A federal prosecutor told jurors on Monday that the former police chief of San Angelo improperly used his influence to convince city councilors to award a $6 million contract to a radio communications company investigators believe paid him kickbacks through his Earth, Wind and Fire cover band.
Sean Long gave his opening statements in Tim R. Vasquez’s trial after jurors were selected Monday morning at a federal court in Lubbock
Vasquez, San Angelo’s police chief from 2004-2016, is charged with a count of receipt of a bribe by an agent of an organization receiving federal funds and three counts of honest services mail fraud. If convicted on all charges, Vasquez faces a maximum punishment of 70 years in prison, a $1 million fine and three years of supervised release.
Long told jurors the evidence they have will show Vasquez used his position as police chief in 2015 to circumvent the bidding process by which city contracts are awarded and convince city officials to stick with its current provider of radio communication systems, San Antonio based Dailey-Wells Communications, the licensed seller of L3Harris radios.
What the councilors didn’t know, Long told jurors, was that Vasquez had a financial relationship with the company ‘s band, Funky Munky, which has performed at the company’s corporate events since 2007, shortly after the company was first hired by the city to provide its radio communications system. Those systems were used by the city’s agencies, including police and fire departments.
Long said the evidence will show the company hired Vasquez because they knew he would be valuable to them in the future.
“He was uniquely positioned to advocate and influence the city council to award that contract,” he said.
Once the new contract was awarded in 2015, Long said, Dailey-Wells hired Vasquez’s band to play 10 shows for about $84,000 at the company’s San Antonio headquarters. At the time, Funky Munky’s other performances, earned them about $2,100 a show.
“Tim Vasquez never disclosed these payment to anyone much less to the city council,” he said.
Long said he expected city counselors to testify they would not have approved the contract had they known about Vasquez’s relationship with the company.
The three counts of mail fraud relate to the checks the company mailed to Vasquez.
When Texas Rangers began looking into Vasquez’s relationship with the company, Dailey-Wells put Funky Munky on retainer for about $50,000, Long said.
Defense attorney David Guinn told jurors the investigation into his client and his relationship with Dailey-Wells was blown out of proportion, saying the payments to Funky Munky were legitimate.
“One didn’t have anything to do with the other,” he said.
He said bands charge more for private functions, especially if it requires travel. Performances at local clubs, which are the venues Funky Munky usually plays at, usually charge less and rely on the exposure from those events to book private performances.
“Apples aren’t oranges, San Antonio is not San Angelo,” Guinn said.
He told jurors he planned to call on experts in the music business in Texas to talk about the standard pricing for bands to travel and play in private functions such as weddings, anniversaries and Christmas parties.
“You’re going to learn more about music than you wanted to know,” Guinn said.
He said his client began playing for the company in 2007 after Dailey-Wells president Richard Wells asked him to play at his anniversary when the band he initially hired fell through. Guinn said Funky Munky was suggested to Wells by Jeff Betty, who was a city attorney at the time.
Guinn said the radio system the city bought are used in other Texas cities including Lubbock.
“They’re excellent radios,” he said.
The first witnessed called by prosecutors was Bucky Hasty, the IT director for San Angelo, who led the project to keep Dailey-Wells as the city’s radio system provider.
Hasty said that in 2014 a Dailey-Wells representative approached him about upgrading the radio system, which was becoming outdated.
He told jurors he preferred to stay with Dailey-Wells, saying the company offered good products and customer service.
“I didn’t see any need to change,” he said.
The main selling point for the new system is that it move the city’s radio system from an exclusive EDACS protocol to the more widely used P25 Phase II protocol, he said.
He told jurors that Vasquez was among the city officials he met with about the upgrade and said he was set on keeping Dailey-Wells as the provider and wanted to avoid the standard process of seeking bids from other companies.
Jurors were shown emails Vasquez sent that showed his suggestions on how to circumvent the bidding process, including classifying the project as a public safety emergency or going through a cooperative purchasing program.
Excerpts from the recorded San Angelo City Council meetings that discussed the project were played to jurors. In one meeting, council members were told they were going through Houston-Galveston Area Council Co-Op to award Dailey-Wells the contract. The process added a 1.5% fee to the project.
Shortly after the contract was awarded, Dailey-Wells sent the city a credit on the fee, saying it was erroneously billed to the city. However, prosecutors showed jurors documents that indicated HGAC was never involved in the process and had no records of the contract.
The trial continues Tuesday.