New details in ex-La Joya housing director’s arrest

The federal criminal complaint against Frances A. Salinas, the former interim executive director of the La Joya Housing Authority, was made available Monday, detailing the government’s allegations against her.

Salinas, 52, was arrested Monday, Dec. 23, in San Antonio on charges of wire fraud and conspiracy to commit wire fraud, and on Friday made her initial appearance in court before U.S. Magistrate Judge Elizabeth S. Chestney, also in San Antonio.

The daughter of former La Joya Mayor Jose “Fito” Salinas and current La Joya Commissioner Mary Salinas, Frances Salinas’ arrest came after the FBI became aware of an alleged bribery scheme between her and Sylvia Garces Valdez — a former public relations employee of the city and former vice chair of the La Joya Housing Authority board of commissioners.

The subject of the alleged bribe was a public relations contract that Salinas would help Garces Valdez obtain, and in exchange, Garces Valdez would pay Salinas part of the money she was set to receive through the contract, according to the criminal complaint.

FBI agents executed search warrants of various email accounts — including those that belonged to Salinas and Garces Valdez — at city hall and also obtained text messages sent between the two women.

Based on a review of the messages and emails, investigators allege that from about May 2018 through August 2018, the two discussed the contract and Salinas allegedly indicated that she was working to have it awarded to Garces Valdez.

She allegedly further indicated that she had connections with an unnamed city official — Official A — who would ensure the contract’s approval, according to the complaint.

Salinas also stated that she raised the compensation amounts listed in initial drafts of the contract for Garces Valdez because Salinas “seriously [was] in need of a little more,” according to the complaint.

She then emailed Garces Valdez drafts of the contract and instructed her to email the contract to the La Joya city attorney.

The contract was subsequently approved and signed by Official A and Garces Valdez on June 12, 2018, and June 13, 2018, respectively. It called for an initial payment of $12,000 and an additional monthly payment of $2,000 for creating and maintaining a website to promote the city.

After Garces Valdez received the initial $12,000 payment, Salinas allegedly texted her with instructions on how to cash the check and divide the taxes on the income, according to the complaint.

Salinas also allegedly instructed Garces Valdez to deliver $7,000 in cash to her.

The complaint also alleges that emails obtained by the FBI also revealed that between May and August 2018, the two women sent emails to each other and other individuals regarding the contract and at least one of those traveled in interstate commerce.

Salinas is scheduled to appear in court again Friday morning before U.S. Magistrate Judge Henry J. Bemporad for a detention, identity and preliminary hearing.