Mike Alaniz, the former La Joya city administrator, pleaded guilty Tuesday to a federal theft charge.
Alaniz, who retired from the city in June, is accused of stealing, embezzling or fraudulently obtaining property valued at more than $5,000, according to the criminal information.
He pleaded guilty before U.S. District Judge Micaela Alvarez to the charge, which is based off allegations that Alaniz used his position as the city administrator to have the city of La Joya purchase Lot 112 of Palm Shores Subdivision for $39,500.
That lot is now owned by Alaniz, according to the criminal information.
As part of the plea, the government will seek to approximately $24,000 worth of property from Alaniz and the government may seek to impose a money judgment.
U.S. Magistrate Judge J. Scott Hacker issued Alaniz a $25,000 unsecured bond and Alaniz was ordered released.
Alaniz could not be reached for comment Tuesday but his attorney, Ricardo Salinas, said he thought Alaniz accepted responsibility for what he was involved in.
“The right thing to do,” Salinas said. “I think that the overall loss is going to be whatever the loss was to the city.”
“We live in difficult times and I think that anybody who wants to hold public office or anybody who wants to get involved in getting paid vis-a-vis taxpayer money — you gotta walk a straight line,” Salinas said.
“The thing with Mike was a little bit different in the sense that he used his position to help him purchase a lot,” Salinas added. “Not saying he stole anything other than he stole an opportunity … really shouldn’t have done that.”
La Joya Mayor Jose “Fito” Salinas said he was surprised by Alaniz’s guilty plea.
“The only thing I recall is what he told us, that he had bought the lot with city money for the purposes of using it for a lift station before because we were going to run some sewer lines in that area,” Salinas said. “Since he didn’t come to me to sign any check at all, we weren’t aware of it, we weren’t aware of what was happening.”
The mayor that the since the city manager, or city administrator, can make purchases of less than $50,000 without the city commissioners’ approval, he thought the purchase was OK.
“I did question it ethically; he should have come to the commissioners court for approval but I can’t comment anymore,” he said. “It’s a surprise to me because Mike is a good man.”
Salinas, Alaniz’s defense attorney, had previously confirmed that Alaniz was being investigated by the FBI around the time he announced his retirement in June.
Then in August, the FBI raided city hall and arrested another former employee, Sylvia Garces Valdez, on bribery charges.
Garces Valdez, who was the vice chair of the La Joya Housing Authority at the time of her arrest, allegedly paid an individual who, in turn, influenced an elected official to grant Garces Valdez a public relations contract, according to the indictment.
Garces Valdez pleaded not guilty.
Alaniz’s sentencing is scheduled for Jan. 9, 2020.