APRIL 04, 2008
A Texas judge forced a public children’s mental health program to replace a highly regarded and efficient company with a firm owned by his longtime friend, even though it charged taxpayers double and lacked the expertise to do the job.
The unethical and controversial move has put El Paso District Judge Alfredo Chavez at the center of a federal investigation because his friend’s company did in fact get the lucrative contract and he cheated the county out of hundreds of thousands of dollars.
Now El Paso County officials are suing LKG Enterprises, which was supposed to perform evaluations for the Children’s Mental Health Collaborative, for fraud. The judge’s good buddy, Ruben Garcia, owns the firm and is under federal investigation.
Authorities say LKG lacked the expertise, personnel and credentials necessary to carry out its duties under the county contract and failed to provide required reports for a year. Officials say the judge’s friend took about $600,000 yet did nothing for the mentally ill children’s program.
The children’s collaborative was created to treat El Paso County’s severely mentally ill kids locally rather than send them out of the area for treatment at a huge expense to taxpayers. It is funded through the Department of Health and Human Services and has helped dozens of children over the years. One county commissioner says the problems created by LKG nearly wrecked the collaborative and have cost the county more than $1 million to repair.
Chavez, a Democrat who is running for reelection of his 65th District Court judgeship, denies any wrongdoing and avidly defends his buddy’s company despite a scathing federal audit that trashes it. “My conscience is clear,” he said at a candidate’s forum this week.
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