Fueled by Facebook posts, La Joya runoff election turns negative

In May, a La Joya Police Department investigator approached state District Judge Luis Singleterry with a search warrant.

A pseudonymous author writing under the name “Benito Camela” had spent the past few months attacking the Salinas family — Jose A. “Fito” Salinas, the mayor of La Joya; his wife, City Commissioner Mary Salinas; and their daughter, former La Joya Housing Authority Executive Director Frances A. Salinas — on Facebook.

After the author falsely accused Mary Salinas of harboring a runaway child, the police department attempted to unmask “Benito Camela.”

“They can put whatever they want about me,” Mary Salinas said, adding that the scurrilous rumors didn’t bother her. “I know who I am.”

Singleterry signed the warrant, but investigators never arrested the person behind the Facebook account.

“Benito Camela,” though, was just the beginning. During the next six months, La Joya City Commission candidates and their supporters flooded Facebook with personal attacks, half-truths and claims about corruption.

“I’ve been in some really tough elections,” Mayor Salinas said. “But I’ve never been in one so negative.”

Another pseudonymous Facebook account, “John Johnson,” resurfaced in November and started attacking the Salinas family.

“John Johnson” was a fixture on Facebook during the 2015 mayoral campaign, when the author accused the Salinas family of corruption. The claim prompted Frances A. Salinas and then-city Finance Director Gregoria Jackson to file a lawsuit.

The number of negative posts exploded after Nov. 5, when the election resulted in a runoff between Mayor Salinas and former police Chief Isidro Casanova.

Along with reams of public records purporting to document corruption at City Hall, the account posted copies of what the author claimed were Frances A. Salinas’ medical records and text messages between Mayor Salinas and City Manager Jacqueline Bazan.

Asked about the Facebook post, Bazan said she hadn’t seen it. Bazan said her phone hadn’t been hacked or stolen.

While the pseudonymous Facebook accounts caused a commotion, posts by Frances A. Salinas and former City Attorney Roberto Jackson forced the candidates to respond.

Frances A. Salinas posted records from a lawsuit filed against Casanova by two female police officers.

They accused Casanova of sexual harassment. Casanova denied the allegations, but the city forced him to resign and paid the women more than $513,000.

Frances A. Salinas posted an image that shows Casanova as a sweaty giant, preparing to grab two women. Text on the image reads: “Don’t let Isidro Casanova defile our City Hall.”

The image also included jail booking photos of Casanova from 2006, when he was arrested on the charge of accident involving damage to a vehicle. A judge found Casanova not guilty and dismissed the case.

Casanova and the “We are La Joya” candidates responded with a Facebook post.

“Isidro Casanova was NEVER found guilty of any Sexual Assault, sexual harassment or any other sexual crime against his employees. He was NEVER CHARGED with a crime. The 2 employees turned around and sued the city for insurance money. The CIVIL suit was NEVER $1 million they say the city lost. Again there were NEVER any charges filed! He was NEVER found guilty of a crime,” according to the reply posted by “We are La Joya” on Nov. 26. “The hit & run claim they say resulted in charges is NOT TRUE. All charges were DISMISSED by the judge himself. After miscommunication between the police and Isidro, all charges were DROPPED. Everything was cleared up and the charges were DROPPED.”

Attorney Roberto Jackson, who is among Casanova’s most prominent supporters, posted a video about questionable spending by the police department.

In the video, Jackson said someone provided him with public records that show the police chief spent forfeiture funds at Academy Sports + Outdoors and Victoria’s Secret.

“I’m not making this up,” Jackson said in the video. “I have the receipt here, which he submitted for reimbursement.”

Jackson said the city spent $579 at Victoria’s Secret and held up the receipt.

“Various perfumes. I would imagine there’s some lingerie,” Jackson said in the video. “I’m not familiar with this. I don’t buy stuff at Victoria Secrets (sic).”

Jackson deleted the video. Other accounts, including “John Johnson,” continued sharing it.

In a Facebook post, police Chief Adolfo Arriaga accused Jackson of making false statements as part of a politically motivated smear campaign. His wife, Dalia Arriaga, is running for City Commission with Mayor Salinas.

“For all those that are trashing me on Facebook, let me educate you,” Chief Arriaga wrote on Nov. 11. “No purchases were done from a forfeiture account, no lingerie was bought. Many people are trying to use this as political gain.”

In an interview with the Progress Times, Chief Arriaga said he asked family members to buy items for a holiday party in 2018.

His father helped buy Yeti-brand coolers for male employees, Chief Arriaga said, and the city reimbursed him. His wife helped buy fragrances at Victoria’s Secret, Chief Arriaga said, and the city reimbursed her too.

Chief Arriaga said all expenditures were approved by the city, which didn’t pay for the items with forfeiture funds. He posted the rebuttal on Facebook, along with a copy of the receipt from Victoria’s Secret.

“Just look below, see it for yourself if any lingerie was bought or if a forfeiture account was used,” Chief Arriaga wrote.

The runoff election is Dec. 10.

This article originally appeared in the Friday Dec. 6, 2019 issue of the Progress Times.

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