Financial records raise new questions about former La Joya Housing Authority director

The La Joya Housing Authority spent thousands on hotels and restaurants during the past 10 months, prompting new questions about how former Executive Director Frances Salinas managed public money.

Financial records from the housing authority’s “low rent” account — money set aside for apartment maintenance and board-approved travel — also show more than $10,000 in cash withdrawals.

FrancesSalinas“This is what we wanted to see for the past three months,” said board Chairwoman Maricruz Sifuentes, adding that Frances Salinas refused to show her the financial records. “So we thought something was real fishy.”

The board fired Frances Salinas on Oct. 10 after warnings from the U.S. Department of Housing and Urban Development. She couldn’t be reached for comment Wednesday night.

Her replacement, Acting Executive Director Cristi LaJeunesse, prepared a 15-page report for the board. The report shows all expenses charged to the housing authority “low rent” account at Rio Bank from Jan. 1 to Oct. 24.

Expenses include:

> 14 ATM withdrawals and two over-the-counter cash withdrawals at banks, which total more than $10,000.

> A $441.66 bill at Bath & Body Works on May 18.

> More than $2,650 at Hotels.com from July 11 to Aug. 14, including a single charge for $904.82.

> More than $220 on Uber trips in January, May and August.

Without the supporting documentation, distinguishing legitimate expenses from improper spending is difficult.

The cash withdrawals and several suspicious transactions, though, convinced the board something went seriously wrong.

“I honestly think that she was using it for her personal use,” Sifuentes said. “She was taking advantage.”

After the board fired Frances Salinas on Oct. 10, she filed a lawsuit against the housing authority.

Her attorney convinced Hidalgo County Court-at-Law Judge Albert Garcia to sign a temporary restraining order against the housing authority.

The judge scheduled a hearing for Monday.

“There is no way that we could have even considered keeping her because of the conflict of interest,” Sifuentes said, referencing the fact that Frances Salinas is the daughter of La Joya Mayor Jose A. “Fito” Salinas, who appoints the housing authority board. “And because of these findings.”

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