Wednesday, May 02, 2007

Dannenbaum Engineering deal is the subject of a grand jury investigation

Special grand jury investigating BND

May 2, 2007

The Brownsville Herald
Copyright 2007

The New Era was docked at the Port of Brownsville and was in the process of unloading its cargo of petrolium coke. The cargo was tyransported from Japan and is destined for Mexico.

The criminal inquiry into millions of dollars spent on the failed Brownsville Navigation District international bridge project is now in the hands of a special grand jury, District Attorney Armando Villalobos confirmed Wednesday.

Villalobos said that District Judge Benjamin Euresti convened the special grand jury earlier in the day.

“It’s our intention to have an answer within this grand jury term,” Villalobos further said.

The tools that a grand jury brings to an inquiry are unique. It has the power of subpoena and to compel witnesses to testify before it under oath with the exception of compelling suspects who could invoke the Fifth Amendment.

The special grand jury, whose term is for six months, will not be reviewing any other case other than possible wrongdoing involving BND’s project so as not to “lose focus” and to have ample time to conduct its review, the district attorney said.

“I just want to assure the public that this case is going to be reviewed. We are at the stage that we will be presenting them (grand jurors) with the evidence,” Villalobos said.

Earlier this year, Villalobos said the inquiry was stalled because neither U.S. nor Mexican authorities appeared interested in helping his office follow the trail of money spent on the project.

But that changed in March.

An FBI agent was assigned to the inquiry; Texas Rangers are on the case, and to further provide refreshed reviews of the inquiry or possible different perspectives, investigators from both the Brownsville Police Department and the Cameron County Sheriff’s Department were brought in.

Furthermore, Assistant District Attorney Gaby Garcia was assigned to the case and the assistant district attorney previously on the case was reassigned.

To stand over his shoulder with a new set of eyes, Villalobos brought in longtime attorney Ricardo Salinas from Mission.

Villalobos said he created the makeshift task force “to calm any fears that we’re missing something.”

“We have a lot of different minds looking at it. We are going to see where that takes us,” Villalobos said.

“The public can be assured that it’s going to be looked at thoroughly,” the DA said.

Villalobos said that BND Commissioner Carlos Masso, who is one of his assistant district attorneys is not involved in any way in the inquiry.

Most of the $15.4 million spent on the bridge project went to project manager Dannenbaum Engineering Corp of Houston, public records show. Dannenbaum had been tasked to engineer and manage the project from 1997 to 2004.

The bridge project would’ve connected the Port of Brownsville to Matamoros.

Dannenbaum paid more than half the $15.4 million to subcontractors in Mexico. Most of the funds were funneled to corporations in Mexico via wire transfers to money exchange houses, a BND in-house investigation showed.

© 2007 The Brownsville Herald:

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