Marty Schladen of the El Paso Times serves up a sub-prime, Grade Z Bum Steer in the person of former El Paso County judge Dolores Briones, who pled guilty to a charge of “conspiracy to commit theft or embezzlement of federal program funds” in December. At that time, Briones, who was a judge from 1998-2006, also left her job with an Austin think tank. 

Now, Yolie Flores, a friend of Briones who is the CEO of California’s Communities for Teaching Excellence, has written a letter that essentially says, “the cancer made her do it.” She’s also attempting to raise $36,000 for Briones’ anticipated court-ordered restitution costs. 

As Schladen wrote:

Briones is awaiting sentencing by Montalvo for her role in a scheme to defraud the county of $550,000 — much of it federal money — from the Border Children’s Mental Health Collaborative, a program meant to bring children home from out-of-town residential facilities.

She pleaded guilty in December to the conspiracy, in which she took $24,000 in bribes to steer the work evaluating the program to LKG Enterprises Inc.

Flores’ letter, titled “Supporting Dolores Briones,” apparently was sent out via email on Friday. It never uses the word “bribe,” but it said that because of her cancer, Briones “encountered fog and gaps in concentration and cognition, experiencing lapses in judgment and struggling to process information.”

According to El Paso Times archives, Briones was diagnosed with breast cancer in October 2004 and given a clean bill of health a year later.

Garcia [one of Briones’ co-conspirators] pleaded guilty to a document that said Briones started discussing a bribe with Madrid in mid to late 2005 and that she took monthly payments until Dec. 23, 2006.

Schladen notes that the letter doesn’t mention that Briones has already admitted guilt, referring only to a “pending federal charge,” and “makes it sound as if Briones committed her crime in a misguided attempt to start the Border Children’s Mental Health Collaborative,” even though the program began in 2002. 

The letter also makes deft use of “air quotes” to soft-pedal the offense:

“We need to help [Briones] raise money for what is called ‘restitution’ — to essentially ‘pay back’ the public for the mistake,” it says. “This will help tremendously when the judge makes a final judgment on what Dee’s ‘punishment’ will be.”

Flores also asked that someone find Briones three months of “consulting” work at $1,200 a month, which would make her eligible for $1,700 in unemployment from the state of Texas. 

Schladen does note that according to the Mayo Clinic website, cancer patients who receive chemotherapy can suffer from so-called “chemo brain” for as long as two years. But its symptoms tend to involve memory, learning and attention span, not loss of civic judgment.

Certainly, the Times‘ readers weren’t buying the excuse, with many cancer survivors (and relatives of cancer survivors) weighing in with Facebook comments:

Speaking as a cancer patient who underwent chemo, I may joke about Chemo Brain but I don’t expect to evade responsibiity for my actions! What a nauseating spectacle. – Marshall Carter

That’s offensive. Of all the people I know with cancer none have committed crimes as a result of the cancer. Seriously disgusting! – Sylvia Alonzo 

Of course, lack of morals are becoming a cancer on our society. – Lila Grossinger