County attorney seeks temporary suspension of RGC school board trustee

Starr County Attorney Victor Canales is requesting Daniel J. Garcia be temporarily removed from the Rio Grande City school board while a July court date to hear the petition for Garcia’s removal is pending.

On Friday, Canales, who is representing the state in the petition against Garcia, filed a motion requesting that the court appoint someone to temporarily replace Garcia on the board.

“Petitioner and Relator respectfully request that Defendant be suspended from performing the duties of being a Rio Grande City Consolidated Independent School District School Board Member,” the motion stated, “and that this Honorable Court appoint another person to perform the duties of the aforesaid officer, pending trial of this cause.”

Stressing the urgency of the situation, the motion further stated, “This filing is presented to the Court because of the current status of board governance in the Rio Grande City Consolidated Independent School District School Board and importance for immediate consideration.”

The mention of the status of the school board was a reference to the ongoing legal battle between two factions of the school board, Canales said Wednesday.

The legal dispute is largely over one faction’s attempts to hold a board meeting to approve major items, such as the hiring of a new superintendent, the reorganization of the board, the hiring of a new attorney, the approval of expenses and the settlement of a lawsuit.

The opposing faction of the board sought court intervention to keep the other board members from meeting, but those members eventually met on May 28. The validity of that meeting, however, is still being disputed.

“Our position is that given the nature of what’s going on, it’s incredibly callous to have an individual who’s indicted of scheming to launder federal monies being the deciding vote on federal monies,” Canales said.

Garcia, via his attorney Gocha Ramirez, filed an official response to the petition Friday denying all the allegations.

The petition was filed by Ricardo Lopez, a former employee with the school district.

Lopez cites the allegations that federal prosecutors filed against Garcia earlier this year as part of the basis for his removal.

Garcia was arrested in April in connection to an alleged bribery scheme involving the Weslaco water treatment facilities. Garcia, an attorney, is alleged to have helped funnel bribes to Weslaco officials from engineering companies who were after contracts to overhaul the water treatment facilities. Garcia pleaded not guilty to the charges.

In a separate motion filed Friday in which Ramirez requested a 30-day continuance, he noted that the first 15 paragraphs in the petition recite the counts in the federal indictment filed against Garcia.

“It is my understanding that the United States Attorney’s Office will not allow any agents to testify on the removal hearing to support these first 15 allegations,” Ramirez stated.

Canales said, however, that he could not say with any definitiveness that federal agents will or will not testify.

Lopez cites other allegations against Garcia as a basis for the removal, which include claims that Garcia abused his position on the school board to secure a place on the defense team for a murder case.

When he was an employee of the district in 2017, Lopez was arrested for allegedly attempting to bribe a judge who, at the time, was presiding over a murder case. In the petition, Lopez claims that Garcia orchestrated that attempt.

Garcia has not been charged on those allegations, a fact that Ramirez — his attorney — pointed out.

“In fact, the Petitioner Ricardo Lopez, Jr. is the only person who has been arrested for these bribery allegations,” Ramirez stated. “It is important to note that the Petitioner Ricardo Lopez, Jr. was arrested for the attempted bribery in November, 2017 and has yet to be indicted. Had he been timely indicted, he would be legally disqualified to serve as Petitioner in this removal proceeding.”

With those details in mind, Ramirez wrote that they were requesting a 30-day continuance on the initial hearing — currently scheduled for July 5 — to allow enough time to conduct discovery.

Ramirez further stated in the motion, “This thirty (30) day continuance is sought not for delay but to ensure that justice is done.”