Campaign battle plays out on Facebook

Editor’s note: Progress Times does not give credence to anonymous or fake sources, but with the upcoming election, we wanted to give candidates running for office in La Joya ISD the opportunity to respond to allegations that are being made online.

He’s got a mug shot. She has a tax lien. Another’s business has been sued. Two were featured in a controversial video.

If everything on Facebook is to be believed, all the candidates in La Joya Independent School District’s upcoming election have skeletons in the closet.

20141029 Election-photos 0100Anonymous Facebook profiles have made finding the dirt on the six candidates as easy as a few clicks, but deciphering truth from fiction isn’t as easy.

Two slates of candidates have signed up for battle: Team Liberty and The Diamond Pack. Within Team Liberty are the three incumbents: Juan “J.J.” Peña, Place 1; Juan Jose “J.J.” Garza, Place 2; Johnn Valente Alaniz, Place 3. The Diamond Pack consists of three political newcomers: Fernando Torres, Place 1; Irma-Linda Villarreal Veloz, Place 2; Victoria “Vicky” Cantu, Place 3.

Two of the more prominent Facebook pages that have popped up during the campaign season, “Did you Know?” and “El Piojo Anonimo” both appear to support The Diamond Pack.

Outside of Facebook, commercials have come out on both sides, one, presumably from a Team Liberty supporter, accuses Cantu of pulling a child’s hair at the daycare she owns. It also states Torres’s construction business has been sued several times. Cantu has said this never happened, and Torres said the statement that he has been sued multiple times is untrue.

In response, The Diamond Pack released a commercial stating Alaniz has two siblings in jail on healthcare fraud and a cousin of Peña’s received a lucrative contract while Peña was on the board.

One of the most frequent posts on a few of the pages is a mugshot of Garza with a caption asking how parents can allow him to represent their children.

Garza said the mugshot occurred when he was riding in a vehicle with a friend, and they both had been drinking. When the officer pulled them over, Garza said he told his friend he didn’t have to take a test to show if he was drunk. That’s when, Garza said, the officer arrested the both of them and charged them with DWI.

When it went to court, he said the judge questioned how both could be charged with DWI and the charge was dismissed. He does, however, have a DWI on his record. It happened 25 years ago when Garza was 21.

Meanwhile, Cantu said everything’s been handled in connection to a notice of federal tax lien for nearly $10,000 posted under a fake Facebook profile named Torres Mari. Cantu said she talked to her CPA in August and called the IRS office, and she’s on a payment plan.

“It’s taken care of. The school’s money is not my money,” Cantu said. “Trust me, there will be transparency the moment we step into office.”

Cantu pointed to a series of videos released last year by an attorney who has filed multiple lawsuits against city of Palmview and La Joya ISD officials alleging corruption. Garza and Alaniz both appear in them at different times. The videos, now on Youtube, are clips from a four-hour period at the Palmview City Hall. The individuals in it discuss campaign contributions and how to balance finance reports as well as jobs at the school district.

What The Diamond Pack is alleging is fact, Cantu said, while Team Liberty has been throwing out false allegations.

“I don’t have anything to do with that video,” Alaniz said. “That I specifically made any comments about cash or contracts or anything of that nature, no I didn’t.”

Garza said there was confusion when someone in the video mentioned $10,000 in cash. He said he asked if they were talking about his money because Garza had put his own money into the campaign.

“Am I supposed to report my own money?” he remembered asking. “On that video, they were cutting and pasting, and it doesn’t tell the whole story. I knew the camera was there. I saw it. I wasn’t worried. It all started because somebody made a comment in a restaurant that somebody had donated $10,000 cash, but it wasn’t true and it spread like wildfire.”

Another Facebook post on “Did You Know” only contains a link to a news story in December from when federal investigators conducted searches at both the La Joya Housing Authority and Garza’s garage. Garza, director of the housing authority, said the U.S. Department of Housing and Urban Development began receiving complaints about him back when he first started running for office in 2010.

In 2010, he said, a federal agent asked to check some documents and Garza complied. Every year, Garza said, he gets a complaint. And in 2012, another election year, Garza said another agent showed up and talked to some of the tenants at the housing authority, asking them if they had been promised housing in exchange for a vote in Garza’s favor.

“Then in 2013, they just showed up at my house,” Garza said. “They had like 30 agents. I didn’t know what was going on. They all had their guns pointed at me.”

At that point, Garza said, they took some documents from remodeling work Garza had done for other housing authorities. From the office, he said, they took financial records.

“I don’t know what they’re actually looking for,” Garza said. “I think it’s all complaints of people that hate me, but I’m not worried.”

On allegations that she pulled a child’s hair, Cantu said her daycare wouldn’t be open if that were true. Plus, she said, there are cameras. At the end of the pro-Team Liberty commercial, a voice says in Spanish, “Vicky, don’t pull my hair.”

“CPS gave me letters of compliance. I have parents that wrote letters for me. I have nothing to hide,” Cantu said. “It’s all just mudslinging.”

Meanwhile, Torres said a statement that his business has faced multiple lawsuits is untrue. There was one lawsuit in 2012 brought by a woman who added a bunch of changes to a house he was building for her, and then ended up being unable to pay. Torres sold the house to someone else, and she sued him, he said. But the case was settled out of court.

That’s the only lawsuit filed against him, he said.

“I didn’t get mad or anything, but it just looks bad when they accuse you of things,” Torres said. “Our commercial, I approved it. Everything is true. They try to attack us with personal stuff, which is fine, you know, but get your facts straight.”

Getting personal

Cantu said she’s been called derogatory names throughout the campaign and The Diamond Pack’s campaign posters were defaced. Her mother-, father- and sister-in-law all have been brought into the campaign, she said.

Profiles also attack Torre, who said assertions that he didn’t pay his child support are untrue.

“They’ve attacked me pretty bad,” Torres said. “Our stuff is personal because we’re not in there yet, and their stuff is what they’ve done, and it’s pretty bad.”

He pointed to a school across the street from the Hidalgo County Precinct 3 offices and said it’s falling apart while the school district is spending $5 million on golf courses.

Alaniz said the district didn’t buy a golf course.

“We purchased land that came with a golf course to build a natatorium, the planetarium, the tennis courts and the tutoring system that we’re going to have there,” Alaniz said. “That tutoring system is very important because of the ACT and SAT testing that we’re going to be offering over there.”

The purchase, Alaniz said, allows the district to offer students in the rural community opportunities they wouldn’t have otherwise.

Finger pointing

Neither side claims responsibility for any of the anonymous or fake profiles.

“They want to link us to ‘Did You Know?’ but it’s not us,” Cantu said, adding that if she were in charge of that page, she’d delete some of the comments on posts in which people call her names.

Torres said he’s sure the page’s creator is one of the Diamond Pack’s supporters because all of the information on it is against Team Liberty, but he doesn’t know who is behind it.

He added he can’t keep up with all the other fake profiles, but “It’s them. We just can’t prove it.”

Alaniz said he just laughs when he’s sent screenshots of posts on Facebook.

“I think desperate times call for desperate measures. I think that’s what they’re doing,” Alaniz said. “These candidates deny that it’s them. We all know it’s them. It’s funny that these things surface during election time only.

“If it was a legitimate concern, they wouldn’t be hiding behind fake profiles, to be honest with you.”

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