Hey Mom! I Stole $500,000

Wednesday, August 17, 2005
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Chris Uranga admits to misapplication of funds; acknowledges he owes Electric Reliability Council of Texas $500,000

GEORGETOWN - Texas Attorney General Greg Abbott today obtained the first guilty plea in an ongoing Williamson County case against six men under indictment for setting up an elaborate criminal scheme inside the Electric Reliability Council of Texas (ERCOT), the state’s electricity grid system.

James Christopher Uranga, 37, of Round Rock, admitted his role in setting up “shell” security companies with other indicted defendants and funneling contracts to these companies as a way to obtain millions of dollars in illegal payments from ERCOT.

James Christopher Uranga
“The true nature of this white-collar crime has gradually come to light and it is appalling in its scope,” said Attorney General Abbott. “This defendant can expect the same justice as any other person who engages in organized crime in Texas.”

A scheme involving three or more individuals, as in this case, rises to the level of organized criminal activity, a felony. In this scenario, Uranga used his position inside ERCOT to misapply funds to his benefit. He now awaits sentencing for a term of not longer than 15 years in prison, depending on how much of the more than $500,000 in estimated restitution Uranga can return to ERCOT and how much assistance he can provide in the prosecution of other ERCOT defendants. This may include his cooperation with authorities investigating related crimes that occurred in Travis County.

Attorney General Abbott agreed to pursue the investigation and prosecution last year at the request of Williamson County District Attorney John Bradley. Uranga entered his plea in 395th District Court.

In his role as director of information technology operations and corporate security at ERCOT, Uranga was uniquely positioned to funnel lucrative security contracts to his own companies without ERCOT’s knowledge. In some cases, contracts were created and invoices sent for work that was never done. Uranga reported directly to Ken Shoquist, ERCOT’s chief information officer, who recruited Uranga to ERCOT from Dell Financial Services. Shoquist remains under indictment and awaits trial on similar charges.

The scheme enabled Uranga and the co-defendants to steer contracts in such a way as to violate their ethical and fiduciary responsibilities to ERCOT, all without the knowledge and approval of its legal and accounting departments.

Three other defendants awaiting trial in coming months are:

• Steve Wallace, program development director (two indictments, $800,000 misappropriated and also indicted in Travis County on three counts of first-degree felony theft);

• Carlos Luquis, physical security manager (six indictments, over $100,000 misappropriated)

• John Cavazos, a nonemployee contractor and a shell company security director (one indictment, nearly $9,000 misappropriated).

One other indicted defendant, Chris Douglas, senior manager of ERCOT’s data warehouse, is currently cooperating with Attorney General’s prosecutors and is not set for trial at this time.

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