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Bank threatened to close city of La Joya accounts unless mayor, city administrator stopped signing checks

This article originally appeared in the Friday June 28, 2019 issue of the Progress Times.

Bankers presented the city of La Joya with an ultimatum last month: Either stop City Administrator Mike Alaniz, Mayor Jose A. “Fito” Salinas and his wife, City Commissioner Mary Salinas, from signing checks or find a new bank.

Birmingham, Alabama-based bank BBVA sent “signatory removal action” letters to La Joya on May 3, according to documents released under the Texas Public Information Act.

cityoflajoyalogo Mayor Salinas said BBVA — the bank previously known as BBVA Compass, which is part of Spanish banking conglomerate Banco Bilbao Vizcaya Argentaria — wouldn’t explain why bankers suddenly had concerns about him signing checks.

“They said that there was nothing wrong except that the corporate offices in Alabama had told them that,” Mayor Salinas said. “It really worried us. And we could not get an answer from them.”

Asked what prompted the signatory removal letters, a bank spokesman declined to comment.

“BBVA USA is aware of the accounts in question,” according to a statement released by the bank. “However, we cannot discuss specific details regarding client accounts or internal processes, and as such, we are unable to comment further.”

Banks close accounts and dump customers for a myriad of business reasons. They may also shutter accounts linked to suspicious activity or people flagged by the federal government.

The FBI is investigating a series of suspicious land deals in La Joya that involve the city, Alaniz and his sister, Blanca Valdez. It’s unclear whether or not the federal investigation prompted BBVA to send the signatory removal letters.

In a flagrant violation of the Texas Public Information Act, the city failed to release the letters addressed to Mayor Salinas and Mary Salinas.

After the Progress Times filed a complaint with the Texas Attorney General’s Office, the city released eight letters addressed to Mike Alaniz. The city acknowledged that BBVA sent letters addressed to Mayor Salinas and Mary Salinas but didn’t release them.

La Joya quickly started the process of switching banks.

The city solicited proposals from banks on May 18. Two days later, Alaniz sent a letter to BBVA.

“As per our phone conversation, please let this letter serve as a request to remove signature names of Jose A. “Fito” Salinas, Mary Salinas and Mike Alaniz on all city accounts,” according to the letter, which is dated May 20. “Please advice (sic) on the procedure to follow, if any, on revising signature authorization on those specified city accounts.”

Alaniz reversed himself the next day.

“Unfortunately the request I sent to you yesterday was not the correct approach addressing the signature removal,” Alaniz wrote to BBVA on May 21. “Please disregard until we submit correspondence sometime today.”

After reviewing two proposals, La Joya switched from BBVA to Lone Star National Bank of Edinburg.

The City Commission unanimously approved a resolution on June 6 to “change all its bank accounts to an institution that will provide a better level of service at a lower overall cost to the city and its employees.” It didn’t mention the signatory removal letters.

Questions remained about who, exactly, would sign city checks.

The City Commission approved the switch but didn’t identify the individuals authorized to sign checks. Rather than list the names of authorized signers, the City Commission approved the resolution “contingent upon providing the names later.”

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