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Corruption case against former La Joya mayor tentatively scheduled for trial in April

The federal corruption case against former La Joya Mayor Jose A. “Fito” Salinas and his daughter, Frances, may head to trial during April.

During a hearing on Friday morning, U.S. District Judge Randy Crane tentatively scheduled the trial for April.

Former La Joya Mayor Jose A. “Fito” Salinas evades reporters as he walks away from the McAllen federal courthouse Thursday, Feb. 13, 2020. Progress Times photo by Jose De Leon III

“I read Mr. Salinas’ email to his lawyer about all his physical ailments. That doesn’t keep you from going to trial. You can just tell Mr. Salinas unless he’s on his deathbed, we can bring him up here, we can accommodate whatever physical ailments he has. If he needs to be in a wheelchair, if he needs to have an oxygen tank with him, we can accommodate all of that,” Crane said. “I’m just not going to let his physical complaints drive this trial date. Not trying to be heartless, but I’m going to move this case. And he needs to just be prepared for that.”

The Salinas family dominated local politics in La Joya for the past decade.

After he served on the La Joya school board, Fito Salinas ran against longtime Mayor Billy Leo in May 2011.

Fito Salinas defeated Leo, a major player in western Hidalgo County politics, and took control of La Joya.

His daughter, Frances A. Salinas, served on the La Joya Housing Authority board. When a grand jury indicted the executive director on wire fraud charges, Frances Salinas took his job — and his seat on the La Joya school board.

His wife, Mary Salinas, served on the La Joya City Council.

Fito Salinas and Frances Salinas schemed to profit from public service, according to the indictment against them. Mary Salinas isn’t accused of any wrongdoing.

The indictment details four separate corruption schemes:

  • > In 2016, the city of La Joya purchased a home owned by Fito Salinas, supposedly to expand the local cemetery. The city paid $235,000, which the U.S. Attorney’s Office for the Southern District of Texas called a “highly-inflated rate.”
  • > In 2016, Frances Salinas became a “consultant” for a local daycare funded by the La Joya Economic Development Corp., where Fito Salinas served on the board. Frances Salinas withdrew $38,500 from the daycare bank account and received kickbacks from contractors, according to the indictment.
  • > In 2017 and 2018, Frances Salinas defrauded the housing authority, according to the indictment. Bank statements released under the Texas Public Information Act show Frances Salinas wrote checks to herself. They also show unexplained cash withdrawals at ATMs.
  • > In 2018, the city hired Sylvia Garces Valdez, a friend of Frances Salinas, to handle public relations. After the city paid $12,000 to Garces Valdez, she provided part of the money to Frances Salinas, according to the indictment.

Fito Salinas and Frances Salinas pleaded not guilty.

“Regarding those two, they are the more culpable ones,” Assistant U.S. Attorney Sarina S. DiPiazza said during the hearing Friday morning. “They have the larger roles in the schemes.”

Prosecutors also charged Garces Valdez and Ramiro Alaniz, a former housing authority employee. They may plead guilty.

“Reading between the lines,” Crane said, it appeared the charges against Garces Valdez and Alaniz would be “worked out.”

Crane said he would schedule a pretrial hearing for mid-March, when Garces Valdez and Alaniz might appear for re-arraignment.

“With enough people getting vaccinated and where we are with herd immunity, probably this is a case that I would try in April,” Crane said.

The trial is expected to last one-and-a-half to two weeks.

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