Former La Joya housing officials plead not guilty to federal charges

Two former officials of the La Joya Housing Authority pleaded not guilty last week to federal charges tied to an alleged bribery scheme.

Sylvia Garces Valdez, the former vice chair of the housing authority, and Frances A. Salinas, the former interim executive director of the housing authority, both pleaded not guilty to the counts in the superseding indictment on Thursday and Friday, respectively, according to court documents.

Garces Valdez is charged with two counts — converting to own use the property of another and wire fraud — while Salinas is charged with one count of wire fraud.

The charges stem from an alleged bribery scheme through which Salinas allegedly helped Garces Valdez obtain a public relations contract with the city. In exchange, Garces Valdez allegedly paid Salinas a portion of the money she made from that contract.

The government alleges Salinas — the daughter of former La Joya Mayor Jose “Fito” Salinas and current City Commissioner Mary Salinas — helped Garces Valdez obtain the contract by influencing an elected official of the city. That official is only identified as “Person B” in the superseding indictment.

Both women are currently out on bond.

Their final pretrial hearing is scheduled for Feb. 28 and jury selection is scheduled for March 3.