SAN ANGELO, TX – Trial proceedings began in the case against local bail bondsman Ray Zapata yesterday morning. Currently Zapata is being tried on counts of forgery, theft, and money laundering.
How did we get here?
The saga began with John Edward Sullivan. He was a millionaire in San Angelo who was arrested for one count of possession of child pornography and online solicitation of a minor on March 27, 2014. Taking into account Sullivan’s extensive resources, his bond was set at $1,000,000. Ray Zapata, a local bail bondsman, and Armando Martinez joined together to pay the bond.
Sullivan was found dead by Zapata and Martinez, two months after Sullivan had been released from jail. His death was deemed the result of natural causes. John Young, Sullivan’s attorney, presented a new will dated two days before Sullivan’s death. In the new will, Sullivan allegedly named Young the sole beneficiary of his estate. Zapata was listed as the witness. An investigation ensued, and as a result, Zapata was alleged to have written Sullivan's will. Now Zapata and Young face several charges relating to fraud and theft.
Above: John Sullivan, inset, was found dead in is home during the summer of 2014. This is the scene on his street on June 4, 2014. Sullivan left a small fortune, and criminal and civil court cases are attempting to sort it all out. (TGCJ and John Basquez)
The History of the Sordid Affair of Ray Zapata, John Young, and John Sullivan
3/27/2014 – “DPS Arrests 77-Year-Old Man for Child Pornography and Online Solicitation of a Minor” – The Texas Department of Public Safety (DPS) executed a search warrant at the residence of John Edward Sullivan, located at 516 South Jefferson on the night of March 26,2014. Sullivan, age 77, was arrested and charged with online solicitation of a minor and possession of child pornography, both third-degree felonies. Additional charges against Sullivan were possible at that time. The search was a result of a seven-month investigation by the DPS Criminal Investigations Division (CID), which began in August 2013 with a complaint of obscene phone calls to the San Angelo Girl Scouts of America office.
6/4/2014 – “Accused San Angelo Pedophile Dead at 77” – Sullivan, who had been charged with child pornography and online solicitation of a minor was found dead in his residence on the afternoon of June 4, 2014, then Police Chief Tim Vasquez confirmed. John Edward Sullivan, 77, likely died of natural causes. Police confirmed that there would not be a criminal investigation of his death.
6/6/2014 – “Affidavits Detail How Sullivan Preyed Upon Young Boys” – The affidavits detailed the accounts of at least three juvenile victims of sexual contact, intercourse, and sexual performance over a period that began between February 2009 and February 2010 and concluded with Sullivan’s arrest on March 26, 2014.
Also included in the affidavits were summaries of reports from four adults in San Angelo, who filed complaints and completed interviews with law enforcement officers that described Sullivan as a pedophile and child predator.
The summarized chronology of the documents detailed allegations ranging from telephone harassment and solicitation to sexual oppression for money and 'pimping out' children. It also included allegations of requesting to have someone adopt a child from Ecuador and hand the child over to Sullivan thereafter.
8/2/2014 – “The Will: Sullivan Leaves His Fortune to His Defense Attorney” – The estate of John Edward Sullivan was officially handed over to his defense attorney on August 2, 2014, when the court denied a request to appoint an administrator made by a former friend of Sullivan’s who had interest in the estate.
In a handwritten will dated June 2, 2014, Sullivan designated attorney John Stacey Young as the executor and sole beneficiary of his estate, leaving all of his money, assets and personal effects to the defense attorney “in case of some unexpected emergency or death”.
Two days later, Sullivan was found dead.
3/26/2015 – “San Angelo Bail Bondsman, Defense Attorney Accused of Forging Will of Alleged Pedophile” – A San Angelo bail bondsman and a high-power defense attorney have both been indicted on multiple felonies that center on the will of alleged pedophile John Sullivan, who died of natural causes in 2014.
Zapata bonded out of jail on the afternoon of March 26, 15, a few hours after he was booked. Jenkins A-Action Bail Bond posted the $45,000 on Zapata's behalf. Zapata is an employee of Jenkins.
3/27/2015 – “A San Angelo Lawyer Tipped Off Texas Rangers About Ray Zapata” – At the time, of Sullivan’s death, no foul play was suspected, however when a handwritten will was submitted in a probate hearing 12 days later, another local attorney, who knew Sullivan, Zapata and Young, grew suspicious of the whole deal.
Local attorney Joe Hernandez, attended the probate hearing in Judge Ben Nolan’s court on June 16, 2014, and reported his suspicions and concerns to Texas Ranger Nick Hanna two days later. Having heard Hernandez’s concerns, Ranger Hanna obtained handwriting samples of Ray Zapata from previously written bail bonds and contacted San Angelo Police Detective Rodney Black, a handwriting expert, to examine the writings.
After meeting with Hernandez, Ranger Hanna turned to the second bail bondsman, Armando Martinez, who had been present with Zapata when Sullivan’s body was found. Martinez reported that when they found the body, Zapata called Young to tell him of Sullivan’s death. He then took a picture of the body, Martinez said, and allegedly sent it via MMS or email to an unknown recipient.
4/6/2015 – “Woman Claims The Late John Edward Sullivan Was Her Brother and Wants His Estate” – Her brother had been dead for one month and 19 days before Louise Chabot heard anything about it. The information was passed through a telephone call from a relative who had read the news on July 23, 2014.
Working quickly to gather the information and pen the motion, local attorney Mark Brown, filed a two-page document with the county court on July 28, 2014 titled “Heir’s Appearance and Motion for New Trial” on behalf of Louise Chabot.
The document was thin and provided little information on the grounds for the request, but in filing, Chabot became the first to question the validity of the will on the record.
Despite her efforts to prove her relation to Sullivan and claim his estate, Chabot’s motion for a new trial was denied by Judge Ben Nolen on a number of grounds. Nolan ruled that Chabot had exceeded the 30-day time limit to file a motion for a new trial and further ruled that she hadn’t proven who she was.
5/8/2015 – “Victim's Attorney: Sullivan's Estate Could be Drained Before Trial” – Since 2014, the court proceedings involving, Sullivan, Zapata, and Young, had been tied up in the courts, and as lawyers move toward trial, the estimated $4.5 million liquid estate had rapidly dwindled down to comparative pennies. Nearly $2 million of the funds were dispelled by Young before the court appointed a temporary administrator on Jan. 13, 2015, and an estimated $750,000 has been doled out since 2014 as a penalty to the taxman.
With lawyer’s fees—already estimated to be at or over $50,000—nipping at the remainder, one attorney for the plaintiff, Houston-based Hank Stout, expressed concern that by the time a jury is seated, the once voluminous liquid estate would have run dry.
5/28/2015 – “Attorney Ordered to Reveal What He Did With Sullivan's Money” – For little over seven months, Young conducted what he termed a “marshalling of assets” in the Sullivan estate, during which he identified and renamed foreign and national bank accounts, transferred funds, paid expenses, located and sold properties and real estate notes, took in lease and note payments and made charitable contributions to a variety of organizations.
All of those actions were documented in the accounting, however the pages, high in number, were bare-bones. Michael Deadman, temporary administrator of Sullivan’s property as of January 21, 2015, requested to know what happened to the missing dates, names, receipts, statements, checks, sales invoices, faxes, letters and emails—virtually everything in the paper chain that would demonstrate what funds were received and what was done with those funds before he took over as administer of the property.
6/8/2015 – “Handwriting Samples: Who Penned Sullivan's Will?” – No one knows who wrote Sullivan’s will.
7/7/15 – “Zapata's Accused Accomplice Aces Polygraph” – “No Deception Indicated” was printed in bold below a series of five questions posed in two recent polygraph examinations, during which attorney John Young denied allegations of forgery and perjury as relates to the handwritten will of his deceased client, John Edward Sullivan.
8/7/15 – “Tom Green County Suspends Licenses of Two Local Bail Bondsmen” – Zapata has his bonds license suspended. Owner of Jenkins A-Action Bail Bond, David Jenkins, also had his license suspended. Jenkins bonded Zapata out after he was arrested on 3/26/15.
8/21/15 – “Zapata Bail Bonds Barred from Business in Tom Green County” – Zapata Bail Bonds is now officially out of business in Tom Green County. At a regular meeting of the Bail Bond Board, five of six present members voted not to renew the expiring license, effectively dissolving the company that has been under suspension since Aug. 4, 2015.
9/24/2015 – “Attorney Ordered to Pay Back Funds to Sullivan Estate” – Judge Jones ordered Young to pay back the $90,000 within six months at a 5 percent interest rate. The attorney was also been ordered to submit another supplemental accounting of his use of the estate funds within a month of the hearing.
4/12/2016 – “Ray Zapata’s Attorneys Get Closer to Trial” – At a pre-trial hearing on April 12, 2016, Zapata’s defense team reached an agreement on motions before the trial. They also agreed to have additional evidence analyzed. Mainly, the attorneys requested handwritten documents to be sent to Austin for an analysis of the handwriting of the will John Sullivan left in order to prove that it was not Zapata’s writing on the document
10/20/2016 – “Wheels of Justice Slowly Turn in Ray Zapata, John Young Perjury Cases” – Both Mark S. Snodgrass, attorney for Zapata, and Daniel W. Hurley, attorney for Young, agreed to set a Pre-Trial for January 30, 2017, to begin at 10:00 a.m. Additionally, Snodgrass requested a proposed order for an expert witness who has the expertise on the topics of wills and estates.
1/3/2017 – “Top January Felony Court Cases in Tom Green County” – Zapata and Young are scheduled for a January 30, 2017 Pre-Trial.
1/30/2017 – “Zapata & Young Attend Pre-Trial Hearing That Occurred Behind Closed Doors” – All discussions during the January 30th pre-trial occurred behind closed doors in Judge Jay Weatherby's chambers. However, according to sources, the purpose of the January 30th Pre-Trial was to present a “Motion to Quash Indictment” for Zapata and a "Motion to Dismiss Indictment Because of a Lack of Probably Cause to Charge and No Evidence to Convict Beyond A Reasonable Doubt" on behalf of Young.
1/31/2017 – “State’s Case Against Ray Zapata, John Young Falls Apart” -- Daniel Hurley, Young’s attorney, argued in a sealed court plea obtained exclusively San Angelo LIVE!, that the much ballyhooed handwriting analysis of Sullivan by San Angelo Police Department Detective Rodney Black was bunked by the DPS Crime Lab. He attached the two reports in the 32-page document dump on Jan. 23, just days before the state handed down a new indictment.
4/3/2017 – “Ray Zapata & John Young Finalize Trial Dates in Forgery Case” – Zapata and Young finalize trial dates. Zapata solidifies a May 8, 2017 trial while Young an October 16, 2017 date. Both defendants have opted to have the jury select the punishment if they are found guilty.
Above: Ray Zapata enters a sheriff's vehicle before being booked into the county jail; smiles for his mugshot. (LIVE! Photo/John Basquez)
Zapata and Young are going to trial separately. For Zapata, jury selection began yesterday morning and continued into the afternoon hours. Zapata is currently represented by Mark S. Snodgrass, a Lubbock attorney. Snodgrass is a graduate of Texas Tech University and received his law degree from the St. Mary’s School of Law. He opened his own firm in Lubbock in 1999 and has since been practicing in the Lubbock and surrounding areas. Snodgrass' firm represents clients who are involved in state cases such as DWI, Sex Charges, Homicide, as well as federal cases including Fraud and White Collar Crimes.
Representing the state is Shane Attaway, who works under the Texas Attorney General’s Office in Austin. Attaway was the prosecutor in charge of the charges against former Robertson County District Attorney John Paschall, who allegedly misappropriated over $200,000 in the 13 years he served as a trustee for the money. Attaway will be prosecuting both Zapata and John Young, also a suspect in the forgery case surrounding Sullivan's estate. Young's trial is expected to begin sometime in October of this year.