Jose Salinas, former mayor of La Joya, was indicted this week for a fraudulent land purchase deal and for his part in an alleged public relations contract scheme involving his daughter and another official with the city’s housing authority.
Salinas, 81, was arrested Wednesday and was to make a first appearance before U.S. Magistrate Judge Juan Alaniz on Feb. 13. If convicted, Salinas could be sentenced to up to 20 years in federal prison and fined up to $250,000
Frances Salinas De Leon, 52, former interim director of the La Joya Housing Authority, and Sylvia Garces Valdez, 39, a former board member who ran the authority’s website, pleaded not guilty in late January in federal court to felony charges in connection with the contract scheme.
A federal grand jury on Tuesday handed down an indictment charging the former mayor with two felony counts of wire fraud — one for the contract scheme and one count for “the City of La Joya purchasing property he owned at a highly-inflated rate,” according to a statement issued by the U.S. Attorney’s Office for the Southern District of Texas.
The statement did not include a purchase price for the property. Any other person or persons involved in that property transaction have not yet been named.
However, prosecutors allege that Salinas, who was defeated in the November election, signed off on an illegal land deal arranged by longtime city administrator Mike Alaniz. Alaniz resigned, but has not been charged in connection with the deal.
In the original criminal complaint, the elder Salinas was referred to as “Official A,” a person whom his daughter told Garces Valdez could work with her to arrange a public relations contract, beginning in early June 2018.
The La Joya City Council approved a $2,000-a-month contract and a $12,000 retainer for Garces Valdez to run the housing authority website. In exchange, Garces Valdez paid Salinas $7,000 in cash, according to the criminal complaint.
The indictment said that from June 4, 2018, to Dec. 6, 2018, Garces Valdez gave Salinas De Leon at least $10,000.
In October 2018, however, the La Joya Housing Authority fired Salinas De Leon, who had been appointed by her father, for failing to post legal notice for an Authority board meeting at which questionable federal housing program spending would be discussed.
A month later the board canceled the contract with Garces Valdez.
On Jan. 23, Garces Valdez pleaded not guilty to two felony counts, wire fraud and illegally converting for personal use the property of another. The next day, Salinas De Leon pleaded not guilty to a single felony count of wire fraud.
Charges against the former mayor continue the record of black marks against community leaders in this Rio Grande Valley city. In November, former La Joya Police Chief Isidro Casanova ousted Salinas as mayor and voters elected two new council members who are Casanova allies.
Mark Lisheron can be reached at [email protected].