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Former La Joya Housing Authority director arrested on wire fraud charges

Former La Joya Housing Authority Interim Executive Director Frances A. Salinas was arrested Monday on federal wire fraud charges.

Frances Ana Salinas, 52, of La Joya is charged with wire fraud and conspiracy to commit wire fraud. She was arrested in San Antonio.

Frances A. Salinas. Courtesy of the Texas Department of Public Safety

Details about the arrest and the charges weren’t immediately available on Christmas Eve.

Her father, former La Joya Mayor Jose A. “Fito” Salinas, said he hadn’t spoken with Frances Salinas in months and didn’t know about her arrest.

Frances Salinas is the daughter of former Mayor Salinas and City Commissioner Mary Salinas. She also served on the La Joya school board and as a precinct chairwoman for the Hidalgo County Democratic Party.

Mayor Salinas appointed Frances Salinas to the housing authority board in January 2016, according to City Commission meeting minutes. After the board fired Executive Director Juan Jose “J.J.” Garza, who confessed to participating in a bid-rigging scheme, Frances Salinas resigned from the board and became the interim executive director.

Concerned about the conflict of interest — Mayor Salinas appointed the housing authority board, which supervised his daughter — and her lack of qualifications, the U.S. Department of Housing and Urban Development didn’t allow the housing authority to pay Frances Salinas with federal money.

Frances Salinas, though, remained the executive director until October 2018, when questions surfaced about how she managed the housing authority.

Bank records showed more than $10,000 in cash withdrawals from housing authority accounts, according to documents released by the housing authority under the Texas Public Information Act. The housing authority board fired her.

The La Joya Economic Development Corp. also authorized payments to Frances Salinas for “consulting and management assistance” on the Arcoiris Daycare project.

After taking control of the project in November 2016, Frances Salinas collected at least $10,000 in consulting fees, according to documents released by the city under the Public Information Act.

Frances Salinas had the authority to withdraw money from the Arcoiris Daycare bank account and pay contractors, according to court records. She paid tens of thousands to contractors, but the daycare project stalled.

Frances Salinas also served on the La Joya Housing Authority board with Sylvia Garces Valdez, who became a public relations consultant for the city in June 2018. La Joya agreed to pay Garces Valdez a $12,000 retainer when she signed the contract and $2,000 per month for public relations work.

Frances Salinas and Garces Valdez, who had been friends throughout 2017, apparently had a falling-out in 2018.

Garces Valdez voted to remove Frances Salinas as the executive director of the housing authority. The city terminated her public relations contract two months later.

A federal grand jury indicted Garces Valdez in August 2019.

“Defendant gave, offered, and agreed to give cash to Person A intending to influence and reward Person B, an elected official for the City of La Joya, for their influence in granting a public relations contract to the Defendant,” according to the indictment.

Prosecutors didn’t identify Person A or Person B.

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