Feds allege La Joya mayor authorized fraudulent purchase

Government prosecutors allege La Joya Mayor “Fito” Salinas authorized the city’s purchase of property from the city’s former city administrator, who on Tuesday pleaded guilty to federal theft related to that transaction.

Mike Alaniz, 56, retired as the La Joya city administrator in June in the midst of a federal investigation tied to his sale of property to the city.

During his re-arraignment on Tuesday before U.S. District Judge Micaela Alvarez, the government alleged that on approximately Aug. 7, 2012, Alaniz attended a property auction on the city’s behalf.

The intent was to purchase land for future infrastructure projects, but Alaniz also purchased property for personal use while he was there, including Lot 112 of Palm Shores Subdivision for $9,700.

Then, from approximately Jan. 15, 2017, to Feb. 23, 2017, Alaniz sold the lot to the city for $39,500.

“At the time of the sale, the defendant knew that the fair market value of Lot 112 was approximately $15,500,” the government prosecutor stated during the re-arraignment Tuesday. “However, he used his position as the city administrator to get the city of La Joya, utilizing city funds, to purchase the property at the inflated rate, thereby receiving at least $24,000 that he is not entitled to.”

The prosecutor added that Alaniz obtained approval for the purchase from the mayor of La Joya, who at the time was, and still is, Salinas.

Alaniz said he agreed with the government’s account.

Salinas flatly denied the government’s claim when reached by phone Wednesday, arguing that purchases authorized by the mayor would have to be authorized by the city commission as a whole. That never happened, he said, because the purchase of that lot was never brought before the city commissioners.

“We never knew anything about it and we still don’t know who signed the check,” said Salinas, who is currently running for re-election. He added that he was surprised at reading the charges against Alaniz because he thought Alaniz’s sister owned the property.

“I don’t know anything about it because it did not come to us on an agenda item,” he said. “We never approved it, neither verbally or officially.”

Alaniz is accused of embezzling, stealing, obtaining by fraud, or otherwise without authority knowingly converting the use of another’s property, or intentionally misapplied property valued at more than $5,000.

He was released on Tuesday on a $25,000 unsecured bond, set by U.S. Magistrate Judge J. Scott Hacker, pending his sentencing hearing, which is scheduled for Jan. 9, 2020.

If convicted, he faces up to 10 years in prison, up to three years of supervised release and a fine of up to $250,000.