When the Mission Economic Development Corporation approved the hire of a new janitor, they had no idea of the baggage she carried.
Esmeralda Lara, 54, started her employment as a custodian for the MEDC-located in the city’s Center for Education and Economic Development-last month. Her employment was approved by the corporation’s then-CEO Alex Meade.
“We interviewed a total of eight candidates who applied for the job and settled on her,” Daniel Silva, the current CEO of the MEDC said. “She was a good candidate and scored well on the interviews I conducted and a routine background check didn’t come up with anything.”
Lara however, has a history as a politiquera-and made headlines last fall when she testified against the Norberto “Beto” Salinas campaign during the Mission election trial.
Since her hire, Meade left the MEDC to become the new Pharr city manager, making his employment of Lara one of his last actions for the corporation, Silva said.
Attempts to reach Meade were unresponsive as of press time but Silva confirmed Lara’s identity.
Lara could not be reached for this story.
As a custodian for the MEDC, Lara’s responsibilities include keeping the building in a clean and orderly condition at a $9.50 pay rate, according to employee information for Lara released by the city.
As previously reported, the Texas Rangers investigated Lara and her aunt after the May 2005 mayoral race in McAllen where voters said Lara handled their mail-in ballots.
A grand jury indicted Lara on 20 charges, including 13 counts of possession of another voter’s ballot or carrier envelope, but the charges were ultimately dismissed at the request of the District Attorney’s Office.
Lara then appeared in the public eye again on the sixth day of the Mission election trial, claiming she campaigned for mayoral candidate Armando “Doc” O’caña on a volunteer basis.
During the runoff election, however, Lara said on the stand she struck a secret deal to work for Beto Salinas during the runoff after political consultant Marco Perez promised her cash, a job with the city and free State Farm Arena tickets to switch sides.
“I took it,” Lara said on the stand. “I made the stupidest mistake in helping him.”
Under both campaigns, Lara said she talked with voters and distributed campaign fliers but denied handling any mail-in ballots.
During the trial, attorney Rick Salinas, who represented his father, poked holes in Lara’s testimony questioning how she could “secretly” work for the Salinas campaign without the O’caña team knowing when she was out on the street handing out Beto fliers to the people. She couldn’t answer the question.
Campaign finance reports filed by the candidates don’t show any payments to Lara during the runoff.
During a press conference held last October, attorney Richard D. Gonzalez released an affidavit that detailed the meeting between his client Marco Perez and Lara where she requested $6,000 for roughly 225 mail-in ballots she said she could deliver to the Salinas campaign if they hired her, which they declined.
At that same press conference, hosted by Rick Salinas, a photo of a text message sent by Lara to Perez was released which showed mail-in ballots she had in her possession, contradicting her testimony about not handling any mail-in ballots.
“Everything that Ms. Lara talked about on the stand was completely untrue,” Gonzales said. “She perjured herself.”
Lara previously held the same position at Mission CISD for an unconfirmed amount of time before working for MEDC.
“At the time of the interview I wasn’t aware she was involved in the Mission election trial,” Silva said of Lara. “There weren’t instructions to hire her from anyone, she was just a good candidate.”