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Former Mayor Beto Salinas files lawsuit, claims bribery and voter fraud marred Mission election

Former Mayor Norberto “Beto” Salinas filed a lawsuit Wednesday, claiming that bribery and voter fraud tainted the Mission mayoral runoff — and requesting a new election.

Beto Salinas filed the lawsuit against current Mayor Armando “Doc” O’caña on Wednesday afternoon.

betosalinas 2007The lawsuit accuses O’caña’s campaign workers of bribing voters, manipulating mail-in ballots and recruiting non-residents to register in Mission.

“The question is: Is it big enough to change the outcome of this race?” said attorney Rick Salinas, the former mayor’s son. “Is it big enough to trigger a new election?”

Beto Salinas said his attorneys advised him not to comment on the case.

Reached by the Progress Times on Wednesday afternoon, O’caña said he hadn’t been served with the lawsuit and couldn’t immediately comment on the litany of allegations.

However, O’caña said he wasn’t aware of any illegal activity during the campaign and didn’t pay anyone to vote.

Beto Salinas won 49.96 percent of 6,175 ballots cast during the May 5 mayoral election — three votes short of a majority. O’caña placed second.

Mission scheduled a runoff election for June 9.

“It seems three very unlikely things happened within 34 days: 1) more than one hundred voters decided that they had become residents of Mission, Texas and changed their voter registration just to take part in this election, 2) a run-off election in the dire heat of a Texas summer suddenly experiences earth-shattering turnout, and 3) a candidate that had barely broken 40% in the previous election won,” according to the lawsuit. “There are dozens of possible explanations for this outcome. Some may be legal. Some are unequivocally not.”

O’caña won 51.16 percent of 6,793 ballots cast during the runoff election, defeating Beto Salinas by 157 votes.

After the runoff, voters approached Beto Salinas with stories about bribery and illegal voting, according to the lawsuit. Rick Salinas and the former mayor’s supporters started investigating.

“There are people that have given affidavits,” Rick Salinas said. “And there are people that have been recorded.”

They identified dozens of people with suspicious voter registrations, Rick Salinas said. Dozens more claimed O’caña campaign workers paid them to vote or tampered with their mail-in ballots.

“What was uncovered was a systemic and flagrant scheme to cast illegal votes to elect Mayor Ocana. Dozens of voters have admitted to being paid for their votes. Scores of voters fraudulently changed their registrations to the City of Mission and voted by mail. And, still others never touched their mail-in ballot and had their vote harvested and stolen from them,” according to the lawsuit. “These allegations are salacious. They are devastating. And, they will be proven true.”

The lawsuit also accused O’caña himself of illegal voting.

“Just like many of his voters, Dr. Ocana and his wife, Maria De Jesus Ocana, do not reside in Mission, Texas,” according to the lawsuit. “They are registered to vote at 927 Greenlawn in Mission, which is a home measuring 1,302 square feet, with six people registered to the home: Armando Ocana, Jr., Armando Ocana, Maria De Jesus Ocana, Spring Ocana, Mathew Ocana, and Margarita Ocana. All these people claim to reside in the Greenlawn home, plus their children. The true residence of Dr. Ocana and his wife is outside the city limits of Mission, Texas, on Schuerback (sic) Rd.”

During the campaign, Beto Salinas made similar claims about where O’caña lived. Attorneys familiar with Texas election law, though, said they didn’t think Beto Salinas could successfully challenge O’caña’s residency.

With the Texas Attorney General’s Office aggressively investigating voter fraud, Rick Salinas said he believes the civil lawsuit will result in criminal prosecutions.

“I think it’s about time that somebody says something [about voter fraud],” Rick Salinas said. “And that instead of ignoring it that we do something about it.”

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