Robert E. “Bob” Jones, who was at the center of a sprawling scandal in El Paso more than a decade ago, was released from the Federal Medical Center in Fort Worth on Aug. 23 after serving most of a 10-year federal prison sentence.
Jones, 74, went from being the El Paso Chamber’s Entrepreneur of the Year in 2005 to the target of a federal investigation that uncovered mountains of crimes while he was CEO of El Paso’s National Center for the Employment of the Disabled, or NCED.
Jones, his No. 2 executive at NCED, Ernie Lopez, and former NCED board chair Patrick Woods were indicted on 37 criminal counts in 2006 related to the embezzlement of federal funds and fraud offenses.
For his part, Jones was ordered to repay $68 million in restitution – $51 million to the United States, $13 million to NCED, which changed its name to ReadyOne Industries, and $2 million to the Ysleta school district for offenses related to the district’s health plan.
Federal District Judge Frank Montalvo also ordered that Lopez and Woods serve prison time and pay millions in restitution.
NCED was a small nonprofit in the Javits-Wagner-O’Day Program that employed disabled workers on federal contracts to make military clothing and postal boxes when Jones took over in the mid 1990s.
By 2005, he grew NCED to a $200-million-a-year operation with 4,000 employees, many of whom were displaced garment workers who weren’t severely disabled.
Meanwhile, Jones also had some of the nation’s biggest private packaging manufacturers churning out millions of boxes and other corrugated products. All bore an illegal stamp saying they were made by disabled workers at NCED.
The boxes were supposed to have been made by workers at the NCED box plant next to the company’s main plant at 11460 Pellicano on the Eastside.
“They bought them for cents and sold them for dollars,” said an NCED executive turned whistleblower who lit the investigation in 2005.
ReadyOne is a gainful operation today with 1,300 workers, most of them disabled, making the same uniforms and more. The federal agency charged with overseeing NCED’s operations changed its name to AbilityOne.
El Paso Inc. made an inquiry with the U.S. attorney’s office in San Antonio about how much of the $68 million was recovered from Jones but received no response.
Email El Paso Inc. reporter David Crowder at firstname.lastname@example.org or call (915) 534-4422, ext. 122 and (915) 630-6622.