A woman who was kicked off the ballot for Elsa City Council six years ago due to a felony conviction is back on the Delta-area political scene, now as a campaigner for Ricardo Rodriguez’s bid for district attorney.
Rodriguez’s campaign paid Blanca Cruz $5,300 on Sept. 30 for contract labor for campaign services, a campaign finance report shows. Cruz sought a position on the Elsa City Council in 2008, but was removed from the ballot about six weeks prior to the election because a 1998 felony conviction in Michigan for retail fraud disqualified her under Texas law. She was also indicted in Hidalgo County for voter fraud in 2002, but those charges were later dropped.
“Yeah, I mean obviously I had her on from the beginning,” Rodriguez said by phone Saturday, adding that he was unaware of the conviction when he hired Cruz.
“The only thing that I had heard of was the case that she was indicted for, and that was dismissed by Mr. Guerra,” he added, implying the voter fraud case was dropped at the behest of his opponent, incumbent Hidalgo County District Attorney Rene Guerra.
Finance records Rodriguez supplied to The Monitor appear to show Guerra also paid Cruz $100 for campaign work on March 26, 2010, more than three weeks after his last reelection in 2010.
“I’m checking into it because I really don’t know why I would give $100 to someone after the election,” Guerra said.
But Rodriguez said that payment — and dropping the charges against her — shows Guerra considers Cruz an above-board contractor.
“Obviously he didn’t have a problem with it because he dismissed her case, and obviously he didn’t have a problem with her other conviction because he hired her too.”
But Guerra said the amount Cruz made from Rodriguez — which is considerably more than the few hundred dollars most contracted campaign workers earned from either candidate — raised eyebrows.
“My only question is how do you pay somebody $5,300,” said Guerra, who has been district attorney since 1982. “What are you asking that employee to do for you?”
Rodriguez said Cruz works for him out of a headquarters in the Delta and had been instrumental in organizing the campaign in that area.
“She’s helping me organize things out there and making sure we have the things we need out there,” the former 92nd state District Court judge said.
Cruz only listed a P.O. Box on Rodriguez’s campaign finance report and attempts to call a listed phone number yielded a busy signal on Saturday.
Rebecca Gonzalez, who received $100 from the Rodriguez campaign in October for contract labor, pleaded guilty in federal court Friday to buying votes in the 2012 Donna school district election. Another Rodriguez campaign worker, Guadalupe Escamilla, also has a case pending in federal court related to that election.
On Saturday, Rodriguez defended his hiring practices, saying his disclosing of the payments showed he had nothing to hide.
“It’s just transparency,” he said. “I’m showing the citizens what I have and who’s helping me.”