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With attorney issue resolved, La Joya corruption case on track for May trial

A man charged in the La Joya corruption case announced Monday that he had reached an agreement with his attorney — and will not represent himself at trial.

Ramiro Alaniz didn’t want to pay his attorney, Gregorio R. Lopez of Edinburg, which threatened to delay the case. Jury selection is scheduled for May.

During a hearing on Monday morning, though, Alaniz and Lopez told U.S. District Judge Randy Crane they had reached an agreement.

“I settled something with Mr. Lopez, yes,” Alaniz said. “He’s going to be my attorney.”

Lopez confirmed the arrangement.

“And I will proceed with the case, your honor,” Lopez said.

Ramiro Alaniz, 39, of La Joya is accused of participating in a scheme to defraud the La Joya Economic Development Corp.

Alaniz became the maintenance director for the La Joya Housing Authority in February 2017, according to the indictment against him. He reported to Frances A. Salinas, the interim executive director.

Frances Salinas also managed a project funded by the La Joya EDC. Both jobs had links to her father, Mayor Jose A. “Fito” Salinas.

Fito Salinas appointed members of the housing authority board, which supervised his daughter. He also served on the La Joya EDC board, which approved loans for the project his daughter managed.

The project started in 2015, when a couple approached the La Joya EDC with plans to start a business called Arcoiris Daycare.

They received a $217,000 loan from the La Joya EDC through a program funded by the U.S. Department of Agriculture. Concerned the couple lacked business experience, the La Joya EDC allowed a consultant, Joseph Campos, to manage the construction process.

Campos, however, misappropriated part of the money. He pleaded guilty to theft and agreed to pay $130,000 in restitution.

Construction on the Arcoiris Daycare building remained incomplete.

Frances Salinas took control of the project and made Alaniz the general contractor. She also secured new loans from the La Joya EDC.

During the construction process, Frances Salinas solicited kickbacks from subcontractors, according to the indictment. At her instruction, Alaniz told subcontractors to inflate their invoices to hide the kickbacks.

Alaniz, Fito Salinas and Frances Salinas pleaded not guilty.

Alaniz also denied any wrongdoing on April 7, when he responded to a civil lawsuit filed by the La Joya EDC.

“My supervisor was Mrs. Frances Salinas and I would contact her for any concern or questions regarding the work that I was hired to do. I was hired by the owners of the building. I was never hired by City of La Joya and never had any type of authority or control over the finances of the project,” Alaniz wrote. “I am not responsible for any issue that is being brought up or any act that was committed by my supervisor or any personal (sic) that was involved in the finances of this project. I was hired to do a job that I mentioned above and my work was completed. I have pictures and any evidence that is needed to verify that my work was completed thoroughly.”

The Arcoiris Daycare, however, never opened for business.

After the FBI started asking questions about the project, Alaniz hired Lopez to represent him. Alaniz paid $2,500 to Lopez.

More than a year later, with the trial approaching, they talked about money again. Alaniz apparently didn’t want to pay Lopez any additional money.

After two hearings, Crane allowed Lopez to withdraw from the case. Alaniz struck a new agreement with Lopez just weeks before jury selection, which is tentatively scheduled for May 4.

Crane told Lopez and Assistant U.S. Attorney Sarina S. DiPiazza, who is prosecuting the case, that he plans to remain on schedule.

“Ms. DiPiazza, as you communicate with the lawyers for the other defendants, please remind them of that as well. I’m really expecting everybody to be ready on this case for next month,” Crane said. “It looks like it’s my only trial case for May. So we’ll have — scheduling-wise — we’ll have a whole month to play with to find some dates that work for everybody.”

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