Allegations of illegal contributions in city commission race

After an unsuccessful bid for Brownsville City Commissioner At-Large in 2011, Martin Sarkis is trying his luck again.

This time he TMs running for the District 3 seat being vacated by Commissioner Melissa Zamora who is not seeking re-election.

But according to Sarkis one of his three opponents is not playing fair.

According to the Texas Election Ethics Code, candidates cannot accept political contributions from corporations. Sarkis said Deborah Portillo accepted $250 from the Jewelry Corner Inc.

"To me that's wrong, you have to be clear with people, and (have) a lot of transparency," Sarkis said.

Sarkis filed a criminal complaint with the Brownsville Police Department, but said the move is not to hurt Portillo's campaign. However, he said he said for every mistake there is a consequence.

"I really, really feel sorry for her but I had to bring it up, Sarkis said. Because I mean, if you want to be a city commissioner, again you have to be really, really transparent."

But the 28-year-old entrepreneur said this is her first time running for office. She admits to the mistake, but adds it was simply that - an oversight - not an attempt to break election codes. Portillo said she was the one who caught the mistake, and called the Texas Ethics Commission for guidance.

"They assured me that it was something that happens often, that it was nothing to be alarmed about - just to report it (in my expense report) as a refund of contribution money to that corporation," Portillo said.

Portillo insists she is a transparent candidate and believes the complaint filed is an attempt by Sarkis to taint her campaign.

"I would like to question Mr. Sarkis (on) why he hasn't discussed paying his back taxes," Portillo said. "Why he filed for bankruptcy and tried to get out of paying his personal debt, Portillo said. I don't think that's the person we should be looking to."

Cameron County Elections Administrator Chris Davis tells Action 4, the complaint against Portillo does not disqualify her from the race and she remains on the ballot.

A Brownsville Police Department spokesman confirms the complaint was received last week, and is currently being reviewed to determine if further action is needed.

There are two other candidates in this race, Rosalio Leo Rosales and David Belleperche. Rosales did not want to get involved in this issue and did not comment.

Belleperche said although it was probably a mistake by the newcomer Portillo, Sarkis had the right to file the complaint.

Election Day is May 11.