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Rep. Solomon Ortiz (D-Texas) has accepted tens of thousands of dollars worth of trips to China from a development corporation in his hometown that he aided by securing earmarks and other federal assistance worth millions of dollars.
Ortiz has also traveled on at least one of these trips with his former chief of staff, Lencho Rendon, who was working for Ortiz when he secured a $5 million earmark for the Robstown Improvement Development Corp. The corporation has now hired Rendon as a consultant. Robstown Improvement is a nonprofit, city-chartered corporation that uses sales tax revenue to try to spur economic development in the city.
Armando Gonzalez, president of Robstown Improvement, said the China trips are part of an aggressive effort on the part of the city of Robstown to lure foreign investment, and that Ortiz, a frequent traveler to Asia, is the best ambassador of our little town. ... He has a lot of relationships that are established there that pretty much open doors for us over there in our business relationships.
Weve invited him a few times to China with us on our trade missions, Gonzalez said.
On Jan. 2, Ortiz, Rendon and seven other businessmen and local officials flew to China for a nine-day visit sponsored by Robstown Improvement.
The documents indicate that Robstown Improvement paid just over $10,000 for the lawmakers transportation, lodging and meals, but Gonzalez said other participants on the trip, including two representatives of private companies, paid their own way.
Ortiz said there is nothing inappropriate about his travel. It would be inappropriate if it were quid pro quo, but that is not the case here. Im doing what Members of Congress do: bringing jobs, economic development and industry to my district and thats what I have been doing since I was elected to Congress, he said in an e-mail.
The Robstown Improvement Development Corporation is not a mere organization, but an arm of the City of Robstown, Ortiz said. The House Ethics Committee received my requests for travel with the RIDC to China and the Ethics Committee approved my travel in 2008 and 2009. Each time I am invited by entities or municipalities to trade missions, I try my best to join them in their economic opportunity efforts.
According to documents Ortiz filed with the House ethics committee, the purpose of the trip was to participate in the signing of a sister city agreement and to establish key users of the facility and open up trade relations for the Robstown Trade Processing and Inland Center.
Robstown Ortizs hometown is a city of fewer than 15,000 people located 15 miles inland of Corpus Christi, at the juncture of several major railways and a prime north-south highway. The Robstown Trade Processing and Inland Center is the development corporations proposed trade center that would consolidate warehouses, customs processing and inspections for cargo coming into the Port of Corpus Christi and provide centralized access to road and rail transport.
In fiscal 2009, Ortiz obtained a $237,000 earmark for the project, but it appears it was not the first time he secured funding for the center.