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Amid criminal charges La Joya school board member steps down

Amid a federal indictment for his involvement in an alleged bid-rigging scheme,  a La Joya school board trustee has resigned from his position with the district.

 

Juan J. “J.J.” Garza turned in his letter of resignation March 30 to his fellow board members, Garza said in a recent phone interview. The resignation was effective immediately and will give him time to concentrate on his legal problems.

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“I told my wife it’s better to get this out of the way and concentrate on this hearing and just move on,” Garza said, referring to his upcoming May 1 pretrial hearing. “That way I can work on whatever I have to work [for the hearing].”

 

Garza and local contractor Armando Jimenez were arrested in September by federal agents in connection with the alleged bid-rigging scheme.

 

The indictment states that between July 2012 and March 2013, Jimenez and Garza submitted false bids so 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.

 

Garza and Jimenez are charged with seven counts of wire fraud and one count of conspiracy to commit wire fraud. Under the U.S. statutes under which they are charged each count of wire fraud is punishable by up to 20 years in federal prison and a fine of $250,000.

 

Following the indictment, Garza was suspended from his $69,000 a year position as director of the La Joya Housing Authority before ultimately being fired during a December housing authority board meeting.

 

During that meeting, Garza was accused of negligence after a lawyer with the housing authority presented to the board a 2014 audit report from the U.S. Department of Housing and Urban Development that highlighted several problematic findings under Garza’s management. In response, Garza filed a lawsuit against the housing authority claiming wrongful termination. The lawsuit is still pending.

 

Garza said his resignation from the school board would give him more time to spend with his family. His responsibilities as a board member included attending several committee meetings and being inundated with as many as 100 daily phone calls from parents and district employees, Garza said.

 

“You might not believe it, but it is a lot of work to be a school board member. It has to do with a lot of people, phone calls and other things to do. It takes a lot of time,” Garza said. “The rest of the board they wish the best for me and understand my position. I’m under a lot of pressure and I have to deal with the indictment and my family and stuff like that, stepping down is better for me.”

 

Garza said he is meeting with his lawyer before the hearing to decide how he should plead.

 

“We’re not sure yet, I could plead guilty. I have to think about that too, we’re not sure yet,” he said. “It’s been already six months [since his arrest], it’s hard. I’ve been planning for the future for my family and stuff like that. I’ve gotten some job offers but I can’t take them until I resolve this issue so I can be able to move on.”

 

Asked what he would say to Garza today, School Board President Oscar “Coach” Salinas said he expresses thanks to Garza for his five years of service with the district, adding a board committee would have to meet to decide how to move forward with Garza’s resignation. The next La Joya school board election is set for November 2018

 

A re-arraignment hearing for Garza and Jiminez was scheduled for Wednesday but was postponed until May 1.

 

Asked about the schedule change Garza said, “I really don’t know what’s going on but I do want to get this over with and do my time or probation, whatever, so I can move on with my life and be in peace with my family.”

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