Spanish Heirs win access to Energy wealth in Texas Legislature - FOX 26 News | MyFoxHouston

Spanish Heirs win access to Energy wealth in Texas Legislature

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HOUSTON (FOX 26) -

In Austin, state lawmakers have written a new chapter in a century old tale of dispossession.

At issue, the energy wealth of South Texas and the claim by those who descend from the original Spanish settlers to what they believe is their rightful share.

"The old people kept talking about it, 'la herencia', the inheritance," recalled Miguel Alonso Martinez, a descendant of Juan Jose Manuel De La Garza Falcon, recipient of the San Francisco grant.

La Porte attorney Eileen Fowler has spent much of the last decade fighting for the Spanish and Mexican Land Grant families.

"It kind of makes me nauseated when I think how many doctors, how many teachers, how many professionals of all kinds would have come out of South Texas had these funds been flowing to them in the first place," said Fowler.

Through a combination of anti-Mexican bigotry, poor communication, negligent record keeping and out-and-out fraud, the descendants of many pioneer families contend they've been denied energy royalties, even though they never surrendered mineral rights.

For decades, oil companies have funneled the resulting unclaimed dividends to the state treasury, by some estimates, hundreds of millions of dollars worth and mostly from wells in South Texas.

After years of campaigning for accountability, attorney Fowler finally obtained confirmation of a critical fact from the Texas Comptroller's Office.

"She finally admitted to me, 'I have no way of knowing what oil companies send me'," said Fowler.

It was a game changing concession.

Bu law the was bound to audit oil companies and actively seek heirs to unclaimed funds. It had done neither.

 

"They never investigated or tried to find them and they pocketed the money," said Fowler

 

Those revelations inspired the Texas Legislature to pass State Represenative Ryan Guillen's House Bill 724, creating a first of its kind commission empowered to discover how much unclaimed mineral wealth the state is holding and the best way of distributing the cash to it's rightful owners.

"We feel that justice is finally being done with the passage of this law," said George Farias, historian and land grant heir.

So far, Texas courts have certified around 14,000 land grant heirs, a small fraction of the number that may be legally entitled to unclaimed royalties.

"It comes at a critical time because it comes during a surge in oil and gas production here in the state," said Farias.

"You have to do your genealogy and study your history to find out if you are eligible to file a claim," explained Diane Farias, George's daughter.

Clutching her grandmother's portrait, land grant heir Cecilia Gallardo Vallego calls the reckoning to come long over due.

"It's not about the money. It is about doing the right thing in every way," said Gallardo Vallego.

More than a century in the making, this distinctly Texas wrong, may now be on course for correction.

State Senator Judith Zafferini of Laredo guided HB 724 through the Texas Senate.

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