The latest installment of the saga that is the Edinburg voter fraud investigation involves a fight over public information.
Last month, Jerad Najvar, a Houston-based attorney for Edinburg Mayor Richard Molina, tried to obtain public information from the Hidalgo County District Attorney’s Office about the ongoing investigation into the 2017 Edinburg municipal election, but the DA, Ricardo Rodriguez, refused to release most of it and asked the Texas Attorney General’s office for an opinion on the matter.
The move prompted the mayor’s attorney to send his own correspondence to the AG’s office. Najvar sent a letter to the opinion committee of the AG’s Open Records Division Nov. 9 in which he defends his right to the information and details alleged conflicts of interest on the DA’s behalf. He drafted the letter just a day after the AG’s office arrested 10 additional people in what is considered to be the second wave of arrests in the case.
In total, the AG’s office and Texas Rangers have arrested 15 people in connection with the alleged voter fraud in that particular election, with the first five arrests made in May.
“All he gave me was the probable cause affidavits that the state investigators filed for the first five arrests,” Najvar said about the DA via a phone interview last week. “He did not give me what I asked for, which was the complaints filed with his office that kicked off this investigation.”
Najvar believes Rodriguez should have recused himself because he suspects that the investigation against what he refers to as the “Molina faction” began after the DA’s aunt, former Justice of the Peace Mary Alice Palacios, filed a complaint with the DA.
“Certainly there’s an appearance of a conflict of interest,” Najvar said. “What I’m trying to find out is, is there more than just an appearance? Is there an actual conflict? I think we clearly should be entitled to know.”
Rodriguez previously told The Monitor his office had received some “information” and “started working on it,” with the Rangers and AG’s office eventually getting involved — a point Najvar made sure to underscore when he attached a copy of the May 24 Monitor article, which included the DA’s remarks, to the letter sent to the AG’s office.
When the DA was asked last week about the sequence of events and who had tipped off his office, Rodriguez said he could not remember.
“At this point, I don’t recall exactly,” he said. “I don’t know which came first, if any, but the AG’s office got it and the AG’s office contacted us that they were interested in investigating those allegations. I would have to go back and take a look at how exactly it started with the AG’s office being involved.”
Najvar also requested communications between the DA’s office and state agencies with the ultimate goal of finding out if Rodriguez or his office recused from the case and whether the DA disclosed any potential personal ties to state authorities.
“If he has not communicated that to the state authorities, that should be a red flag for the state authorities,” Najvar said about the DA’s alleged conflicts of interest. “Because I know that the assistant DA is one of the ones who is actively participating in this investigation and questioning all of these defendants.”
Rodriguez said last week he has disclosed all of his ties to state authorities.
“We have disclosed to the AG’s office exactly what the relationship is with those (individuals),” he said. “We have talked about this numerous times.”
Najvar also wants to know what happened to the allegations Molina made against the Palacios faction. About a week after the first round of arrests were made, the Edinburg mayor created an eight-minute video in which he called out several members of the Palacios’ family and lobbed voter fraud allegations against them.
But despite nine complaints filed with Rodriguez’s office against the Palacios faction, not much has come from it, Najvar said. Now he wants to know exactly what Rodriguez’ office did to those complaints.
“The facts that are in the other criminal complaints are even more compelling. It just raises questions,” he said of the allegations made against Rodriguez’ family members. “It seems like on the other complaints there’s no action being taken (and) I’m just trying to find out what happened to them. He says he got them and forwarded them, but they don’t want to answer any questions about them and I can’t determine if he ever did that.”
Rodriguez said all of the complaints are in the hands of state authorities. He has not recused himself and expects to help the AG’s office prosecute the arrests that have been made so far. But, he said, should state authorities investigate members of his family, he and his office would step away from those investigations.
“Once, and if, they get to those cases and they want to investigate… then I will not participate in any way in those cases,” Rodriguez said. “We will ask for another district attorney’s office to handle those cases.”
Still, it’s not enough for Najvar’s peace of mind.
“When you step back and look at this, there’s a disparity. There’s complaints against both sides, but one side is being investigated and one side is not,” he said. “You start thinking about why is that, and one explanation is that district attorney’s office has vested interest with the side that is not being investigated.”
“My vested interest is the citizens of this county and for me to do my job,” Rodriguez shot back. “I will comply with the duties of my (office)…and right now we’re assisting the AG’s office.”