My first experience with El Paso corruption came at the hands of an El Paso police officer in the late 1980’s. Sadly, it was the first of many instances of corruption that is so engrained in the community that it is an unpleasant fact, not an exception. Having grown up in Mexico, I was and I am very aware of the “mordida”. The difference being that unlike El Paso there is a rule to corruption in Mexico, a system all Mexicans are fully aware of and know how to play the game. Not right, but a fact.

I was driving down Executive Center in my “frontchih” plated vehicle when a local police officer pulled me over. I presented my Mexican driver’s license and being naïve my visa allowing me to be in the United States. The officer was taken aback because I greeted him in English. He insisted in speaking to me in Spanish and I reciprocated. He explained to me that they were looking for stolen vehicles and pulled me over because I had no VIN number on the dashboard of my little old VW. How he saw that from his car is beyond me.

Of course, I knew that I did not have a VIN plate on my dashboard, and I am sure he did too because it was common practice for Mexican authorities to remove VIN plates from a vehicle that was legally imported under the “FrontChih” system into Mexico. This was done because vehicles imported from the United States were limited to Mexican border residents to use in the border cities. The VIN removal prevented Juárez residents from illegally selling their vehicles in the interior of Mexico.

Although I knew my vehicle wasn’t stolen and I had presented the “tarjeta de circulación” accrediting my vehicle as being current and legal I was too naïve to understand much less defend my rights, so I did not argue with the officer. I now know that what he did was illegal and I am better equipped to challenge it in the future.

I had grown accustomed to my friends in the United States constantly telling me how corrupt my country is that I did not bother to challenge that notion until much later and many experiences later.

The officer proceeded to tell me that all vehicles have a secret VIN number and he was going to look for it. He spent the next forty-five minutes looking through my vehicle removing everything, including the back seat to look for the illusive “secret” hidden number. After he was satisfied, he “thanked” me for my cooperation and left me there on Executive Center to put my car back together and pickup my personal belongings.

I now know that he was searching for drugs and what he did was wrong. The truth is that had this happened in Juárez, I would have challenged the authority of the officer and when that failed, I would have given him a few Pesos to let me be on my way. Those were the rules in Mexico, but here in El Paso there are no rules.

In El Paso no one knows the rules of the game. If I had offered him, a “mordida” the El Paso police officer either would have taken it or would have charged me with bribery. A no win scenario for me, my rights were violated regardless. No one will ever know what the outcome would have been because the corruption rules in El Paso change at the whim of whoever is in power with only one constant; corruption is ripe in the city.

It is important to recognize that the corruptors do not work in unison or together. They just tolerate each other and in some instances allow others to be exposed in order to consolidate power bases.

Keep this in mind as you go through the modus-operandi detailed herein.

Public Perception Manipulation

Although there are no rules to the corruption game there is a modus operandi that the corruptors always rely on to continue their raid of the public coffers. Their goal is to control the dissemination of information and ply enough money into the system to keep the few people who care chasing a corrupt-free dream from ever achieving it.

The first and most important rule is to corrupt the local media. The El Paso Times is corrupt, maybe not on the take directly, although the jury s still out on that but most definitely controlled by special interests that quash certain stories and ply other ones in order to keep the rebels at bay. There are numerous examples where the integrity of the local paper is questioned on a regular basis. It is important to note that the corruption is engrained in the bureaucracy of the paper from top to bottom so that reporters have little or no control over the product they produce. They may be idealists, but how many individuals will risk their livelihoods to challenge the status-quo? Although, they are part of the problem they are a miniscule part of the problem.

The problem lies in the money that pays the operations of the El Paso Times and that is advertising. The corruptors have assured themselves security by making sure there is just enough advertising revenue to keep the paper a float but not enough to show independence. Because the corruptors are in competition with each other, they sometimes allow others to be exposed. That is the case with the current corrupt-de jour, the El Paso Independent School District.

The Diario de Juárez has no or little interest in mixing it up. The local operation is not the same as the Juárez operation and will not challenge the local elite. Keep in mind that the local elite are multi-headed with tentacles in both communities, El Paso and Cd. Juárez. The television media again will not challenge their revenue streams too much either because frankly it does not pay to challenge the status-quo because the only money to be made in El Paso is corrupt driven.

Manufacturing Outrage

Part of this schema is to manipulate public perception even to the point of manufacturing outrage. Take for example Enrique Moreno, Eliot Shapleigh and Veronica Escobar. Where is the public ethics commission and pledge they publicly proclaimed and signed? Was it grandstanding or did they really intend for it to truly address public corruption?

Let’s see. Remember back in 2009 when with great grandstanding Enrique Moreno, Woody Hunt and others, organized a Commission for Best Practices in government? Where is it now? They were out to stamp out public corruption, or so they proclaimed. Today, they are nowhere to be found. Oh sure, if anyone asks what they have been up to their answer will be, we’ve been working, but behind the scenes.

In other words, just trust us we’ve been working on it, wink, wink. Fortunately, for those that care, the public record clearly shows that their call to action was nothing more than that, that’s right, nothing. Their website’s last news item is from June 17, 2010. Oh, but they’ve been hard at work.

The truth is that the “commission” was nothing more than grandstanding and public perception manipulation. That was it.

Likewise, Veronica Escobar, after much mock outrage was in a position to do something about the taxpayer’s money and political corruption, but she did nothing. Forget the “what ifs” and “but, if I could only”, or my favorite, “it’s not in my power” to do it.

Veronica Escobar had the opportunity to vote for public trust when the issue of Paul Shrode came before County Commissioners, not once but multiple times. Remember the medical examiner that lied under oath? That is Shrode. Escobar could have stood proudly before the community and unequivocally proclaimed enough with corruption in our community; I’m voting for him to be fired immediately. She, instead, did everything in her power to cover for a proven liar to the detriment of the community.

Why? Most likely because firing Shrode would have gone against her political agenda.

Eliot Shapleigh, likewise, has wrapped the mantra of a white night charging in to save the day with the El Paso Independent School District. Sorry, but in my book, that’s a little too late and nothing more than his attempt to position himself for his next office launch.  Shapleigh no more cares about the corruption at EPISD then he cared about the corruption in El Paso all of the years he was in office. Corruption “savior” is just a means for his next political job.

That brings me back to EPISD. With all of the public information available to us today, there is absolutely no reason at all whatsoever for the administrators of EPISD or, for that matter, the board to keep their jobs. Personal ethics demands that the board resign and the administrators be fired. Whether they were involved in the corruption or not, it happened under their watch, they have a duty to take personal responsibility for it. However, since the corruption is so engrained in the community they see nothing wrong with protecting their jobs.

Legal System Manipulation

The second modus-operandi of the corruptors is to manipulate the legal system in their favor. The first thing a corruptor does is deflect attention with legal intimidation both criminal and civil. When I ran the El Paso Forum I was sued by Larry Medina, yes the same Larry Medina currently under indictment for bribery.

Medina sued me not because I had broken a contract with him, or not paid him a bill or sold him something bad but rather because I dared to provide a vehicle that let people organize politically to oust him from office.

First, Medina got his friends at the El Paso Times, led at the time, as it is today, by Bob Moore to write a front-page piece about how a fax machine in my office was somehow having me commit a third-degree felony because my company was a corporation. When that failed, he unleashed the legal system to file a civil lawsuit against me and my company for hurting his political future because I dared to provide a vehicle to allow democracy to work as envisioned.

That was actually my third introduction to El Paso corruption. My second introduction to El Paso corruption was a bid package I painstakingly put in at the County of El Paso for a sizable order for computers in the early 90’s. All this only to discover at bid opening, that although my bid was hundreds of dollars per computer less then the one who got the bid, my bid was unceremoniously rejected because I did not meet the ambiguous “best value” portion of the bid packet because my company had not demonstrated previous government work.

In other words, I have to play the game in order to demonstrate experience. Whatever happened to the lowest bidder gets the bid? Computers are computers and they work or they don’t. The company that got the bid was politically connected as the owner’s wife ended being city council representative years later.

However, let’s get back to Larry Medina. The El Paso Times wrote a front-page article about how a fax machine was breaking the law because it happened to be in my office. So, I’m a big corporation intent on ruining Larry Medina’s political life because I naively think that democracy is about engaging people to oust their elected officials and not because an old, thermal paper fax machine was used as a vehicle to organize a recall petition. Never mind that the fax machine wasn’t even owned by the corporation. Never mind that a reporter lied to me by telling me he was interested in coming by to do a story on my small business, only to come in and take pictures so that my little company could be publicly exposed as this mean, nasty big corporation intent on ousting Larry Medina. Facts, well let’s not let facts get in the way, after all its not about the facts, its about Larry Medina keeping his job.

I kind of wonder if he would be under indictment right now for public corruption had he let the recall run its course as envisioned by democracy.

I wonder how much corruption would disappear in the community overnight if investigations were about the politicians rather than those who dare to question their motives and their actions.

Legal intimidation works many ways. Sometimes law enforcement is encouraged to look very closely at activities and sometimes it is encouraged to look the other way. Other times, innuendo is allowed to permeate the under-current of the community with the stigma of “investigations” while other times investigations magically hit a dead-end. Even when investigations unravel corruption so outrageous that it can’t be hidden anymore the outcome is sometimes a quick slap on the wrist with a quiet guilty plea and some community service while other times it is twenty-years in jail for the exact same crime. In other words, crime does not always pay the same price for the same crime.

Even when there is no crime involved the mere fact that the legal system is designed to cost both parties money makes it expensive to defend yourself, not to mention the time it distracts from your business.

This brings me to the issue of campaign donations. Campaign donations are influence peddling, plain and simple. Either they are legal or they are not. You cannot have it both ways, prosecute some for campaign financing malfeasance while others continue to do it. That’s the problem about the El Paso corruption rules, it is illegal for some and not even a blip on the radar for others. In other words, you are corrupt for giving campaign contributions while others are not.

The stigma of being an outcast

When all of the above fails, the corruptors move on to the next weapon in their arsenal. They stigmatize and ostracize those who dare to question their motives. Somehow in El Paso it is unseemly to demand accountability. Look closely at the chambers of commerce. Where are they? Where is the business community after all of the corruption has been exposed? Nowhere to be found. The few that are public about it are the very businesses that have been identified as corrupt or are so dependent on public money that they cry out we are not corrupt!

The El Paso Chamber of Commerce is nothing more than a club giving out awards to people like Bob Jones. Yea, Bob Jones, the one sitting in jail for corruption was the Entrepreneur of the Year for the El Paso Chamber of Commerce. Bottom line, if you line the pockets of the chambers with money, you can expect an award. Ask them to step up and demand accountability, well they just plain ignore you as a nuisance. “We can’t be airing our dirty laundry” is the common reply.

Of course we are the second-safest city in the community; wink, wink!

Where is the outrage?

As for the elite of the community? Other than self-serving calls for community action and public pronouncements of ethical clubs, yeah clubs because that’s all they are; they are currently busy building a field of dreams to further line their pockets.

In the case of those seeking answers or demanding actual accountability, well they are just “disgruntled former employees” or “people who don’t know what they are talking about”.

Take for example, Theresa Caballero, she exposed Paul Shrode for the liar that he is. She is the one that discovered that he had lied under oath. However, the El Paso Times continues to proclaim that they are the ones that exposed him. Likewise, the El Paso Times continues to proclaim that they are the ones that exposed the NCED corruption when it was, in fact, The Oregonian that did.

Since it is common practice to lie in El Paso, it should be no surprise to anyone that The El Paso Times sees nothing wrong with lying to the community.

I’ve already written articles exposing how the El Paso Times censors articles and along with their continued lying about NCED and Shrode, I can’t help but wonder how many other things they lie about.

This only helps the corruptors of the community.

Activists are demonized, ostracized, and even their livelihoods threatened but the Bob Jones’ of El Paso are given the Entrepreneur of the Year award.

A reporter once asked me, and I quote; “do you think it’s wrong that people are told not to do business with you?” Of course, I am. I am outraged, but what can I do? Nothing because it’s not corrupt to tell someone not to do business with a company because they are unseemly, or so goes the mentality in the city.

This reporter has written numerous times about the ongoing corruption in the community and even though he knows intellectually that it is wrong to strong-arm people not to do business with me he/she has never taken the time to write about it. Since the reporter brought it up he/she had obviously been privy to the tactic but they are not willing to address it. I wonder why.

Regardless there is only one thing that empowers the corruptors and it is fear.

Fear, is the nexus that allows the corruptors their power.

Fear is the greatest weapon wielded by the power mongers of the community. They wield it in many ways. Whisper campaigns designed to economically hurt anyone that dares to challenge them. Sometimes there is fear in the wellbeing of someone’s family when they question the corruption. Many times, it is about loosing business or a job.

Other times it is just the plain fear of being publicly called out, not because the activist is corrupt but rather because they are shining a light on the corrupters. When some one challenges a corrupt practice the issue becomes about the messenger and not about the message.

The corruption is so engrained in the psyche of the community that even calling a convicted corrupted person corrupt is frowned upon. My latest project, the El Paso Corruption Archive ( has generated messages revolving around the notion that labeling someone, who has pleaded guilty or was found guilty to corruption is wrong and will possibly result in suits being filed. Since when is calling someone corrupt who has pleaded guilty to corruption wrong?

One of the most poignant events I remember about my El Paso Forum project was a phone call and two threatening letters I received. I got a phone call from an irate representative of the owner of the local Harley Davidson dealership demanding I remove a post from the forum. I also received not one, but two letters from lawyers threatening to sue me if I didn’t immediately remove the post from the Forum.

The post in question? It was a post from someone who had taken a page from the Texas Department of Public Safety’s website of convicted child molesters, complete with a picture of the convicted individual and all of the details and posted it on the forum with the simple statement of “don’t shop here because they employ child molesters”. Both the irate caller and the two legal letters confirmed the individual’s employment. The letters, one from the individual’s own attorney, were demanding that I immediately remove the post because the posting was defamatory to the convicted child molester!

Defamatory? Yes, defamatory to a convicted felon!

The label corruption will remain and those convicted or pleading guilty to corruption will be listed on the site. It will do nothing for corruption but it will bring me the satisfaction of knowing that a corruptor will be labeled as such for the rest of the world to see. When someone Google’s El Paso corruption, the corruptor in El Paso can expect to find their name shown in the search results.

It won’t end corruption but it will give me the satisfaction of knowing that they don’t control everything, all though they’ll continue to try. Even more important is that I’ll continue to be unseemly and I will continue to air El Paso’s dirty laundry.

Next time someone proclaims Mexico is corrupt, at least Google will show that his or her own backyard is as corrupt or even more. In Mexico, we acknowledge we have a problem. Maybe it will get fixed and maybe it will not but guess what, we acknowledge it, which is the first step to redemption.

In the end, the modus-operandi of the corruptors is about protecting the practice in El Paso, Texas, not ending it. It is a self-perpetuating machine that feeds itself with the taxpayers of the community being the prey.

Coincidently, the modus-operandi, I have outlined herein is the same tactics used by the Mexican drug cartels. Coincidence? Hmmm, I have to wonder.

Martin Paredes

Martín Paredes is a Mexican immigrant who built his business on the U.S.-Mexican border. As an immigrant, Martín brings the perspective of someone who sees México as a native through the experience...