Nearly a year after filing a lawsuit against them, the former director of the La Joya Housing Authority dropped his suit Monday – but said he has plans to refile it in a few months.
Juan “J.J.” Garza, who served as the housing authority’s executive director for 17 years, filed the lawsuit in Hidalgo County District Court after he was fired from his position during a special board meeting last December.
His termination came after Garza, as well as local contractor Armando Jimenez, were arrested in September by federal agents in connection with an alleged bid-rigging scheme that involved his construction company – Jimenez Construction – according to the indictment against him.
Following the indictment, Garza was suspended from his $69,000 a year position with the housing authority before ultimately being fired. The lawsuit alleged 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 a Jan. 2017 interview, Garza argued that his termination stemmed from his indictment and not from his duties as a director with the housing authority.
However, at the December meeting, the housing authority board of directors 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.
Mark Anthony Sanchez, the housing authority’s lawyer, argued that this was enough of a reason to fire Garza.
LJHA Executive Director Francis Salinas declined to comment and instead referred all questions to Sanchez.
“The housing authority is very pleased with this lawsuit being dropped,” Sanchez said. “We did everything we could to prevent tax dollars being spent on giving money to an admitted criminal.”
Though he couldn’t say why Garza decided to drop his lawsuit, Sanchez believes it’s because Garza knew it would not withstand scrutiny in court.
“It was absolute nonsense that someone who was indicted for public corruption and bribery and then admitted in open court to those claims by entering a guilty plea would file any sort of ridiculous lawsuit,” Sanchez said. “An admitted liar, cheater and thief is claiming in court that he was wrongfully terminated for being a liar, cheater and thief. The very fact he was pursuing this lawsuit is evidence he hasn’t changed his criminal ways. He’s nothing but a con man.”
Garza struck a deal with prosecutors last May and pleaded guilty to conspiracy to commit wire fraud, which is punishable by a maximum sentence of 20 years in federal prison.
Garza, whose sentencing is on Feb. 1, 2018, said he dropped the lawsuit because he was still waiting on evidence that he would not elaborate on. Garza said he sought financial restitution of $200,000 in his lawsuit and plans to file it again before his sentencing date.
“The new evidence will help me a lot in this case,” Garza said. “The housing authority is using my indictment against me but once this new evidence comes in, it will clear a lot of things up.”
Garza was recently hired as a specialist for the Houston-based construction firm CAS Group.