from Dallas and Los Angeles. With this exhibition game, and with the upcoming construction of the practice facilities here as well, we are really trying to engage the people of Edinburg to also be part of us.”

The RGV Vipers/Huracanes Tampico professional basketball game represented the most recent development in an amazing series of events involving Edinburg, which is rapidly becoming the dominant South Texas city on economic development achievements.

On September 30, the RGV Vipers, the City of Edinburg, and the Edinburg Economic Development Corporation announced the construction of the 84,000-square-foot Edinburg Sports and Wellness Center at 315 East Palm Drive in Edinburg.

The Edinburg Sports and Wellness Center, which is slated to open in March 2014, will serve as the official practice facility of the RGV Vipers, as well as a community hub for wellness and education for Rio Grande Valley residents of all ages.

On November 1, the City of Edinburg and the Edinburg Economic Development Corporation announced plans for the construction of the yet-to-be named $50 million events arena to be built just off of Interstate 69 Central (U.S. Expressway 281).

The 115,799 square-foot arena will be built on 40 acres of land located on the east side of I-69C on Alberta Road. It will feature 8,500 seats and 2,400 parking spaces. The entire property includes nine additional pad sites for the development of a future hotel, restaurants and more parking spaces.

Construction cost for the arena is estimated at $50 million with a boost to the local economy of $96 million during the construction phase and $45 million annually once operational. It is expected to create approximately 150 new jobs.

City leaders say the arena will not only host professional basketball games and other sporting events but will also serve as a location for concerts, graduations and meetings.

For more information about the RGV Vipers 2013-14 season and season ticket information, call the Vipers at 956-972-1144 or visit http://www.rgvipers.com.

The Edinburg Economic Development Corporation is the jobs-creation arm of the Edinburg City Council. It’s five-member governing board, which is appointed by the Edinburg City Council, includes Mayor Richard García as President, Fred Palacios as Secretary-Treasurer, and Felipe García, Jaime A. Rodríguez, and Dr. Havidán Rodríguez. For more information on the EEDC and the City of Edinburg, please log on to: http://www.EdbgCityLimits.com. Rebecca Sweat contributed to this article.

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Longtime community activist Elvia Ríos runs for Justice of the Peace Precinct 2, Place 2

By JULIA BENÍTEZ SULIVAN

Longtime public servant and community activist Elvia Ríos, 64, earlier this fall officially filed for Justice of the Peace Precinct 2, Place 2 in Hidalgo County for the March 2014 Democratic Party primary election.

Lupe Silva (Aboud) is her campaign treasurer.

Ríos, who was born and raised in McAllen, said if elected, she plans to be a proactive judge who works with educators, community groups, and law enforcement to address situations that lead to the cases heard in court.

“My strong sense of fairness and integrity will guide both my campaign and judicial decisions,” Ríos said. “I welcome the community’s input and plan to take advantage of every opportunity to go out and meet the citizens of Precinct 2, Place 2. The time is right for me to give back to my community.”

Ríos said she views the Justice of the Peace court as “the people’s court.”

The Justice of the Peace Precinct 2, Place 2 covers McAllen, Pharr, San Juan, Alamo, and the City of Hidalgo.

JPs perform the functions of a magistrate and conduct inquests. A justice of the peace presides over truancy cases, traffic violations, hears civil suits under $10,000, issues arrest warrants, and performs marriages.

For the past 16 years, Ríos has been a self-employed consultant providing governmental agencies, higher education institutions, and non-profits services in resource development and management. She has a proven track record of securing grant funding totaling millions for Valley projects and programs. In addition, Hidalgo County judges have appointed Rios to make recommendations to the courts on child custody cases and adoptions.

Prior to consulting, Ríos worked for Texas Rural Legal Aid, for the late State Sen. Carlos F. Truan, D-Corpus Christi, and State Rep. René Oliveira, D-Brownsville. Her legislative work includes the creation of South Texas Community College, the University of Texas Regional Academic Health Center, and legislative appropriations for South Texas colleges and universities.

She holds a Bachelor of Arts degree in Psychology from the University of Houston, and a Masters in Public Health degree from the UTHSC-Houston. She also is a graduate of the Executive Program at Harvard University’s JFK School of Government in Boston, MA, and the Leadership Development Program at the Center for Creative Leadership in Colorado Springs, Colorado.

Ríos is a W.K. Kellogg Foundation Fellow in Health Leadership, and a Fellow of the National Hispana Leadership Institute in Washington, D.C.

Ríos is the mother of Alejandro J. Ríos Tovar, MD, 28, who is in his third year of a General Surgery residency at the University Medical Center in El Paso.  Dr. Ríos Tovar plans to return to McAllen upon completion of the residency to serve the people of the Rio Grande Valley.

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Leadership Edinburg (LE) Class XXV learning about helping improve city, raising funds for restoration of historic Southern Pacific Depot

By RONNIE LARRALDE

Leadership Edinburg (LE) Class XXV recently completed a series of seminars designed to help its members gain knowledge in areas that have a direct impact on their community.

Leadership Edinburg is designed by the Edinburg Chamber of Commerce to allow class members to interact with one another and members of the community to encourage a better Edinburg. The nine- month program is structured to help class members, through strong leadership skills focusing on politics, education, and quality of life, to better understand the problems and opportunities faced in the city.

Their two-day leadership retreat was held at the South Texas Business and Technology Academy (BETA) in Edinburg.

One of their goals involves raising money to complete projects relating to the improvement of the historic Southern Pacific Depot, which serves as the home for the Edinburg Chamber of Commerce.

Area residents may help in this effort by purchasing a commemorative tile through the “Get on Track” program being promoted by LE Class XXV and the Edinburg Chamber of Commerce.

The tile program provides local businesses and citizens the opportunity to inscribe personalized messages to be installed in front of the Southern Pacific Depot. The price for a 6″ X 6″ engraved tile is $100 and a 6″ X 12″ is $250.

A commemorative tile offers a unique and lasting way to memorialize a loved one, promote a business or simply celebrate a special event.

For more information on the tile program please contact Karen Pittman at 956/821-9112 or Augie Lozano at 956/778-5677.

The history and influence of the Southern Pacific Depot, which no longer serves train passengers, is highlighted in the following historical narrative by the Edinburg Chamber of Commerce:

Edinburg is filled with rich historical reminders of the past. Even the names of the streets have their own history. Many of the streets in the city were named after executives of the Southern Pacific Railroad in hopes that they would build a line to the Rio Grande Valley.

Streets named after railroad officials include Van Vleck (Van Week), Lovett, Peter, Loeb, Kuhn, Mclntyre, Harriman (later changed to University), Mahl, Stubbs and Fay.

Local leaders took the following streets: Samano, Champion, Sprague, Closner, Chapin, Baker and Chavez. On January 11, 1927 history was made when the train whistle blew as it arrived into Edinburg. Thousands gathered for the grand ceremony school children took the day off to witness the driving of the “golden spike”.

Dignitaries from throughout South Texas and from Southern Pacific, rode the train from Lull to Edinburg, as bands played and food was prepared for thousands on the town square.

The Edinburg Southern Pacific Depot operated out of a rail car until the depot opened its doors on August 1, 1927. Before the time of the Southern Pacific, Edinburg had been served by the San Antonio-Rio Grande Valley Railroad. Service was later provided by Missouri Pacific.

For more information on Leadership Edinburg please contact the Edinburg Chamber at 956/383-4974 or log on to http://www.edinburg.com.

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Edinburg couple Manuel and Romelia Puig sentenced for lengthy health care fraud

By ANGELA DODGE

Two former clinic staffers and a physician assistant’s wife have all been ordered to prison for conspiracy to defraud Medicare and the Texas Medicaid program in the operation of the Mission Clinic and La Hacienda Family Clinic, United States Attorney Kenneth Magidson announced on Friday, November 7.

Eliza Lozano Lumbreras, 46, and San Juanita Gallegos Lozano, 57, a couple who operated the Mission Clinic, were in the midst of trial in late 2012, when they opted to enter guilty pleas for their roles in the conspiracy.

Manuel Anthony Puig, 48, and Romelia Puig, 45, both of Edinburg, operated La Hacienda Family Clinic near Alton and both previously pleaded guilty in advance of trial.

On November 7, Chief U.S. District Judge Ricardo H. Hinojosa sentenced Lumbreras and Lozano to 50 and 33 months in federal prison, respectively. In addition to the prison terms, Hinojosa ordered they pay $371,720.16 in restitution to Medicare and Medicaid for the false and fraudulent claims they submitted or caused to be submitted to the health care programs.

Romelia Puig was ordered to pay $185,881.75 in restitution and received a sentence of 18 months.

All will also serve three-year-terms of supervised release upon completion of their prison sentences.

Lumbreras and Lozano conspired together and with the others to submit claims to Medicare and Medicaid using the Medicaid provider number of a medical doctor who for years before his death, was unable to practice medicine. In fact, the doctor suffered from Parkinson’s disease and associated Dementia and had been mentally incompetent to practice medicine since September 2001.

Although the doctor was unable to practice, they kept the Mission Clinic open for patient care. Lumbreras and Lozano took the doctor to the Mission Clinic and placed him in an office while Lumbreras saw and treated patients.

Neither Lumbreras or Lozano were licensed to provide any medical services.

The government’s evidence showed that between September 2001 and January 2006, Lumbreras and Lozano submitted bills to the Medicare and Medicaid programs which fraudulently claimed the doctor had provided patients with more than 13,000 medical benefits, items or services when in fact those services had been provided by Lumbreras or not at all. As a result, Medicare and Medicaid paid more than $344,000 on those claims.

Beginning in April 2005, Lumbreras and Lozano also arranged for Manual Puig to operate La Hacienda Family Clinic in Alton and to send bills to Medicare and Medicaid using the provider number of that same unpracticing doctor.

Manuel Puig is a physician assistant. By state law, a licensed physician is required to supervise and delegate work to a physician assistant and to be responsible for the physician assistant. At his plea hearing, Manuel Puig admitted he joined the ongoing conspiracy, admitting to fraudulently using the Medicaid provider number of that doctor who was unable to practice medicine nor provide any health care benefits, items or services; who did not delegate authority to Manuel Puig to provide any health care benefits, items or services; and who did not supervise Puig’s attempts to provide health care benefits, items or services.

Romelia Puig admitted that between May 2005 and January 2006, she was the biller at La Hacienda Family Clinic and that she submitted or caused to be submitted more than 6,000 claims to Medicare and Medicaid fraudulently using that Texas Medical provider number for which Medicare and Medicaid paid approximately $173,830.56.

Lumbreras had access to the doctor’s bank accounts and was able to obtain control over the money Medicare and Medicaid paid for the fraudulent bills submitted from the Mission and La Hacienda clinics, which was divided among Lumbreras, Lozano, their families, Puig and his wife.

Previously released on bond, all were allowed to remain on bond and voluntarily surrender to a U.S. Bureau of Prisons facility to be determined in the near future.

The investigation leading to the charges in this case was conducted by the FBI and the Texas Attorney General’s Medicaid Fraud Control Unit with assistance from the Mission Police Department.

Assistant United States Attorney Casey N. MacDonald and Special Assistant United States Attorney Rex G. Beasley are prosecuting the case.

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Former Cameron County woman convicted of voter fraud

Sonia Leticia Solis, 55, on Wednesday, November 4, entered a plea of guilty to voting more than once in connection with the 2012 primary runoff election held in Cameron County on July 31, 2012, announced United States Attorney Kenneth Magidson.

The election included candidates running for the U.S. House of Representatives.

Solis resided in Brownsville during the election and obtained multiple mail-in ballots by forging applications on behalf of individuals she represented to be disabled.

U.S. District Judge Hilda Tagle, who accepted the guilty plea, has set sentencing for February 5, 2014, at which time Solis faces a possible federal prison sentence of up to five years and a maximum $10,000 fine.

This case was investigated by the FBI and is being prosecuted by Assistant United States Attorney Bill Hagen.

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Tomás Yarrington Ruvalcaba, the former Governor of State of Tamaulipas, indicted by Brownsville federal grand jury for allegedly violating U.S. corruption, racketeering laws

A federal indictment charging Tomás  Yarrington Ruvalcaba, the former governor of the state of Tamaulipas, Mexico, was unsealed in federal court in Brownsville on Monday, December 2.

An indictment is a formal accusation of criminal conduct, not evidence. A defendant is presumed innocent unless and until convicted through due process of law.

The unsealing was announced by United States Attorneys Kenneth Magidson and Robert L. Pitman, of the Southern and Western Districts of Texas, respectively, along with Janice Ayala, special agent in charge, Homeland Security Investigations (HSI); Javier Peña, special agent in charge, Drug Enforcement Administration (DEA); Bernard Butler, acting special agent in charge, Internal Revenue Service-Criminal Investigation (IRS-CI); and Armando Fernández special agent in charge, FBI.

Following an investigation that spanned several years, the sealed indictment was returned in May 2013 by a federal grand jury sitting in Brownsville.

The indictment charges Yarrington, 56, and Fernando Alejandro Cano Martínez, 57, the owner of a Mexican construction firm, with conspiring to violate the provisions of the Racketeer Influenced and Corrupt Organization (RICO) statute.

The two men are also charged with conspiracy to launder money, conspiracy to defraud, and conspiracy to make false statements to federally insured U.S. banks.

Yarrington is also separately charged with a conspiracy to violate the provisions of the Controlled Substances Act, two substantive bank fraud charges, and a conspiracy to structure currency transactions at a domestic financial institution, while Cano is separately charged with three counts of bank fraud.

Yarrington served as governor of Tamaulipas from 1999 to 2004. Tamaulipas lies along the southern border between the United States and Mexico directly across from Brownsville and Laredo.

According to the indictment, beginning in approximately 1998, Yarrington received large bribes from major drug traffickers operating in the Mexican state of Tamaulipas, including the Gulf Cartel. In return, Yarrington allegedly allowed them to operate their large scale, multi-ton enterprises freely, which included the smuggling of large quantities of drugs to the United States for distribution.

From 2007 to 2009, Yarrington allegedly became involved in the smuggling of large amounts of cocaine through the Port of Veracruz into the United States.

Yarrington also allegedly collected bribes from commercial operations in Mexico, according to the indictment. Cano operated Materiales y Construcciones Villa de Aguayo, S.A. de C.V., a construction firm in Tamaulipas that received significant public works contracts during Yarrington’s term as governor. The indictment alleges Cano, in turn, paid bribes to Yarrington to include the acquisition of real estate in front names for him.

The indictment further alleges Yarrington also received control over stolen public funds in the latter part of 2004. Portions of those funds were allegedly used to buy a Sabreliner 60 airplane in January 2005. As part of that purchase, $300,000 was transferred to a bank account in the United States. Another portion of the allegedly stolen funds, $5 million Mexican pesos, was transferred to Cano in the spring of 2005, according to the indictment.

The indictment further alleges that starting in approximately 1998, Yarrington, and later to include Cano, became involved in the acquisition of valuable assets in the United States, using front names and business entities established starting in 2005 to disguise the true ownership of the assets.

The assets allegedly included bank accounts, residences, airplanes, vehicles, and real estate in Bexar, Cameron, Hidalgo, and Hays counties, many of which were acquired via allegedly fraudulent loans from banks in Texas. According to the indictment, bank accounts established in front names at Texas banks were used to receive and disburse money to carry the ongoing costs of the assets, such as loan costs and condo fees.

The indictment identifies numerous specific front entities involved in the scheme, each of which allegedly applied for multi-million-dollar fraudulent loans at Texas banks, which Cano allegedly personally guaranteed. The indictment details a total of more than $7 million in transfers into the U.S. accounts of the front entities.

Additional entities were created and used to apply for other loans to fund the purchase of still other assets, according to the indictment. Numerous currency transactions were allegedly conducted at First National Bank, headquartered in Edinburg, in a structured manner in amounts at or below $10,000 in order to evade the filing of Currency Transaction Reports by the bank.

Neither Yarrington nor Cano is in the custody of the United States and warrants remain outstanding for their arrests. Anyone with information about their whereabouts is asked to contact Homeland Security Investigations at 956-542-5811. Persons calling from Mexico should call 001-800-010-5237.

The RICO and money laundering charges each carry sentences of up to 20 years in prison, while conspiracy to commit bank fraud carries as possible punishment up to 30 years. The drug conspiracy charges carry a term of imprisonment of at least 10 years. The currency structuring charges carry a possible five-year term of imprisonment.

The indictment also includes a notice of forfeiture. Some of the assets identified in the indictment already have been seized by the United States in civil forfeiture actions over the course of the investigation, to include approximately 46 acres in Bexar County, a condo on South Padre Island, a 2005 Pilatus airplane, and residences in Hidalgo and Hays counties.

The investigation leading to the indictment has been conducted by the Organized Crime Drug Enforcement Task Force in Brownsville, San Antonio, Houston, Corpus Christi, and New York and has included agents and officers with HSI, DEA, IRS-CI, FBI, and the Texas Attorney General’s Office.

The United States government also acknowledges with gratitude the significant assistance received from the government of Mexico in the course of this investigation, including through sharing evidence and expertise.

The case is being prosecuted by Assistant United States Attorneys Charles Lewis, Julie K. Hampton, and Jody Young.

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