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Jose Santos Coria doesn’t apperceive if the badge still chase him. He knows he’s still doubtable of abounding things, not all of which he denies.
It’s true, he says, that he came to the United States as a avoiding from Mexico, answerable there with the afterlife of two bodies in a car blast in 1996. Find him at his boutique on Singleton Boulevard — or at one of his abounding architecture sites in West Dallas — and he may alike acquaint you he already agitated tens of bags of dollars above the bound to accounts his new activity in Dallas.
It’s a lie, he says, that he led an organized abomination arena actuality — admitting he pleaded to a basal allegation afterwards Denton badge accused him of that in 2009. Badge said he set up burglaries above Texas and congenital houses to acquit bags of banknote buried below his bedchamber floor.
The 72-year-old abettor hadn’t heard that he’s a actuality of absorption to U.S. board on both abandon of the border.
Coria is acclimated to such questions. Afterwards years of arrests and accusations, they chase him everywhere.
Everywhere, that is, except Dallas Burghal Hall, area Coria has become one of the city’s best abounding buyers of lots advised for affordable housing.
Since 2012, the year he pleaded guilty, Coria has purchased three dozen lots from the city, mostly in West Dallas. He buys the acreage bargain for $5,000 a artifice but allocates millions of dollars for construction, alms adverse explanations for the origins of his funds.
The acreage is advised to accommodate homes to low-income families. But Coria has generally awash to his ancestors who were already acreage owners, annal show.
He’s done it all with the Burghal Council’s blessing, and few questions asked at Burghal Hall.
In a sombrero and scuffed shoes, Coria absolved into his barn-box abundance one October afternoon, accustomed a arrangement for a abode about the block that he’d aloof sold.
Customers army Discount Architecture Material, area bargain screws and shingles actuality the shelves. Its freeholder now owns backdrop on about every block in the square-mile adjacency that flanks his shop.
He owns added homes bottomward Singleton, abutting to the burghal skyline, and added bottomward the Trinity River.
Coria took a bench on a little armchair abreast a discounted toilet. He reflected on success and the agitation that’s appear with it.
Everybody wants to apperceive how he’s bogus his money, he said.
“The badge administrator himself … told me with an interpreter: How was it accessible that I, a Mexican afterwards studies, afterwards speaking English, had added money and acceptable added than they did?” Coria said in Spanish.
He was apropos to an claiming — one of several he’s endured aback abrogation the abutting forests and acreage of southwestern Mexico for the United States. Coria grew up poor in that country, he said.
He was bent not to abide so.
By 1996, he had scrabbled calm a cord of bodegas, ranches and taxis abreast the apple of Angao, area devious dogs roam the attenuate paved street. He was chauffeuring a brace forth a ample alley that year, he said, aback a allotment barter ran his auto off the ancillary of a mountain. His cartage were killed, and he was answerable with two counts of vehicular homicide.
He abolished afore he could angle trial, Mexican cloister annal show.
“I did appear fleeing,” Coria said.
He and his wife went aboriginal to Arctic Carolina, area his brothers lived. Coria kept a low contour there, and the assassination allege in Mexico allegedly did not baffle with his accustomed citizen cachet in the United States — a cachet he maintains admitting all that’s happened since.
Nor did Coria’s avoiding cachet anticipate him from authoritative trips aback to Mexico, he said. He awash his businesses and two ample ranches there and agitated the gain arctic above the border, he said. He afresh carried $10,000 or so at a time to abstain declaring the money to customs, he would afterwards acquaint police.
After a few years stateside, Coria confused to Dallas and opened Discount Architecture Material. It was one of two architecture accumulation shops he endemic by 2009 — the year a beachcomber of coffer heists swept architecture sites and Coria came to the absorption of bisected a dozen U.S. law administration agencies.
At first, the thefts seemed like coincidence. Towers of shingles lay about attentive forth highways. Not alluring loot, but badge estimated a truckload of shingles ability be account tens of bags of dollars.
And the thieves seemed well-organized.
“They pale your hours of business, they accelerate a anchor to watch the place, afresh they all alpha cloudburst in,” said Cynthia Reynolds Hale, administrator of a Denton accumulation abundance that absent two truckloads of shingles.
Mike Sweet, a Denton badge investigator, noticed that hauls from the Denton annexation — like added coffer thefts in Wichita Falls, Fort Account and Lancaster — all angry up at one of two accumulation shops in Dallas.
“The accepted denominator in these locations is Jose Santos Coria,” Sweet wrote in his case notes.
The Dallas, Denton and Wichita Falls badge departments teamed up with the Texas Administration of Accessible Safety to investigate the thefts, surveilling burglars for hours afore arresting them in bite operations in at atomic two cities.
Investigators drew up a blueprint of the doubtable abomination ring. At the bottom, immigrants who blanket for a few hundred dollars a night. At the top, Coria.
At atomic three thieves told badge that they’d been threatened: Accumulate quiet, or their administration would abuse them or their families.
A aggregation baton told Denton detectives that “threats had been bogus adjoin those who are confined in advertence to authoritative statements adjoin Coria,” according to a case anecdotal in Coria’s cloister file.
A Denton badge address said the aforementioned man was so abashed to allotment advice that he batten in coffer breaths, “his easily befuddled and he had his anxiety captivated about the armchair legs.”
In interviews with The Dallas Morning News, Coria acerb denied alive the thieves — let abandoned aggressive them.
On July 19, 2009, a badge auto barter pulled up alfresco Discount Architecture Material. Officers had raided Coria’s added boutique a few weeks earlier, cataloging endless of shingles and lumber, appliances, cabinetry, windows, cases of caulking and screws.
“Dallas PD was able to affirm a ample allocation of the capacity in the barn and backyard to accept been baseborn from assorted jurisdictions,” said a Wichita Falls badge address from that raid.
Police bedfast Coria and collection to his home — a custom-built brick abode with corrective fleur-de-lis fences, abundant nicer than surrounding blocks in West Dallas.
Officers went through the advanced aperture babble “Search warrant!” Coria said his adolescent grandson wet his pants in fright.
“Coria said that he has no money at his house,” a Denton badge address noted. “He said he is a poor man who has to assignment every day.”
In the adept bedroom, badge begin purses with their bulk tags still attached, new shoes and furs. In addition room, roaches and earwigs scurried through affirmation broadcast about the floor. Coria’s absolute acreage annal were amid items seized.
In Coria’s bedchamber closet, an administrator noticed a button-up shirt with a billowing pocket. Central was a white coffer envelope, and central that were 150 hundred-dollar bills.
Other shirt pockets hid added envelopes. Badge begin added in the bathroom, and yet added beneath the floorboards. About all the envelopes were blimp with $15,000.
“Judge — we bedeviled $375,000 CASH out of his abode on Sunday,” Denton Badge Detective Rachel Fleming wrote afterwards Coria was arrested on money bed-making and annexation charges. “He is a flight accident with MANY added allege coming.”
He was accusable on one charge: agreeable in organized crime.
In interrogations, Coria aboriginal said he adopted the hidden banknote from his brothers, according to the Denton badge report. Afresh he said it came from the sales of his assets in Mexico.
Like added board on the case, Fleming didn’t accept a word.
“He’s authoritative his money from affairs baseborn goods, and afresh he’s axis about and putting that money in acreage to try to legitimize it,” she told The News this year. “Money consistently leaves a trail.”
In her investigation, Fleming begin out U.S. Immigration and Community Administration already had a book on Coria. An ICE abettor told her that visitors to the United States had been advertisement abandoned lots he endemic as their final destination, according to annal in his cloister file.
And the envelopes bedeviled in 2009 weren’t the aftermost of Coria’s hidden cash. Two years later, while apprehension trial, he was chock-full at DFW International Airport accustomed $32,000 banknote aback from a appointment to Mexico, according to a Biologic Administration Administration investigator’s affidavit.
He had declared the banknote at customs, but a biologic dog alerted to it, the investigator wrote. Agents went to Coria’s abode and begin addition $80,000 hidden in a TV cabinet. A dog flagged those bills, too.
A appropriate abettor asked Coria if he acclimated biologic money to armamentarium home construction.
“Coria abhorred eye contact, looked bottomward and shrugged,” DEA assignment force administrator Scott Hansford noted.
“They accused me of actuality the greatest smuggler,” Coria told The News in one of several interviews this fall. He said badge angry off a recorder at key credibility in his interrogations, aria in belletrist and apparently bogus evidence.
He said the aboriginal backing of banknote had appear from sales of his backdrop in Mexico, and that the drug-tainted banknote in his abode was all profits from his store. He acicular out, correctly, that biologic dogs sometimes detect out banknote that’s had abandoned casual acquaintance with narcotics.
And he said that for all the accusations, biologic allege never embodied and his abuse in Denton was light.
Court annal appearance the accompaniment of Texas and the U.S. government alternate about a third of the banknote they bedeviled from Coria in 2009 and 2011, befitting the rest. He accuses the authorities of wrongfully demography his money and exaggerating the bulk that they bedeviled from his house.
He cut a accord in October 2012. Denton prosecutors agreed to bead the organized abomination allegation in acknowledgment for his accusable appeal to theft. He would serve acquittal for bristles years, but no bastille time.
“Why did the adjudicator set me chargeless if I’m so like that?” he said.
The confidence didn’t apathetic him down. That aforementioned year, Coria brought his absolute acreage business to Dallas Burghal Hall.
“I accept formed in everything,” Coria said, sitting in a baby armchair amid the aisles of Discount Architecture Material as his workers bankrupt up for the day.
But his years in business — from taxis to bodegas — accomplished him something, he said.
“If I’m a bake-apple man, the bake-apple rots,” he said.
He coiled a sales arrangement for a anew congenital house. “This, it doesn’t rot.”
Often, Dallas works with nonprofits like Habitat for Humanity to advance affordable housing. The burghal acquires empty acreage from owners who abatement abaft on their taxes and sells it to developers for $5,000 a artifice — on action that a home be promptly congenital and awash to a low-income buyer.
“If they accept not formed with us before, we appetite to accomplish abiding we analysis them out thoroughly,” apartment administrator Bernadette Mitchell told Burghal Board members, who accept all sales to developers, during a analysis of the acreage coffer affairs aftermost year.
Mitchell did not acknowledge to assorted inquiries from The News about Coria’s captivation in the program.
No one at Burghal Hall appears to accept arrested Coria’s bent history aback he aboriginal activated to buy land. He didn’t owe the burghal any taxes and had congenital houses before. The board accustomed him as an affordable apartment developer eight weeks later.
Coria told The News he capital to advice his “Mexican countrymen” buy homes in West Dallas, a historically Hispanic adjacency that is fast acceptable prime absolute acreage for affluent developers.
On July 19, 2012 — absolutely three years afterwards his aboriginal arrest — the burghal awash Coria three lots abreast the aperture of the Margaret Hunt Hill Bridge that affiliated burghal Dallas to a planned development of flush restaurants.
He congenital two houses and awash them to his son and daughter, who both already endemic added backdrop and co-directed Coria’s absolute acreage company.
The burghal told him not to advertise to ancestors again, Coria said. But acreage annal appearance that he awash affordable houses to his grandson and addition son a few months ago.
To date, the burghal has awash Coria 36 lots, all but one in West Dallas. Annal appearance he’s awash seven lots with houses to bodies alfresco of his ancestors for at atomic $120,000 each.
But four others accept gone to his relatives. And best of Coria’s affordable apartment developments abide abandoned acreage continued accomplished the architecture timetables he agreed to — alike as the affairs is active out of acreage for added West Dallas developers.
Despite his bent history, admitting the hidden envelopes of $100 bills, admitting sales to his relatives, burghal admiral say Coria isn’t necessarily actionable the rules of a affairs meant to actualize homes for banal families.
“He can advertise to his brother, his daughter, his wife — as continued as they are low-income,” said the city’s acreage coffer manager, Terry Williams, whose tiny administration manages hundreds of affordable apartment developments. “We animate that.”
In his paperwork, Coria told the burghal his accouchement and their spouses abutment families on $75,000 or beneath a year, and were accordingly eligible.
What he didn’t acknowledgment was that he and his accouchement are all founding admiral of Coria Corp., which owns 16 residential backdrop about Dallas.
And acreage annal appearance three of Coria’s children, forth with their spouses, all endemic above residences aback they bought affordable homes from him.
Williams didn’t apperceive that either but said a city-approved applicant abandoned needs to alive in a abode on the day of the sale.
“That’s apparently article that needs to be adapted bottomward the road,” Williams said, blaming a accompaniment law for any loopholes in the program.
Williams said he abstruse of Coria’s annexation confidence abandoned afterwards The News began allurement questions about Coria. Aback told of the assassination allege in Mexico — which accept aback asleep — the hidden banknote and money bed-making accusations, Williams said the burghal ability attending into them.
“People allege bodies of all kinds of things,” he said, “so I’d accept to accept appealing acceptable proof.”
Between the acreage Coria bought from Burghal Hall and the acreage he won at auctions or purchased privately, he and his ancestors association own 58 residential lots in Dallas accumulated in the aftermost decade, annal show. Addition 25 backdrop are in the names of his children, for whom Coria said he pays taxes and provides architecture materials.
And he’s architecture houses faster than anytime before. Dallas admittance annal appearance that Coria and Coria Corp. accept spent $2.7 actor on architecture aback 2009, aback badge accused him of bed-making hidden banknote through construction.
His children, abandoned or with their spouses, accept spent addition $1.1 million, annal show. And the Corias accept anchored permits for at atomic addition $1 actor in construction, bringing the ancestors house-building account to about $5 actor aback his arrest seven years ago.
Asked how he paid for it, Coria said he sells his backdrop for big profits.
But canton annal appearance he doesn’t cast many. About every acreage Coria bought is still endemic by him or a abutting relative. Coria and his association accept awash aloof 14 Dallas backdrop — some from the acreage coffer and some not — to bodies alfresco his family. Two of his sales came aftermost week, aback he bankrupt on an affordable abode and an abandoned lot.
And in bisected the sales to non-relatives, Coria or his aggregation financed the buyer’s mortgage, according to accomplishment records.
Later in the interview, Coria afflicted his explanation, adage he pays for architecture with profits from Discount Architecture Material — by affairs appurtenances bargain and out-pricing civic rivals like Home Depot. But he said he didn’t apperceive how abundant he acceptable through his abundance or spent on construction.
Coria’s business annal were aftermost bogus accessible in 2009, aback board got a authority of a tax acknowledgment berserk out of accompany with his coffer statements, architecture activities and the stockpiles of cash.
“Jose Santos Coria: Living the American Dream on $73,000 per year gross income” is the appellation of a government slideshow presentation tucked into his cloister book — apparently apparent to a admirable board and illustrated with photos of Coria’s backdrop and hidden cash.
Alejandro Perez, an accountant who able that tax acknowledgment for Coria and still works for him, told The News that Coria adjourned his architecture through profits from his abundance and a $400,000-plus loan. But Perez said he didn’t accept his applicant had spent as abundant on architecture as burghal permits indicate.
Speaking anonymously, accepted and above federal admiral told The News that Coria charcoal a actuality of interest, although they chock-full abbreviate of adage what their absorption is in him.
Coria accustomed that authorities accept generally doubtable him of biologic trafficking, but he afresh denied any bent entanglements actuality or in Mexico. He said he was blind that federal agents accept an absorption in him.
Coria’s longtime friend, Enrique Chavez, declared Coria as a appropriate man, admitting not a adult one. Chavez, who runs a amphitheater in West Dallas, said his acquaintance is “a ability aback it comes to administration money” yet “terrible with numbers” — an administrator who spits out calculations in his arch but relies on his sons to address bottomward buzz digits.
Chavez said he’s warned Coria not to accumulate so abundant banknote around.
“Cash generates suspicions, and I won’t lie to you, I’ve had my own suspicions,” said Chavez, who declared himself Coria’s claimed adviser. “But I would say I’m about sure, 90 percent sure, he’s not complex in bedraggled money.”
But allegations accept followed Coria aback his aboriginal arrest.
In a alternation of clandestine operations in 2010, the Texas Administration of Accessible Safety awash Coria and his ancestors what they believed were baseborn goods, the bureau declared in a report. No one was answerable in that case.
Nor did the DEA agents allegation Coria afterwards abduction the drug-tainted banknote in 2011, admitting he did absorb several weeks in jail.
He was aback in a corpuscle in 2014, aback U.S. bound aegis agents chock-full him afterwards a cruise to Mexico. They were anxious his annexation confidence ability accomplish him disqualified to acknowledgment to the United States, according to annal in Coria’s Denton cloister file. But he was eventually cleared.
For his problems in the United States, Coria afresh abhorrent biased badge and rivals anxious of his success, which is axiomatic above West Dallas.
Coria absolved from his abundance through the blocks crabbed Singleton, casual acreage he’d bought from the city, new brick houses he’d congenital and yet added still underway.
He absolved accomplished some architecture workers sawing in the backyard and into one of the houses he built. He showed off sun-drenched apartment with aerial ceilings and intricate trim — abundant nicer than annihilation Habitat for Humanity builds, he said.
Long afterwards abrogation Mexico, he said, he’s become a benefactor in his apple — sending money aback for the aged and disabled in Angao. Now abounding in Dallas see him that way too. Kitchen workers and abode painters with baby accouchement — sometimes his buyers appearance up on his balustrade with chocolates or added ability of gratitude.
“Where I alive they didn’t alike appetite to accord me a charter and you trusted in us and you gave us the house,” one applicant told Coria, he said, as a smile aerial his little mustache.
“If I accept many, why can’t others accept one?” he said.
And Coria’s abounding houses now extend above West Dallas.
A few afar southeast, he has bought up after blocks of battered houses and awkward lots and in their abode is architecture homes above and above than annihilation in West Dallas.
1/6Santos Coria’s daughter, who bought a acreage coffer home from him in 2013, additionally owns this two-story home beneath architecture in southern Dallas, annal show. She acquired the acreage from a about in 2016.((Nathan Hunsinger / Staff Photographer))
2/6Santos Coria’s absolute acreage aggregation awash this acreage to one of his grandsons in August, on the aforementioned day that the grandson bought a acreage coffer home from Coria, accomplishment annal show.((Nathan Hunsinger / Staff Photographer))
3/6Santos Coria’s absolute acreage company, Coria Corp., owns this acreage in southern Dallas with two residential buildings, a loading berth and an animated gazebo. A about transferred the acreage to Coria Corp. in 2013, accomplishment annal show.((Nathan Hunsinger / Staff Photographer))
4/6A Coria Corp. home in southern Dallas, attentive by a fleur-de-lis fence.((Nathan Hunsinger / Staff Photographer))
5/6The Coria backdrop in southern Dallas accept busy fences with beastly motifs.((Nathan Hunsinger / Staff Photographer))
6/6The Coria ancestors name has been anchored into the aboideau of one of the homes in southern Dallas. It belongs to one of Coria’s brothers, annal show.((Nathan Hunsinger / Staff Photographer))
These houses will be for him and his family, Coria says. They are his finest by far: adamant fences, angled argent and yellow, campanology Coria’s gazebo, Coria’s clandestine loading berth and Coria’s assemblage of miniature horses. Bottomward the street, the ancestors name is anchored to his brother’s aboideau in adorned letters.
But abaft these estates, on a ancillary artery area apart dogs allegation at cars, a baby lot he bought from Burghal Hall aftermost year still sits empty.
It’s his aboriginal affordable apartment development in southern Dallas. He was declared to accept congenital a abode on it months ago and awash it to a low-income ancestors by now.
This fall, his ponies sometimes aching on the weeds.
Special contributor Alfredo Corchado contributed to this report.