A former partner with the law firm of Linebarger, Goggan, Blair & Sampson has been indicted on six counts of felony tampering with a government record in connection with false entries on campaign reports for an Arlington ISD school trustee.
Mario X. Perez, who was a partner in the Linebarger firm when the alleged tampering occurred, was indicted by a Tarrant County grand jury in Fort Worth yesterday.
According to the indictment, Perez made false entries on the campaign reports of Arlington ISD Trustee Aaron Reich during Reich’s 2009 campaign.
Numerous questions about the Linebarger firm’s ethical conduct were at the forefront of a recent controversy over whether Katy ISD should contract with the firm for delinquent tax collection and tax office operation services.
In the Arlington case, the false campaign reports occurred at the same time Perez was directing Linebarger’s efforts to secure contracts with both Arlington ISD and Fort Worth ISD.
In late 2009, the Arlington school board voted to switch to Linebarger from Perdue, Brandon, Fielder, Collins & Mott, which the district had used for nearly 30 years. The following year, Fort Worth ISD voted to contract with Linebarger over Perdue, Brackett, Flores, Utt and Burns, a joint venture the district had used for almost two decades.
The Fort Worth school board later terminated the contract with Linebarger after concerns were raised bidding process had been compromised because Perez had contact with school trustees during a no-contact period. The contacts included text messages containing sample questions for trustees to ask when publicly discussing the two competing proposals.
Court documents related to this week’s indictment said Perez falsified four campaign transactions on Reich’s May 1, 2009, campaign report. Included in those transactions were two donations – one cash and one in-kind – totaling $1,338.70 from Perez’ in-laws, an in-kind contribution of $4,216.06 from a Mansfield, Tex., resident and two in-kind contributions from Murphy Turner & Associates, a political consulting firm, totaling $4,554.76.
None of the contributions were legitimate, according to the indictment.
In the case of the Murphy Turner & Associates “contribution,” it is alleged Perez arranged for the firm to be paid for their services and there was no in-kind donation.
Craig Murphy, a partner in the Murphy Turner firm confirmed to the Fort Worth Star-Telegram that the firm did robo-calling to voters and produced campaign mailers for the Reich campaign. He declined to discuss the matter further, saying the Tarrant County DA’s Office asked the company not to discuss the case publicly.
Reich, who is currently running for re-election to the Arlington school board, has not been charged and has not commented publicly on Perez’ indictment.
Greg Westfall, Perez’ defense attorney called the charges “a political stunt” but did not elaborate.
The allegedly false contributions to the Reich campaign were similar to those that sparked a Fort Worth ISD board member to file an amended campaign finance report in 2010.
In that case, Trustee Tobi Jackson initially reported an in-kind contribution of more than $4,000 from Murphy Turner & Associates. That was later changed to reflect a loan from Perez in the same amount after Perez reportedly warned Jackson she needed to file the amended report or face possible ethics charges.
According to company officials, Perez left the Linebarger firm last October but continued to hold a consulting contract with the company until recently.
The charges against Perez are state jail felonies carrying penalties of up to two years’ incarceration and a fine of up to $10,000 per charge.