A family owes SA River Authority close to $750K. The public entity has been able to recoup none of it.
SARA now moving to have father, son at center of dispute to be held in contempt of court
SAN ANTONIO – Years after a Bexar County jury ordered a father and son to pay back close to $750,000 to the San Antonio River Authority following a land dispute, officials with the public entity concede they have been unable to recover any of the money.
The river authority’s general counsel, David Ross, admitted during an interview late last year that it is unlikely SARA will get back all of the money.
“It’s hard to say, but I think that we may get some of it back,” Ross said.
13-year-old land dispute
The dispute between SARA and father and son Jesus and Rene Sanchez is rooted in the construction of Mission Reach, the eight miles of walk and bike paths that move in sync with the San Antonio River.
While the $271 million project was mostly funded by Bexar County, SARA was its project manager and was responsible for acquiring the land needed to complete it.
River authority officials first approached the Sanchez family in 2006, stating they needed to purchase from them two unoccupied plots of land along the 100 block of Mitchell Street, public records show.
“Make the river more of a natural habitat than just the strict, engineered drainage ditch that it was,” Ross said.
The two sides, however, were far apart on how much the land was worth.
Records show SARA had the tracts of land appraised for $123,000, while the Sanchez family contended the land was worth several million dollars.
Adding a wrinkle to the growing land dispute was the Sanchez family’s decision to switch attorneys multiple times before settling on Carlos Uresti, the disgraced state senator currently serving a 12-year federal prison sentence for his role in an unrelated failed frac-sand company described by prosecutors as a Ponzi scheme.
While Ross said he does not believe there was malfeasance on the part of Uresti during the Mission Reach land dispute, records show the very high appraisals for the land came back after Uresti was hired.
Records also show the feud eventually went to court and was assigned to three special commissioners, all Bexar County landowners who determined a fair value of the properties.
The special commissioners awarded the Sanchez family $1,547,937, according to records.
SARA followed the ruling, deposited the money into an account for the family, took control of the properties and began developing them.
The Sanchez family withdrew the funds in June 2011, records show.
However, the dispute was far from over.
SARA officials, who disagreed with the special commissioners’ award, decided to challenge it in court.
Following a trial in May 2016, a jury lowered the award to $800,000, meaning the Sanchez family was required to return more than $747,000.
To date, the family has failed to begin paying back the funds, records show.
“The reality is a Bexar County jury thought the property was worth $800,000 and the Sanchez family has done nothing to appeal the judgment,” Ross said.
Ross confirmed a lien was filed against both Jesus and Rene Sanchez and a SARA spokesman said last month that the river authority is moving forward with the appropriate court filings to find the Sanchez’s in contempt of court for failing to respond to discovery requests.
“My dad doesn’t have any more money, period.”
When reached by the Defenders, Rene Sanchez said he would first need to speak to his attorney before agreeing to talk about the case. He then did not respond to a follow-up request to be interviewed.
His brother, who asked not be identified or have his face shown, said his father, Jesus, is elderly and has health problems.
“My dad doesn’t have any more money, period,” the man said.
The family member said Uresti’s 2017 arrest and subsequent legal problems took Uresti’s focus off of their case and was a big reason they did not appeal the jury’s decision.
“It complicated things because we should have appealed it,” the man said.
He described SARA’s initial negotiations to buy the properties an “insult” and said his family was low-balled by the public entity from day one.
Ross pointed out that SARA acquired between 80-90 properties in order to complete Mission Reach. Fewer than 10 went to special commissioners and the Sanchez case was the only one that ended with a jury trial, Ross said.
Bexar County Judge Nelson Wolff declined a request to be interviewed for this story.
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