Witness testimony returns to cash-for-votes scheme in Mission election trial

A woman who testified Thursday during the Mission election trial accused the O’caña campaign of targeting drug addicts.

Pamela Durr, 55, of Mission, who described herself as a cocaine addict, said campaign workers in a white Mercedes-Benz van whisked her to the polls.

20180927PamelaDurrWhen they arrived, Durr said that Guadalupe “Lupita” O’caña — the sister-in-law of Mission Mayor Armando “Doc” O’caña — told her to request assistance.

Durr voted. After the van drove away, Durr said a campaign worker slipped her $20.

“And they targeted a lot of people that were drug addicts,” Durr said.

Several witnesses talked about the cash-for-votes scheme on Thursday, which marked the fourth day of testimony in the Mission election trial.

The case pits former Mission Mayor Norberto “Beto” Salinas against O’caña.

Nearly 6,200 people voted in May, when Beto Salinas ran for re-election against O’caña and businessman Jaime Gutierrez, according to results published by the Hidalgo County Elections Department.

Beto Salinas failed to win a majority of the vote, sending him to a runoff with O’caña.

Support for O’caña skyrocketed during the runoff. He won about 51 percent of nearly 6,800 ballots cast.

Beto Salinas, though, claimed that bribery, illegal voting and mail-in ballot shenanigans marred the results. He filed a lawsuit against O’caña, requesting a new runoff election.

The trial started Monday. Attorney Rick Salinas, who represents his father, called witness after witness to testify about the cash-for-votes scheme.

“What I wanted the people to understand — and the court to understand — is that the people they were preying on were the elderly, old people; people who needed money, the poor,” Rick Salinas said. “And they preyed on people who had addictions, who would do almost anything for twenty bucks.”

Several people testified Thursday about campaign workers paying voters.

Durr admitted taking $20. A woman named Dolores Gomez testified that campaign workers paid her $10. And a man named Arnulfo Navarro testified that a campaign worker paid him $20.

“I did not know she was going to give me money,” Navarro said, speaking through the court translator.

Attorney Gilberto Hinojosa, who represents Mayor O’caña, attacked the credibility of all three witnesses.

“We knew that there were some people that they had lined up that were going to be making these allegations,” Hinojosa said. “And we knew the character of these people as well.”

Asked about her criminal record, Durr admitted to several felony drug convictions. Gomez said she suffers from schizophrenia and a multiple-personality disorder. And Navarro acknowledged several arrests.

They also offered conflicting testimony during cross-examination, making parts of the story unclear.

Hinojosa said they simply weren’t credible witnesses.

“That’s the only thing he’s got,” Hinojosa said, adding that he thought Rick Salinas had a weak case. “That’s the only way that he can put together some kind of argument that he can sell.”

Rick Salinas offered a different assessment.

The witness list isn’t a reflection on his legal strategy, Rick Salinas said. It’s a reflection on the O’caña campaign.

“And you saw it today with Mrs. Pamela Durr. Because he goes up there: ‘Hey! You’re a drug addict! And you wanted drugs! And you wanted this! And you wanted that!’ But those were not the damn questions that Mrs. Lupita O’caña was asking these people — or Veronica O’caña was asking them,” Rick Salinas said. “They didn’t care if they were drug addicts or alcoholics or poor or schizophrenic or paranoid or delusional. They just wanted to be able to say ‘She’s a registered voter.’”

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