Former La Joya mayor arrested in fraud scheme

A public relations contract and property purchase involving wire fraud and bribery have netted La Joya’s former mayor, who authorities arrested Wednesday.

The U.S. Attorney’s Office said a federal grand jury returned an indictment on Feb. 11 charging Jose “Fito” Salinas, 81, with two counts of wire fraud in a case where the man’s daughter, Frances Salinas De Leon, 52, the former interim director of the La Joya Housing Authority has been arrested, as has Sylvia Garces Valdez, 39, a former board member of that housing authority.

Court records in Garces and Frances Salinas’ indictment indicate a superseding indictment was entered into the court record on Feb. 11, which remained sealed as of press time.

However, a black mark under Salinas’ name at the top of the charging document indicates there is a third defendant, as do other redactions within the superseding indictment.

The arrests followed an investigation by the FBI, which received information about an alleged bribery scheme over a public relations contract awarded to Garces in exchange for Garces paying Frances Salinas part of that compensation to receive the contract, according to a criminal complaint.

The superseding indictment indicates that Garces agreed from at least June 4, 2018 to at least Dec. 6, 2018, to give at least $10,000 pursuant to a federal assistance program to Frances Salinas to influence and reward someone whose name is still redacted in the indictment.

The criminal complaint alleges that Frances Salinas told Garces she had connections with “Official A, a City of La Joya official, who would ensure the approval of the contract and later amendments, if necessary.”

After The Monitor reported on the criminal complaint for Frances Salinas’ arrest in late December, Jose Salinas called The Monitor to ask a reporter who they thought the unnamed official was.

The complaint indicates that this contract was approved and signed by Official A and Garces on June 12 and June 13, 2018.

The contract included an initial $12,000 payment for Garces with additional $2,000 payments for creating and maintaining a website to promote the city, according to the complaint.

The news release announcing Jose Salinas’ arrest alleges that from January 2016 to July 2016, the former mayor devised a scheme resulting in the city of La Joya purchasing a property he owned at a highly inflated rate.

The last count in the superseding indictment relates to a property purchase and the individual charged in that count is still redacted.

The former mayor is scheduled to appear in court Thursday morning.

Garces and Frances Salinas have entered not guilty pleas to the charges against them.