DA under pressure to probe more voter fraud cases

Houston attorney accuses McAllen candidate of illegally voting

A Houston attorney filed a criminal complaint last week accusing a candidate in the upcoming McAllen municipal election of voting illegally in Mission, and a few days later, he published a video on social media accusing the Hidalgo County District Attorney of being selective in prosecuting these cases.

Attorney Jared Najvar filed the complaint against Tania Ramirez with the Mission Police Department March 1 after news surfaced that she voted at least three different times in 2018 Mission elections — this despite swearing under oath in her District 4 candidacy application that she has been living continuously in McAllen since early 2017.

“Voting where you know you don’t reside and you’re not eligible to vote is a second-degree felony under Texas law,” Najvar said in a video he posted to his law firm’s Facebook page on Tuesday.

The allegations against Ramirez are of special interest to Najvar for two reasons — he’s representing a group of individuals accused of committing voter fraud in the 2017 Edinburg Municipal Election; and because of Ramirez’s ties to DA Ricardo Rodriguez.

The McAllen candidate previously worked as an assistant district attorney under Rodriguez’s leadership.

“She went to his swearing-in ceremony in January after his re-election; he went to her campaign kick off event there in McAllen,” Najvar said in his video.

The Houston attorney, who specializes in state and federal electoral law, believes his clients, which include Edinburg Mayor Richard Molina and his supporters, were targeted by Rodriguez’s office because of their political affiliation.

Last year, Rodriguez’s office partnered with the Texas Attorney General’s office in investigating what the latter alleged was an “organized” voter fraud scheme stemming from the Edinburg 2017 municipal election, in which Molina and his slate took control of the city. That investigation led to the arrest of 14 people connected to the mayor, his slate and their supporters.

Najvar, however, alleges the DA is “aggressively” targeting political adversaries and turning a blind eye to alleged voter fraud committed by the DA’s friends and family. Shortly after the first wave of arrests occurred in May 2018, Najvar’s clients submitted to the Texas Secretary of State’s Office their own allegations of voter fraud involving the DA’s family and friends.

And the secretary of state’s office agreed that five out of 21 different complaints filed by Molina’s supporters should be further investigated for felony voter fraud, and referred the complaints to the AG’s office, Najvar said.

“It’s been eight months, and as far as I know, the attorney general’s office hasn’t been out interrogating those people like they have been on the other side of this,” he said. “I’ve reviewed the probable cause affidavits that have been filed to support the arrests of the people who are being arrested, and I’ve also reviewed the complaints the Molina side has filed against the Palacios side, and they’re essentially the same. They’re based on the same kind of allegations, the same kind of crimes.”

Both sides have filed “a series of very serious criminal complaints, but only one side is being investigated, and being investigated very vigorously while the complaints against the other side are completely ignored,” Najvar continued.

Rodriguez responded Friday to Najvar’s criticism.

“I would say that if anybody has any questions about selective prosecution, they can contact the AG’s office,” Rodriguez said.

Ramirez, for her part, denied any wrongdoing.

“They’re just using this as a distraction, but I didn’t do anything wrong,” she said. “They’re going to have to arrest a whole bunch of young professionals if that’s what they’re going for.”

Ramirez declined to explain why she voted in Mission elections while reportedly living in McAllen.

“I’d rather not respond to that until I do an official filing,” she said. “If they want to file a lawsuit or criminal charges, whatever they decide to do, I’ll respond to that once they do that.”

But as of Friday afternoon, Rodriguez’s office had yet to receive the criminal complaint from Mission police. Investigator Art Flores, the Mission PD’s public information officer, did not respond to multiple requests for information regarding the police report’s status.

A source inside the police department, however, said the complaints usually take between five to eight days to be processed. The one against Ramirez was still being processed and police were “making phone calls” to determine which agency should investigate the claim.

“He’s the district attorney with jurisdiction to enforce the law and investigate felonies of the election code, so he needs to investigate it,” Najvar said about Rodriguez.

But Rodriguez said that if his office receives the complaint against Ramirez, he will have to recuse himself from the case because Ramirez was his former employee.

“I would get the Texas Rangers involved or the AG involved,” Rodriguez said, adding that he would ask the AG or an adjoining county to handle the prosecution.

Najvar has been trying to get Rodriguez to recuse himself and his office from the case against his clients because he believes the DA has a conflict of interest. The DA’s aunt, Mary Alice Palacios, created the dossier that detailed the alleged voter fraud that Najvar’s clients are accused of committing.

And the Houston attorney believes the allegations were made because family and friends of the DA lost political power to Molina and his faction following the 2017 municipal election.

“And the Palacios family didn’t take kindly to being ousted from power, you can say,” Najvar said in the 11-minute Facebook video.

Rodriguez, however, believes there’s a difference between the Ramirez and Molina cases when it comes to recusing himself.

“The difference is one is a case where our office would be solely prosecuting a defendant who was a previous employee,” he said. “The other would involve prosecution where the lead agency is the AG’s office with our assistance on (a) case where (a) family member made (a) complaint to the secretary of state and then forwarded to AG’s office.”

It was the AG’s office that made the decision to investigate the complaint filed by his family member, Rodriguez said.

“If the AG’s office would’ve decided not to investigate, then the case on (the) complaint would be closed and done with,” he said.

When asked about the credibility of the complaint Najvar filed against his former employee, Rodriguez declined to comment.

“I’m not going to comment on that, at all. I’ll let someone else look at it and decide,” the DA said.

Najvar said in his video that a lot can be learned by the way Rodriguez handles the Ramirez case, but whether the case makes its way to his office remains to be seen.

“I think just the big picture here is that the law needs to be enforced and it can’t be enforced selectively according to political affiliation,” Najvar said. “So I hope that at a minimum the attorney general’s office starts to see what’s going on in Hidalgo County and does the service that they’re supposed to do — that they are uniquely able to provide — which is to stand above these conflicts of interest and enforce the law evenhandedly.

That’s what the people of Hidalgo County need to happen.”