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Former EPISD trustee heading to prison

By: Melissa Gundersen
EL PASO, Texas -- After 17 years of accepting bribes and bribing others, a former El Paso Independent School District trustee is sentenced to three years in prison.

Monday a federal judge sentenced Sal Mena, 67, to three years in prison and three years' supervised release. Mena is also ordered to pay a $176,455 fine. That's the amount Mena is believed to have collected within the past 17 years for his part in a large-scale public corruption scheme.

Mena was arrested back in 2008, after FBI investigators said he was accepting bribes and also bribing district vendors for a contract to Access Health Source that was worth $150 million. Mena pleaded guilty in 2009 to one count of mail fraud and one count of wire fraud.

During sentencing, Mena had an opportunity to apologize to the judge.

"I take full responsibility. I allowed myself to get caught in a web of deception," said Mena.

Mena then started tripping up on his words. The judge gave him a short break to collect his thoughts, but when court came back in session, Mena's attorney decided to speak on his behalf.

"I know that Sal has done everything he could to repair anything that, any damage that, he could have caused in the community," said defense attorney Randy Ortega.

The judge then gave Mena his three-year prison sentence. That's when a teary-eyed Mena asked to talk.

"I need closure, but I need probation if I could. I know what I did wrong and I'm sorry for a long time," Mena told the judge.

Judge Frank Montalvo responded by saying, "Out of all the public officials caught, you, Mr. Mena, were the one most extensively involved in corrupt conduct and benefited the most."

Montalvo said Mena still stands to benefit.

"You still have information that could be beneficial to the government that could put more people in prison. So you still have opportunity to benefit," said Montalvo.

He didn't budge on the sentence.

Mena was immediately taken into custody and placed on suicide watch.

"There was some kind of an overdose of drugs or something and the concern was him attempting suicide and I think the judge took him into custody to protect him just in case, having seen how difficult it was for him to speak," said prosecuting attorney Debra Kanof.

In the same public corruption case, Chris Pak received a much lighter sentence. The former financial adviser was sentenced to three years' probation for his role. Both attorneys and the judge agreed Pak played a minor role in the scheme.
 

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