CEO of Texas ambulance company pleads guilty to bankruptcy fraud

Kenneth B. Ponce, 48, admitted to committing perjury while filling out paperwork about the company's assets and debts


The Monitor, McAllen, Texas

Mar. 18—McALLEN — The owner of one of South Texas' largest ambulance companies is facing up to five years in prison and was ordered to pay $124,000 in restitution Wednesday after he pleaded guilty to conspiracy to commit bankruptcy fraud.

Kenneth B. Ponce, 48, of Lyford, admitted to a federal judge that he committed a slew of offenses during bankruptcy proceedings for Hidalgo County EMS, a private company that, despite its name, is not affiliated with the local government entity.

Ponce served as CEO of the Hidalgo County Emergency Services Foundation — which the federal government collectively referred to as Hidalgo County EMS because it does business under that name, as well South Texas Air Med and South Texas EMS.

According to a news release from acting U.S. Attorney Jennifer B. Lowery, Ponce admitted he committed perjury when filling out federal bankruptcy court paperwork about the company's assets and debts, failed to disclose or falsified certain transactions in order to conceal property from the bankruptcy estate and fraudulently received material amounts of property from the estate and permitted others to continue to do so.

"As part of the plea, Ponce admitted to fraudulent agreements involving an Edinburg property," the news release stated. "The purpose was to forfeit equitable interests and restructuring of over $264,000 in order to give another individual preferential treatment over other creditors."

Other violations involved aircraft the company used.

"Hidalgo County EMS was also paying WFAS Inc. for leases on the exclusive use of two airplanes. Ponce owned WFAS," the U.S. attorney's southern district office said in the news release. "In bankruptcy filings, Ponce said the leases were dedicated to emergency transfers. In reality, at least one of the planes was inoperable during portions of the bankruptcy."

Ponce also personally used the planes and arranged its chartered flights.

"Ponce would retain the profit, while Hidalgo County EMS paid the leases," the release stated. "Ponce also knew of certain payments Hidalgo County EMS made towards a residence in McAllen he personally used, as well as other payments not actually for the benefit of Hidalgo County EMS.

Ponce also admitted he received "an interest payment" from $50,000 another individual embezzled from the Hidalgo County EMS bankruptcy estate, the document stated without identifying who reportedly embezzled the money.

The FBI conducted the investigation with the assistance of the McAllen Police Department, and on Wednesday, U.S. District Judge Randy Crane accepted the plea and set Ponce's sentencing hearing for May 26.

He faces up to five years in prison and was permitted to remain on bond pending his hearing.

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(c)2021 The Monitor (McAllen, Texas)

McClatchy-Tribune News Service

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