Elsa City Manager Juan Jose “J.J.” Ybarra was arraigned here on two counts of misuse of official information in connection with allegations that he tried to intimidate his political rival during last November’s Edcouch-Elsa school district board election.
Ybarra’s arraignment Wednesday in the 430th state District Court came after a grand jury indicted him on the two third-degree felony charges on Aug. 27, Judge Israel Ramon Jr. explained.
The city manager pleaded not guilty to both counts after waiving a public reading of the charges.
Ybarra was arrested in April on three separate charges in connection with the case — one count of misuse of official information, and two counts of abuse of official capacity. Already free on a $1,000 personal recognizance bond in relation to the April misuse charge, Ramon assessed an additional $3,000 PR bond Wednesday for the second count handed down by the grand jury. Ramon allowed Ybarra’s defense attorney, Oscar Vega, to transport Ybarra to the county jail, where he posted bond hours later, county records show.
The charges stem from allegations made by Esiquiel Avila, who ran against Ybarra for Place 1 on the Edcouch-Elsa board last November. Avila alleges that Ybarra used his position as Elsa city manager to obtain Avila’s confidential arrest records in order to try to intimidate Avila into withdrawing from the race.
According to a probable cause affidavit, Ybarra’s alleged political intimidation of Avila began the same day Avila filed his candidate application to run against the longtime incumbent, who was first elected to the school board in 2005.
That day, Aug. 20, 2018, Ybarra allegedly contacted Elsa Police Chief Primitivo Rodriguez to request Avila’s 2014 arrest records. In turn, Rodriguez — who later told investigators with the Texas Rangers that he was unaware of “why Ybarra would express interest” in the file — retrieved the records and handed them over to the city manager, an April probable cause affidavit reads.
Later that night, Avila’s wife began to receive text messages containing photographs of Avila’s arrest report, the affidavit reads. The text messages came from the wife of another school board member, who was at the time attending an “Election filing day party” at Ybarra’s house, she later told investigators.
The woman, who is friends with Avila’s wife, also claimed that Ybarra allowed her to take the photographs of the police records and that Ybarra had told attendees at the party that he would release them to the public.
Investigators were able to download the photos from the woman’s phone, court records show.
When Ybarra was first charged in April, authorities alleged he misused official information by sharing the police records with the wife of a fellow school board member.
After the grand jury convened in August, it handed down the second charge of misuse of official information, alleging Ybarra used his position as Elsa city manager to illegally obtain those police records.
Ybarra was also arrested on two counts of abuse of official capacity in April — one, in relation to the misuse of official information, and the second “by application,” according to the probable cause affidavit.
That second count of abuse of official capacity came after investigators allege Ybarra used Elsa City Attorney Gus Acevedo as his personal defense attorney during two separate interviews with investigators — the first on Dec. 20, 2018, and again on Jan. 8 of this year.
When asked by investigators during the January interview who was paying him to represent the city manager, Acevedo allegedly said “Well, I kinda came in my capacity as the City Attorney.”
On Sept. 6 — just 10 days after the grand jury handed down the two felony charges in state district court — prosecutors filed two Class A misdemeanor charges against Ybarra in County Court at Law No. 4 in relation to the allegations regarding his use of the city attorney during the investigation. An arraignment on those charges is slated for Nov. 1, court records show.
Meanwhile, Ybarra is not slated to return to court until a Nov. 4 status hearing after prosecutors requested additional time to review evidence. “There is quite voluminous digital discovery in this case, and so I will need an external hard drive from defense for that discovery,” a prosecutor said in court Wednesday.
Both Ybarra and his attorney, Oscar Vega, declined to comment Wednesday.