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Newspaper and Travel Guide
for Pecos Country of West Texas

Friday, September 28, 2007

California robbery suspect apprehended in traffic stop

For the second time in two weeks, a routine traffic stop in Reeves County has led to the arrest of a suspect in a bank robbery.

In the latest incident, a California man was arrested west of Pecos on Tuesday, in connection with robberies of a bank and a credit union earlier this month in California. Reeves County Sheriff’s Deputy Ernest Lazcano stopped a 1987 Silver Mercedes at about 2 p.m., at mile marker 33, eastbound on Interstate 20.

“Initially the driver gave me a false name,” said Lazcano, who ran the driver’s name through the system and he came up clear.

“But when I ran the plates on the car, it came back that the individual that was driving the car might be armed and dangerous,” he said.

Lazcano said that initially, the man gave his name was Michael Griffith, but that he didn’t have a driver’s license because his wallet had been stolen.

“It turns out that name is one of his aliases that he uses,” said Lazcano.

The driver’s real name is Robert Clarence Pierce, 48, of California, and he had warrants out for robbery.

“At that point, I went ahead and arrested him for the warrants from California and we did a search of the vehicle,” said Lazcano.

Riding with Pierce was his girlfriend, Sandra Ratliff, 49, also of California, whom he had just bailed out of jail recently.

Upon the search of the vehicle, officers found a half-ounce of heroin; seven grams of crystal methamphetamine; one gram of hashish and an assortment of paraphernalia.

What the officers didn’t find was the stolen money from the banks in California.

A warrant out of California shows that on Sept. 6, the Schools Credit Union was robbed at gunpoint; on Sept. 17, a Bank of America in central California was robbed by a man simulating a weapon. The suspect was seen getting into a dark colored, late 90’s Chevy Suburban or GMC Yukon. It was later determined that the plate had been stolen from a vehicle in Esparto, Calif.

On Sept. 20, a judge signed a warrant for Pierce, and bail amount was set at $150,000. “We also found the gun that was used in the bank robberies,” said Lazcano. Pierce had bonded out his girlfriend, Sandra Ratliff, on Sept. 15, after she had been arrested for possession of a controlled substance.

“After he gave me conflicting stories, I knew there was something wrong,” said Lazcano. Bond has been set for Pierce at $15,000 for the firearm; $25,000 for the heroin and $25,000 for the meth. No bond was set for the robberies.

Ratliff’s bond was set at a total of $50,000 for the meth and the heroin.

Street value for the heroin has been estimated at $18,000.

Lazcano said that they suspect the money has been spent, since both had new clothes and the drugs.

“They had receipts for gas and other items, and during one of the robberies he stole about $10,000, but they we haven’t found any money yet,” said Lazcano.

The arrest came 10 days after a traffic stop by Reeves County Sheriff’s Lt. Kevin Roberts led to a high-speed chase that ended in Van Horn with the arrest of two persons in connection with an armored car robbery in Dallas in which over $1 million was stolen.

Roberts attempted to stop a black Mercedes Benz, which was traveling westbound, at mile marker 22 in Toyah on Interstate 20. The Mercedes and a second vehicle fled west at speeds of over 130 mph before being located at a motel in Van Horn. Arrested were the driver of the Mercedes, 51-year-old Freddy Lee Boots, and his accomplice, Pamela Jean Bull, 40, both of Dallas.

Corpus Christi firm buys T&C in $361m deal

Town and Country Food Stores got a new owner this week, and will getting a new look and name next year. But employees shouldn’t see any major changes to their positions, according to top executive with the Corpus Christi-based company involved in the acquisition.

San Angelo-based Town and Country announced last Friday that Susser Holdings Corp. has agreed to purchase the 168-store chain in an all-cash transaction valued at approximately $361 million.

Susser, which is the leading operator of convenience stores in South Texas, will convert the Town and Country stores to its Stripes brand name, which Susser debuted last year. But there are no plans at this time for any major personnel changes.

“There will be no changes at the store level or at the store supervisor level,” said Chip Bonner, General Counsel for Susser Holdings.

“We changed out our Circle Ks to Stripes in 2006,” said Bonner. The move also came with a change of branding affiliation for most of those stores, from Citgo to Valero, though right now there are no plans to do the same to the Town and Country stores. “We’re going to look at all our fuel supply options and make a decision in the next six to eight months,” Bonner said.

Town and County sells unbranded fuel at its stores, while having deals with major oil companies at other locations, including the two Chevron-branded stores in Pecos. Susser Holdings is also a Chevron jobber in areas of Southeast Texas, according to Bonner. “We sell all major brands through our company,” he said.

At the executive level, Bonner said he hoped most of Town and Country’s current top staff would remain with the company after the buy-out is completed.

Alvin New, who grew up in Pecos and serves as Town and County’s Chief Executive Officer, will join Susser, while the company’s Chairman of the Board, Lloyd Norris, will retire. “He will continue to be the CEO,” Bonner said. “Devin Bates (Chief Financial Officer), it is our hope that he does join our company, and we hope Randy Brooks (T&C Managing Director) joins our company.”

A press release by Town and Country said they anticipate the transaction to be completed within 60 to 90 days, pending federal antitrust review and other regulatory approvals. Of the 168 stores, Town and Country owns about 80 percent of the buildings and land, along with a land bank of 14 undeveloped locations for future development.

Susser currently operates 330 convenience stores in Texas and Oklahoma under the Stripes banner and supplies branded motor fuel to over 370 independent dealers through its wholesale fuel division.

Town and Country has operated stores in the past in far South Texas and in the Dallas-Fort Worth area, but it’s current locations range from Brownwood to Pecos, and from Del Rio north to Hereford and the Roswell, N.M. area.

Susser owns and operates over 150 Laredo Taco Co. restaurants inside the Stripes convenience stores that feature authentic "made from scratch" Mexican food. Town and Country currently operates Country Cookin’ prepared food outlets in a number of stores, though none in Pecos since closing their West Third Street location 10 years ago.

Bonner said there were no plans at this time to make any changes to the Country Cookin’ outlets or to the Subway franchise at the Interstate 20 store in Pecos and 20 other West Texas locations, but added, “We plan to test market our (Laredo Taco) concept in that area.”

PHA expected to ask for bids on I-20 acreage

The sale of 34.23 acres of land along Interstate 20 by the Pecos Housing Authority will more than likely be open for bids in the near future, according to the executive director of the housing authority, who plans to use the sale to finance the recent purchase of the Pecos Farm Labor Housing.

PHA Executive Director Nellie Gomez said on Tuesday that the U.S. Department of Agriculture has accepted the PHA’s $230,000 payment for purchase of the FLH units on West County Road, and that they plan to repay the loan taken out from TransPecos Banks through the sale of the land, located along I-20 between West County Road and Country Club Drive. But how the land will be sold depends on a ruling from the U.S. Department of Housing and Urban Development.

“At this time we’re negotiating with HUD to see what procedures we have to go through for procurement of the land; if we can sell it, or if we have to bid out on it,” Gomez said. The PHA had worked out a deal with the Pecos Economic Development Corp. two months ago, in which the PHA would pay $230,000 for the land, which would then be used by the PHA for their payment. PEDC President Mike Burkholder said they planned to put the land on the market for commercial development.

But with voters having approved a change of the PEDC from a 4A to 4B Corporation, city attorney Scott Johnson told Pecos City Council members two weeks ago that he did not think the new 4B corporation could be held liable for debts assumed by the 4A corporation.

The council then turned down approval of the sale. Joe Keese, PEDC president and Chief Executive Officer of TransPecos Bank, told the council that the funds would be made available through his bank, in conjunction with the private sale of the 34.23 acres, which would allow PHA to then repay the loan.

“We will loan the Authority the money to buy the housing tonight, and we will then turn around and sell it,” Keese told the council. He said that by doing it through the bank, profits from any subsequent parceling of the I-20 frontage land for re-sale will go to a private developer instead of to the PEDC and the city.

Gomez said plans to sell the land to local CPA Randy Graham had been made, but Graham said on Thursday those would not go through at this time, after talking with Johnson and with Charles Kinner, legal council for HUD’s Texas office in Fort Worth. “I’m not going to do it, because it needs to be bidded out,” Graham said. “I talked to Scott Johnson, and he said the city has rejected it, but I think to protect the (PHA) board, they need to bid it out.”

Gomez said on Tuesday that while the status of the 34.23 acres remains up in the air, the PHA does now have title to the Farm Labor Housing.

“It’s ours. We went ahead and got a letter for the settlement of the debt yesterday (Tuesday),” Gomez said.

The letter, addressed to PHA board president Frank Perea from Scooter Brockette, Housing Program Director for the USDA’s Texas office, acknowledged the receipt of the $230,000 from the PHA for the purchase of the Farm Labor Housing.

“We went ahead and sent the money to (USDA) Fort Stockton on the 17th,” Gomez said, in order to meet the deadline set up by the federal agency for its $230,000 offer. “Mr. Keese and TransPecos Bank came through with his agreement to get us the loan.”

The actions by Burkholder and Keese in his role as PEDC president has raised some concerns about the sale process, before the decision to open the land for bids was reported. City Council members scheduled an executive session for Thursday evening’s regular meeting to discuss the duties of the 4A Economic Development Corporation President, a position that officially disappears with the creation of the 4B EDC on Monday.

Council members named seven board members to the new PEDC, only two of whom currently serve on the five-person 4A board. The new board is expected to have an organizational meeting to draw up by-laws and elect officers in early October.

Along with the Sept. 17 payment, the PHA received a letter from PEDC president Mike Burkholder, dated Sept. 18, formally withdrawing the corporation’s $230,000 offer for the 34 acres of land.

Gomez said the USDA made an original offer to the PHA of $250,000 for the 56-unit FLH apartments. The apartments had been appraised in value at $340,000 last year, according to the USDA letter sent to the PHA on Dec. 12, 2006.

“After we did some negotiating, we brought it down to $230,000,” Gomez said. The housing authority received word from Bryan Daniel, State Director of USDA, on July 17 that the compromise offer had been accepted, “But we had to come up with the money in the next 60 days.”

Gomez said the original agreement with the USDA for construction of the Farm Labor Housing was signed on June 30, 1980, with an initial federal loan of $126,000 for the project, which involved the construction of 14 units with four apartments each.

“We would have finished paying our note by 2013,” Gomez said. But with the lack of migrant tenants due to the shorter harvest seasons in the Pecos area, “The settlement was based on the fact we could no longer handle the loan and the only thing left was to break our agreement.

“There was no way we could go six more years on this agreement without defaulting,” she said. “We didn’t have any farmworkers who would occupy the housing for any length of time to keep the operation going. We kept getting in the hole, getting in the hole.”

Gomez said aside from the money PHA would receive for the 34 acres of land along the Interstate, the agency would also benefit from no longer having to maintain such a large area. She said upkeep of the unused land was costing about $10,000 per year.

Funds freed up there can be used towards rehabilitating the FLH apartments, while Gomez said now that the apartments are no longer subject to rental rules under the migrant housing program, rents could be raised to help pay for the improvements.

Gomez said she’s hoping that HUD will issue a formal ruling on the sale of the land soon, and the PHA can either then either negotiate a deal with a private individual, or open up the land for bidding.

“We want to try and move on it pretty fast, because we’re stuck with a loan payment. The sooner we can get it off our hands, the sooner we can start rehabilitating the Farm Labor property,” she said.

Contreras says county’s action 2ithin state law

Reeves County Judge Sam Contreras has challenged the claims of Reeves County Attorney Alva Alvarez that the county’s procedure in changing health insurance providers violated state law.

In a letter addressed to both Alvarez and former Reeves County Attorney Bill Weinacht, Contreras responded to some of the allegations published two weeks ago in the Enterprise. In his letter, the county judge defended the actions taken by commissioners in changing the county’s health insurance provider from Blue Cross/Blue Shield (BCBS) to a stop-loss plan underwritten through Lloyd’s of London.

“You stated the bid/proposal procedure in which Lynn Owens receives, reviews, and retains on file all bid/proposal materials was changed without notice to anyone,” Contreras said in his letter to Alvarez. “Mr. Owens is the county auditor, in which if there was anything wrong with the process he would have brought to my attention or yourself which is his duty to report.”

“You stated there was no agreed upon policy or procedure to replace the old procedure and there was no new procedure was employed at all. If there was no stated or unspoken procedure, where is the wrong doing?,” said Contreras.

“Your reference to Texas Local Gov. Code 262.926 in which you state I violated and state the proposals were not kept together in a place where the proposals could be reviewed by interested person. I asked the District Attorney (Randy Reynolds) for his opinion if there was a violation of the above mentioned code. In his response, he cites other statutes which clearly show there was no violation,” said Contreras.

“You state the health issue has become intertwined with the issue of raising salaries on the commissioners court. The issues are not intertwined as you state,” he said.

Contreras said that the quotes they received, clearly shows Blue Cross/Blue Shield to be over $600,000 more than Lloyd’s of London. He added that commissioners did not change the existing health plan in which the employees currently receive. Some people are under the impression that the existing health plan is BCBS. This has been a BCBS health plan; it has been Reeves County’s health plan in which the county had contracted with BCBS to administer.

“I spoke with county employees and heard their concerns and tried to assure them the county was not changing their benefits,” said Contreras. “Commissioner’s court also had to consider the cost, which could not be ignored - $600,000 more to stay with BCBS,” he said.

Contreras said under the base contract with Lloyd’s, employee benefits would have changed, if the county kept the $600,000 in savings the new plan would offer.

“What we did is passed the savings for the county to the employees, so we didn’t have to raise premiums,” the county judge said on Thursday.

In his letter Contreras told Alvarez the commissioner’s court reviewed countless hours of the presentations between the bidders and the process was fair.

“I ask you to go back and review the bids from previous years and ask yourself why there was not much discussion on the health insurance bid,” said Contreras. “Three years ago when the insurance was bidded out, there was only one bid – BCBS. The reason no one else bid was because BCBS did not provide the information needed to other vendors so they could submit a quote,” he said.

“Don Crawford, as you know has been the broker for BCBS; he stated several times in commissioner’s court that the county should have been at a higher stop loss due to the size of our group,” Contreras said, while criticizing the bid procedures taken by commissioners and then-County Judge Jimmy Galindo in recent years.

“Also, I question as to why in previous years the bids do not show the quotes for stop loss greater than $50k and different contract periods,” said Contreras. “It does not cost anything to have this addition information on the bids. I think if you research my questions you would have concerns as well.

Contreras also disputed allegations that threats had been made against other commissioners who did not go along with the change in health plans.

“I totally disagree with you, that there was vote trading and threat of retaliation against a commissioner. I and the commissioners take our duties and responsibilities very serious. We will diligently continue to do what is right morally and ethically,” said Contreras.

Fall Fair planners announce event schedule

A variety of food, arts and crafts will be available at the Annual Reeves County Fall Fair, scheduled for next weekend.

In conjunction, each school will have a booth featuring items and pictures from their campus will be on display at the fair, on Oct. 5-6 at the Reeves County Civic Center. “We’re very excited and hope to see everyone there,” said Pecos Area Chamber of Commerce Director Linda Gholson.

There will be a cake walk and a information booth, according to Gholson.

A sanctioned steer, lamb and heifer stock show will also be taking place at the back part of the Civic Center.

“We’ll also have a goat show, but that isn’t sanctioned,” said Gholson. “Anyone in the state can enter, even if they’re not in the Texas Livestock Association.”

A group of volunteers will be overseeing the stock show this year, since Reeves County Extension Agent Tommy Dominguez left town and has not been replaced, according to Gholson.

“All entries in the fair need to be turned in by Tuesday, Oct. 2, except for the culinary items,” said Gholson.

An enchilada plate sale will take place on both Friday and Saturday, sponsored by the Pecos Eagle Band Boosters.

The Pecos Rotary Club will be serving their famous pancake breakfast on Saturday morning at the civic center.

A barbecue cook-off will be held that weekend as well, at the Reeves County Sheriff’s Posse Arena.

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324 S. Cedar St., Pecos, TX 79772
Phone 432-445-5475, FAX 432-445-4321

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