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The Mission election lawsuit cost Mayor Armando “Doc” O’caña more than $57,000, according to campaign finance reports filed last week.
After former Mayor Norberto “Beto” Salinas filed a lawsuit against him — claiming that bribery and mail-in ballot fraud tainted the 2018 mayoral campaign — O’caña spent thousands on attorneys.
O’caña spent $57,666 on attorneys from July 1 to Dec. 31, according to campaign finance reports filed with the City Secretary’s Office on Jan. 14. O’caña said he spent another $5,000 from his own pocket.
The May 2018 election pitted Beto Salinas, who served two decades as mayor, against O’caña and Mission businessman Jaime Gutierrez.
Beto Salinas received the most votes but fell three votes short of a majority. O’caña placed second, sending him to the runoff.
Both candidates campaigned hard. Voter turnout, which usually sags during runoff elections, surged instead.
When the polls closed, O’caña had 51 percent of nearly 6,800 ballots cast, according to results published by the Hidalgo County Elections Department.
Beto Salinas filed a lawsuit, claiming the O’caña campaign bribed voters, manipulated mail-in ballots and committed voter fraud. O’caña denied the allegations.
The trial started on Sept. 24. After two weeks of testimony, state District Judge J. Bonner Dorsey sided with Beto Salinas.
“I find the evidence is clear that there was a combination or conspiracy by the campaign of Dr. O’caña to do this,” Dorsey said. “And I say that because the evidence is that several members of the campaign were working together in concert to bribe voters, to take the mail-in ballots and mail them separately.”
O’caña asked the 13th Court of Appeals to review the decision, which left him with a mountain of legal bills.
“If I would have done it, I would have pleaded guilty,” O’caña said. “But I haven’t bribed anybody. And I haven’t violated any of the election codes.”
O’caña paid $10,000 to Brownsville-based attorney Gilberto Hinojosa, an expert on election law who also serves as chairman of the Texas Democratic Party. He also paid $11,666 to his niece, attorney Patty O’caña-Olivarez, who serves on the Mission school board. But the biggest checks went to McAllen-based attorney Carlos Escobar, who worked with Hinojosa on the appeal.
Escobar received $36,000, according to the campaign finance reports.
“Thank God the last two fundraisers came out pretty good,” O’caña said, adding that donors helped cover the legal bills.
Major donors included RGV Redlight LLC, a company owned by Peñitas Chief of Stafff Andy Morales, who contributed $7,500; Austin-based law firm Linebarger Goggan Blair & Sampson, which contributed $2,500; and FNB Insurance Agency of Brownsville, which contributed $2,500.
The cost of election-related litigation may scare away candidates who can’t afford big legal bills, O’caña said, adding that he struggled to cover the costs.
“I hope it discourages people who engage in organized criminal activity from running,” said attorney Rick Salinas of Mission, who represented his father, the former mayor, against O’caña. “He has no business being mayor.”