In San Antonio this morning, 47-year-old San Antonio businessman Elpidio Gongora (aka “Pete Gongora”) pleaded guilty to federal charges in connection with a scheme to defraud personal injury clients; evading payment of more than $1.6 million in taxes; and, attempting to hide assets valued at $429,000 from the Bankruptcy Trustee. That announcement was made today by United States Attorney Richard L. Durbin, Jr.; Christopher Combs, Federal Bureau of Investigation (FBI) Special Agent in Charge of the San Antonio Division; William Cotter, Internal Revenue Service (IRS) Criminal Investigation Special Agent in Charge; and, Judy A. Robbins, U.S. Trustee for the Southern and Western Districts of Texas.
Appearing before United States District Judge Fred Biery, Gongora pleaded guilty to one count of conspiracy to commit mail fraud, one count of bankruptcy fraud, and one count of tax evasion. According to court documents, from 2009 through 2014, Gongora, aided and abetted by his co-defendants–Rosa Ramirez, Juan Rodriguez, and Ronald Higgins–operated the law offices of several personal injury attorneys, including the Law Office of Ronald Higgins in the city of San Antonio and elsewhere in Texas, Arkansas and New Mexico. Ramirez, age 49 of San Antonio, Rodriguez, age 48 of San Antonio, and Higgins, age 55 formerly of San Antonio, await jury selection and trial currently scheduled for September 12th. All three are charged with one count of conspiracy to commit mail fraud. Ramirez is also charged with five counts of mail fraud and five counts of aggravated identity theft.
By pleading guilty, Gongora admitted that he stole money from the personal injury clients by failing to pay monies owed to clients under settlement agreements or to pay obligations for medical treatment and physical therapy after committing to do so. To carry out this scheme, Gongora collected the proceeds of fraudulently endorsed personal injury settlement checks and would hide from the attorneys his failure to pay clients settlement proceeds to which they were entitled.
In 2013, Gongora and his wife filed for Chapter 7 Bankruptcy in the Western District of Texas. By pleading guilty, Gongora admitted to his failure to disclose to the Bankruptcy Trustee that he owned personal assets that included a 33-foot Chris Craft cabin cruiser; a 29-foot 2005 Seaswirl boat; a 2005 Ford F-150 truck; real property located on Elm Valley in San Antonio; and, a residence located in Aransas Pass, TX.
By pleading guilty, Gongora also admitted that he willfully attempted to evade paying over $1.6 million in taxes, penalties and interest owed to the Internal Revenue Service for calendar years 2003 through 2005 and 2007 through 2013.
Gongora faces up to 20 years in federal prison for conspiracy to commit mail fraud; up to five years imprisonment for bankruptcy fraud; and, up to five years imprisonment for tax evasion.
This investigation was conducted by agents with the Federal Bureau of Investigation (FBI), Internal Revenue Service-Criminal Investigation (IRS-CI) and the U.S. Trustee’s Office. Assistant United States Attorney Bud Paulissen is prosecuting this case on behalf of the Government.
An indictment is merely a charge and should not be considered as evidence of guilt. Ramirez, Rodriguez and Higgins are presumed innocent until proven guilty in a court of law.