Elsa city manager accused of using position to intimidate political rival

New details have emerged in the arrest of Edcouch-Elsa school board trustee and Elsa City Manager Juan Jose Ybarra, who was taken into custody by Texas Rangers on Monday evening.

Ybarra faces two counts of abuse of official capacity and one count of misuse of official information.

According to a probable cause affidavit released Tuesday, Ybarra is accused of using his position as Elsa city manager to obtain confidential official records for the purpose of intimidating his political opponent into withdrawing from the November 2018 EEISD school board election.

“Ybarra, with intent to obtain a benefit and to harm or defraud Esiquiel Avila during the 2018 Edcouch-Elsa school board election, intentionally and knowingly violated a law related to Ybarra’s employment as a public servant,” the affidavit reads.

First elected to Place 1 on the school board of trustees in 2005, Ybarra was seeking re-election this past November when another man, Esiquiel “Zeke” Avila chose to run against him.

According to the affidavit, almost as soon as Ybarra learned of his political opponent, he moved to try to dissuade Avila from running by allegedly threatening to make Avila’s confidential arrest records public.

Avila filed his application to run against Ybarra on the last day to submit a candidate application — Monday, Aug. 20, 2018. At approximately 4:30 p.m. that same day, Ybarra called Elsa Police Chief Primitivo Rodriguez to request an in-person meeting, the chief told investigators during an interview on Nov. 29.

During the meeting, Ybarra asked the chief for a “criminal offense report” about Avila. Rodriguez found and then handed the report to Ybarra outside the Elsa Police Department just two hours later, the affidavit reads.

From this stems the misuse of official information charge, and one of the abuse of capacity charges. Authorities allege that Ybarra used his position as Elsa’s top administrator to gain the records for a “non-governmental purpose” and “for a political purpose.”

The police chief told Texas Rangers “he was not aware of the nature of the request or why Ybarra would express interest in (the) case report.”

Later that evening, Avila’s wife received a series of text messages with photographs of what appeared to be Avila’s confidential arrest records. The messages had come from the wife of another school board trustee, who — along with her husband — were at a “school board election filing day party” at Ybarra’s home.

The woman told investigators in a Nov. 30 interview that Ybarra had been showing the arrest records to people at the party and “that he was going to release the information from the report to the public.”

Avila told investigators he received similar threats after filing to run against Ybarra.

Ybarra allegedly let the woman photograph the report, which she later sent to Avila’s wife.

Investigators obtained three photographs from the woman’s phone and discovered metadata, including geotags, which indicated the photos had been taken at Ybarra’s home at approximately 11 p.m. on Aug. 20, 2018.

The Rangers later interviewed Ybarra on two occasions — Dec. 20, 2018 and Jan. 8 of this year. It was from these two meetings that he is also charged with the second count of abuse of capacity “by misapplication.”

Elsa City Attorney Gus Acevedo sat in on both meetings as Ybarra’s legal counsel, the affidavit reads. When investigators asked Acevedo who was paying for his legal representation of Ybarra, the attorney replied, “Well, I kinda came in my capacity as the city attorney.”

Texas Rangers arrested Ybarra on Monday. He was arraigned by Hidalgo County Precinct 2, Place 2 Justice of the Peace Jaime “Jerry” Muñoz just hours later and released on $2,000 personal recognizance bonds.

Ybarra ultimately won his re-election bid, defeating Avila by nearly a 2-to-1 margin.

He did not return a message seeking comment as of press time Tuesday.

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