The former executive director for the La Joya Housing Authority (LJHA) filed a lawsuit Tuesday against his former employer accusing it of wrongful termination.
Juan J. “J.J.” Garza, who served as the housing authority’s executive director for the last 17 years, filed the lawsuit in Hidalgo County District Court after he was fired from his position during a special board meeting December 16, 2016, said his lawyer Gustavo Acevedo.
According to its website the La Joya Housing Authority administers both a public housing and Section 8 housing voucher program. The housing authority owns and manages one project that contains 50 affordable rental units. It also administers 128 Section 8 housing vouchers.
Garza, as well as local contractor Armando Jimenez, were arrested in September by federal agents in connection with an alleged bid-rigging scheme.
The indictment against Garza states that between July 2012 and March 2013, Jimenez and Garza submitted false bids so that Jimenez Construction would win the bidding for construction projects for the Alamo and Donna housing authorities. The false bids were submitted under the names of Crane Construction and Carlos Orillana, according to the indictment.
Following the indictment, Garza was suspended from his $69,000 a year position with the housing authority before ultimately being fired. The lawsuit alleges Garza’s termination violated his contract with the housing authority.
“Mr. Garza has a three year contract which expires Dec. 31, 2018,” the complaint states. “The LJHA Commission had no evidence which would support termination for cause under the terms of his contract which specifically provides that he must be given full due process…and then the opportunity for Mr. Garza to refute any charges against him.”
In an interview Wednesday, Garza said he is looking for financial compensation to make up for the remainder of his contract.
“I have a two year contract and that’s what I am going to fight for. I have two more years to fulfill but since I was terminated I’m sure I won’t get my job back but I’m still owed something,” Garza said.
LJHA Chairwoman Francis Salinas De Leon declined to comment on this story.
According to Gustavo Acevedo, Garza’s lawyer, the violation happened when the two were invited to attend the December board meeting but were not told Garza’s contract would be discussed nor did they receive a copy of the agenda. During the meeting, the board was presented with a 2014 audit report from the U.S. Department of Housing and Urban Development that highlighted several problematic findings under Garza’s management. The audit noted “excessive” write-off amounts of 465% higher than the prior fiscal year due to the housing authority not enforcing its rent collection policy.
Garza and Acevedo both said those findings are “not uncommon” in audits and Garza’s termination had more to do with the stigma surrounding the indictment than Garza’s work performance.
“We’re fully aware [Garza] has been indicted for actions with other housing authorities but his actions were not in his capacity as housing authority director in La Joya,”
Acevedo said. “The housing authority based the decision to terminate Garza on that indictment which had nothing to do with his performance as executive director and they used that report to blindside us. Had we been aware of that report, we could’ve provided a response to make a rebuttal to Garza’s termination.”
Mark Anthony Sanchez, a lawyer representing LJHA, could not be reached for comment. According to Acevedo, the lawsuit would be served to the housing authority by the end of the month.