EL PASO, Texas (KTEP) - Army veterans enrolled in a Park University class taught by attorney Roger Rodriguez at Fort Bliss say he promised as a judge he could help them get government jobs when they joined a group he started called the "Combined Veterans Association."
“I waited two years for him to get me a job,” David Poche, an Army veteran, told KTEP News. “And, I said ‘this guy is a liar’ so, I never got no job with him.”
KTEP News spoke to half a dozen veterans who attended meetings held by Rodriguez on the patio of a coffee shop in West El Paso. Members of the group say Rodriguez pressured them to recruit more members. Some allege he also collected fees in cash for legal services he did not perform. One of those clients says he harassed and threatened her.
The accusations are the latest involving Rodriguez, a traffic court judge for the Village of Vinton, and raise new questions about his role as a “legal advisor” for former District Attorney Yvonne Rosales.
Rodriguez recruited students with military backgrounds enrolled in a Homeland Security course to join his organization according to members who attended his meetings off post.
“He targets soldiers that just came back from deployment,” Leilani Hart, a retired Army medic said. “Because those soldiers already have full pockets of non-taxed pay during deployment. So, he would lure them over and push them to recruit some more.”
On a recording provided to KTEP News by one of the veterans of a meeting in 2019, Rodrigez tells the group, “If you want the jobs, they’re there and the recommendations are there. If you want a tie-in with the secret service, I’ll give you my recommendation.”
The veterans association was never registered as a nonprofit organization and has now disbanded.
Park University confirmed Rodriguez is an adjunct professor in “good standing” but is not teaching this semester.
“Park University is aware of two student complaints made in 2022 against Roger Rodriguez, neither of which pertain to University matters and his performance as a Park instructor,” according to an emailed response to questions.
Most members of the group who spoke with KTEP News did not want their names made public because they say they fear retaliation from Rodriguez.
Several said Rodriguez had a quota for each person to recruit 30 new members because veterans who joined left after a few meetings.
“There were folks that would come in and in a short amount of time, they’d realize ‘this guy is bogus.” Hart said.
Some veterans stayed hoping Rodriguez would deliver on his promises, including Poche.
“He promised us a police badge,” he said. “That’s the way he keeps the people in the group. Everybody was supposed to get a badge.”
Six veterans told KTEP Rodriguez promised to give them a badge that would allow them to work as security guards. At least three were “sworn-in” and given an ID with the title Bailiff, Village of Vinton seal, an expiration date of July 2021 and Rodriguez’s signature.
The cards were not valid.
A spokesman for Vinton said the municipality “does not employ a bailiff nor do we have a recent history of doing so.”
Village officials refused to confirm whether Rodriguez is still a traffic court judge.
He still appears on the website as a judge.
Instead of paid jobs, the veterans in the association became “volunteer” security guards for Rodriguez.
Others paid Rodriguez for legal services he did not perform as promised. One veteran said he hired Rodriguez for a DWI case.
Hart hired him to help her with a divorce. He required payment of thousands of dollars in cash.
“Seeing the Hoffmans, it was like reliving my own nightmare”
Rodriguez allegedly began harassing her when she would ask about the progress of her divorce. When she tried paying him with a check instead of cash Hart says he was infuriated.
“This could get me in trouble,” Hart said he told her.
Hart shared voicemail messages from Rodriguez with KTEP News where he is heard asking her to call back repeatedly. “I got tired of his threats,” she said.
When she didn’t return his calls, Hart says Rodriguez showed up at her home in 2021 and demanded payment in cash and fired a gun in her living room.
She pointed out the damage to her living room wall that looked like a bullet hole.
“That’s that hole,” she said. “I look at it and I keep reminding myself, that’s how close I came to being murdered in my own house by a judge, while his wife was standing there shaking with fear.”
Hart says she did not call police because she feared retaliation from Rodriguez. She says she decided to share her story after seeing the allegations about Alexander Hoffman’s family.
Hoffman was killed in the Walmart mass shooting. His widow and son say Rodriguez harassed and threatened them while he was working on Rosales’ behalf.
Thomas Hoffman testified in court in December Rodriguez brandished a gun during a breakfast meeting last year and alleged Rodriguez told him he had “snipers everywhere.”
Their attorney provided recorded conversations with Rodriguez and testimony to the FBI for further investigation.
“I believe the family,” she said. “Because if he’s out there pulling a gun on the family, he’s used to it. So overconfident that he’s untouchable.”
Hart says she’s still afraid to turn her lights on and watches television with the volume low so she can hear any noises outside because she is afraid Rodriguez will return.
One of the former members of the “Combined Veterans Association” told KTEP he bought Hart a security camera system as a precaution. He asked not to be identified, out of concern Rodriguez would retaliate against him.
Rodriguez did not respond to several requests for an interview or comment.
Rodriguez role in DA’s office
The allegations about Rodriguez’s veterans group raise new questions about his role at the DA’s office from 2021-2022.
In November, Yvonne Rosales resigned rather than risk being removed from office. And, she took the 5th amendment when asked about Roger Rodriguez’s role in her administration during her final court appearance in December.
Rosales described Rodriguez as a legal advisor during an earlier court hearing in September.
At that time, attorneys for the man accused in the Walmart mass shooting asked Rosales and former senior prosecutor Curtis Cox about Rodriguez. Defense attorney Mark Stevensasked Rosales if her office shared evidence about the shooting with Rodriguez and if he had played a part in trying to have Judge Sam Medrano removed.
Defense attorneys also asked if Rodriguez had met with the Hoffman family on behalf of the DA’s office. Rosales denied that had happened.
Defense attorney Felix Valenzuela also asked if Rodriguez was in the DA’s office at the time of the hearing. Cox said he was not.
But security camera footage shows Cox and Rodriguez along with his wife meeting on the third floor of the county courthouse that same day. The trio then walked to the DA’s office security door through a stairwell and remained in the office during the hearing.
Rodriguez was not on staff but represented the DA’s office in a Texas Ethics Commission Hearing in 2021. He was also the attorney of record for Rosales in her official capacity as the lead prosecutor for El Paso, Hudspeth and Culberson counties during a federal case as early as April 7, 2022.
According to court documents, Rodriguez was Rosales’ attorney of record in a case concerning Senate Bill 1, which set limits on assistance for voters who cast ballots. A lawsuit brought on by LULAC’s Texas branch and various organizations sued the state over the legislation.
KTEP reached out to Rosales’ attorney to request an interview and ask about Rodriguez’s role during her tenure.
Some of the veterans who joined Rodriguez’s association have spoken to the FBI. The FBI does not confirm or deny there's an investigation.
Aaron Montes may be reached at firstname.lastname@example.org; or on Twitter: @aaronjmontes.