The boss of a former San Antonio Army major sent to prison for a multimillion-dollar bribery scheme is under investigation herself, along with her husband, over allegations of bribery and contract fraud.
Velma “Bebe” Salinas-Nix and Kenneth H. Nix are suspected of accepting $270,000 from a Chicago contractor to help him land $45 million in government contracts, according to federal court documents.
Investigators with the Army’s Criminal Investigations Command and the FBI allege the Nixes awarded contracts to Vistas Construction of Illinois Inc., owned by Samuel Zepeda Jr., and other firms owned by his relatives or associates.
Bank records probed
As part of their probe, agents have been examining bank records and looking at six years’ worth of contracts awarded to Vistas and related companies in a case authorities believe could result in wire fraud, bribery and contract fraud charges. The Nixes and Zepeda deny any wrongdoing.
Salinas-Nix, 55, is a high-ranking civilian manager with the Army Contracting Agency at Fort Sam Houston that handles contracts in Central and South America and the Caribbean. A deputy director, she oversaw contracting officers, including then-Army Maj.
John Cockerham, but was suspended with pay last fall following raids in October at Vistas headquarters in Chicago and the Nixes’ posh, 6,850-square-foot, $1.8-million home in north Bexar County.
Nix, a retired Army captain, is alleged to have gone from key civilian contracting jobs within the Army to working in the private sector on the same contracts and back to jobs with the government that gave him influence on other contracts. His case highlights criticism from some public interest groups that this “revolving door” can lead to corruption.
Investigators learned Nix worked twice directly for Zepeda as his company vied for contracts that Nix might have helped handle while with the government or that his wife might have wielded influence over, according to a recently unsealed court affidavit.
Neither the Nixes nor Zepeda have been charged, although witnesses have been called to testify before a federal grand jury in San Antonio, the San Antonio Express-News found.
– By GUILLEMO CONTRERAS – SAN ANTONIO EXPRESS-NEWS – 4/11/2010