FBI serves La Joya ISD, Mission and Agua SUD with grand jury subpoenas

The FBI served the La Joya Independent School District, the city of Mission and the Agua Special Utility District with grand jury subpoenas last month — requesting documents on more than a dozen public officials or corporations affiliated with them.

Agua SUD released the subpoena under the Texas Public Information Act. The Progress Times obtained information about the La Joya ISD and Mission subpoenas from other sources.

The subpoenas requested information on Performance Services Inc., an Indiana-based company that pitched “guaranteed energy savings” projects to La Joya ISD, Mission and Agua SUD.

They also sought information about La Joya school board President Oscar “Coach” Salinas, La Joya school board Trustee Alex Cantu, Mission Mayor Armando “Doc” O’caña, Mission City Councilwoman Jessica Ortega, Peñitas Mayor Rodrigo “Rigo” Lopez, Peñitas City Councilman Alex Guajardo, Peñitas City Manager Omar Romero, Peñitas Chief of Staff Andy Morales, Agua SUD General Manager Jose E. “Eddie” Saenz, La Joya City Councilman Roger Hernandez, former Agua SUD board President Esequiel “Zeke” Ortiz Jr., Hidalgo County Irrigation District #6 board President Diana Izaguirre, South Texas College Trustee Victoria “Vicky” Cantu or corporations affiliated with them.

Prosecutors don’t normally start investigations by issuing subpoenas, said Douglas A. A’Hern, a criminal defense attorney with offices in Edinburg and Pasadena.

“They are just filling in the blanks to a lot of what they already know,” A’Hern said, speaking generally about subpoenas and not any specific case.

How many people, corporations and local governments in western Hidalgo County received subpoenas in May remains unclear.

The Progress Times filed public information requests with the city of Mission, city of Palmview, the city of Peñitas, the city of La Joya, Sullivan City, La Joya ISD and Agua SUD for all federal grand jury subpoenas received on May 20.

Attorneys for Mission, Peñitas and Sullivan City requested decisions from the Texas Attorney General’s Office on whether or not they could withhold records, which indicated they had received subpoenas. Lawyers for La Joya ISD told the Attorney General’s Office that “any responsive information, to the extent it exists, would be confidential or excepted from disclosure.”

The city of La Joya didn’t receive a subpoena, said City Attorney Roberto Jackson. Palmview responded the city had “no responsive information,” which indicated the city hadn’t received a subpoena either.

Agua SUD, which acknowledged receipt of a subpoena, released a copy on Monday.

Asked about the subpoenas, the U.S. Attorney’s Office for the Southern District of Texas declined to comment.

The subpoenas, along with other information obtained by the Progress Times, suggest the FBI and federal prosecutors are conducting a wide-ranging investigation that targets public corruption in western Hidalgo County.

The investigation may be linked to several money laundering cases that surfaced in 2020. Rumors about the investigation started that fall.

Some people, though, remained skeptical about the rumors until May, when the federal Bureau of Alcohol, Tobacco, Firearms and Explosives arrested Peñitas Chief of Staff Andy Morales. He’s charged with one count of being a felon in possession of a firearm and three counts of making false statements when purchasing a firearm.

The criminal complaint against Morales said the ATF reviewed old firearms records “in connection with an investigation” but didn’t provide any additional details about that investigation.

Less than two weeks later, the grand jury subpoenas arrived.

Grand Jury Subpoenas

A grand jury subpoena asks the recipient to appear before a grand jury or provide the government with documents. It’s not an allegation of wrongdoing or proof that a crime was committed.

“A grand jury subpoena is a legal demand that you appear before an investigative body to give testimony on a criminal matter under investigation,” said former Hidalgo County District Attorney Rene Guerra. “You can subpoena anything tangible, including documents.”

After reviewing testimony and documents, members of a grand jury vote on whether or not to issue an indictment.

Grand jury subpoenas, however, are supposed to be secret.

They come with a stern warning: “You are not to disclose the existence of this directive. Any such disclosure would impede the investigation being conducted and thereby interfere with the enforcement of the law.”

Within days, the subpoenas issued to La Joya ISD, Mission and Agua SUD became the talk of western Hidalgo County anyway.

“I have no concrete information that is true,” said Hidalgo County Precinct 3 Commissioner Everardo “Ever” Villarreal. “But I have heard all the rumors.”

Rumors the FBI had asked for information on Performance Services Inc. didn’t surprise former Mission Mayor Norberto “Beto” Salinas, a longtime critic of the company.

“It’s only rumors,” Beto Salinas said. “I don’t know if it’s right or wrong. But somebody needs to look into it.”

The La Joya ISD Subpoenas

La Joya ISD received two subpoenas on May 20, according to information obtained by the Progress Times. They requested information on:

> Maya’s de Oro LLC

La Joya school board President Oscar “Coach” Salinas created Maya’s de Oro LLC in March 2017, according to documents filed with the Texas Secretary of State’s Office.

After he created the company, Salinas opened a drive-thru convenience store and restaurant called Herradores Stop & Go in Sullivan City.

Salinas also used the company to provide “Professional Services associated with sales” to L&G Consulting Engineers, according to documents filed in a civil lawsuit.

Asked about the subpoena, Salinas — who is represented by attorney Christopher Sully of McAllen — declined to comment.

> Ecolectrics LLC

Ecolectrics is an Austin-based company that specializes in solar power.

“Our in-house experts conduct site surveys, offer finance options, engineer, permit, install and commission your system, and provide monitoring, operation and maintenance services,” according to the Ecolectrics website.

The company didn’t respond to a request for comment.

> Peñitas Chief of Staff Andres “Andy” Morales and his company, RGV Redlight LLC

Morales created RGV Redlight LLC in March 2017, according to documents filed with the Secretary of State’s Office.

The company provided “fleet management” services to La Joya ISD and Agua SUD. It also partnered with Peñitas City Manager Omar Romero on a proposal to create a police department for the Valley View Independent School District.

Attorney Ricardo Montalvo of McAllen, who represents Morales, didn’t respond to a request for comment.

> JAR Group Development

JAR Group Development was created in September 2002, according to documents filed with the Secretary of State’s Office.

Jaime Rodriguez of Edinburg owns JAR Group Development through another company, JAR Group Management.

He did not respond to a request for comment.

> Xizaka LLC

Peñitas Mayor Rodrigo “Rigo” Lopez created Xizaka LLC in January 2018, according to documents filed with the Secretary of State’s Office.

Xizaka LLC appeared on a La Joya ISD vendor list for suppliers of physical education and athletic equipment. Whether or not the company actually did business with La Joya ISD isn’t clear.

Lopez did not respond to a request for comment.

> Payoplex LLC

Peñitas City Councilman Alex Guajardo created Payoplex LLC in March 2018, according to documents filed with the Secretary of State’s Office.

Guajardo did not respond to a request for comment.

> Performance Services Inc. and Jonathan Blackwell

The La Joya school board approved two contracts with Performance Services Inc. for “guaranteed energy savings” projects.

La Joya ISD borrowed nearly $13 million for Phase I of the project, according to an audit approved by the school board. The district borrowed another $31 million for Phase II and other expenses.

Jonathan Blackwell, the national director of advanced metering infrastructure and water meter solutions for Performance Services Inc., worked closely with La Joya ISD on both projects.

Blackwell didn’t respond to a request for comment.

> Government Asset Services and ST Infrastructure

Government Asset Services and ST Infrastructure are owned by Peñitas City Manager Omar Romero.

When the school district purchased new vehicles, Romero worked on the financing, according to documents released under the Public Information Act, which list Romero as a consultant.

“I’m not aware of any subpoenas in order to understand what they are requesting,” Romero said in an email.

> RGV Read and Feed

RGV Read and Feed brought together Peñitas City Councilman Alex Guajardo; his wife, Roxanna Flores; and South Texas College Trustee Victoria “Vicky” Cantu, the wife of La Joya school board Trustee Alex Cantu.

Vicky Cantu said they created RGV Read and Feed to fight childhood hunger.

“RGV Read and Feed’s meals have been an impactful lifeline to many economic disadvantaged families in the local area, serving as a beacon of hope,” Vicky Cantu said in a text message. “Not everyone is as fortunate as others and if RGV Read and Feed could make a difference in a child’s life then the mission of the organization has been fulfilled.”

They created the nonprofit organization in March 2017, according to documents filed with the Secretary of State’s Office. La Joya ISD approved an agreement with RGV Read and Feed three months later.

Under the agreement, RGV Read and Feed agreed to provide students with free meals through the Texas Department of Agriculture Child and Adult Care Food Program.

RGV Read and Feed had nearly $1.4 million in revenue during 2018, according to tax records.

Guajardo received nearly $138,000 from RGV Read and Feed that year. Flores received nearly $178,000. And Vicky Cantu received nearly $162,000.

The company also paid nearly $137,000 to Alex Cantu for consulting work.

La Joya ISD terminated the agreement in November 2019.

“Unfortunately, I stepped down from the RGV Read and Feed Board of Directors back in April of 2020 as my childcare business needed my full attention during the rise of our global COVID-19 pandemic,” Vicky Cantu said in a text message. “With that said, I’m unaware of the subpoena that was done to the La Joya ISD in regards to RGV Read and Feed. But I’m confident that RGV Read and Feed will have no issues, as they are no strangers to audits or reviews. RGV Read and Feed has always been viewed under a microscope (and) has performed incredibly well.”

> La Joya City Councilman Roger Hernandez

Rogelio “Roger” Hernandez, 35, of La Joya is an assistant director in the Physical Plant Operations Department at La Joya ISD, according to salary data released by the school district in January.

Voters elected Hernandez to the La Joya City Council in 2019. He previously served as president of the Agua SUD board.

Hernandez didn’t respond to a request for comment.

> Peñitas Mayor Rodrigo “Rigo” Lopez

Rodrigo “Rigo” Lopez, 37, of Peñitas is an administrator in the Asset Management Department at La Joya ISD, according to salary data released by the school district in January.

Lopez became mayor of Peñitas in 2015 and won a second term in 2019. He did not respond to a request for comment.

> Former Agua SUD board President Esequiel “Zeke” Ortiz Jr.

Esequiel “Zeke” Ortiz Jr., 45, of Palmview is a specialist in the Athletics Department at La Joya ISD, according to salary data released by the school district in January.

He’s also the former president of the Agua SUD board.

“I had no idea,” Ortiz said, when asked about the subpoena. “I hadn’t heard anything.”

> Mission City Councilwoman Jessica Ortega

Jessica Ortega, 47, of Mission is a life skills coach at Juarez-Lincoln High School, according to salary data released by the school district in January.

She joined the Mission City Council in 2014.

“This is the first that I’m hearing about it,” Ortega said, when asked about the subpoena.

Ortega said anyone with questions about her job or service on the City Council is welcome to contact her.

“I sleep well at night,” Ortega said. “And I never do anything illegal, immoral or anything like that.”

> Irma Tijerina

Irma Tijerina is married to Peñitas Chief of Staff Andy Morales.

She works for the La Joya ISD University Interscholastic League Department as a coordinator, according to salary data released by the school district in January.

Tijerina couldn’t be reached for comment.

The Agua SUD Subpoena

Agua SUD received a subpoena on May 20. It requested information on:

> Agua SUD General Manager Jose E. “Eddie” Saenz and his companies, CSJ Group and Synergos Consulting

Agua SUD hired CSJ Group to provide the utility district with engineering services.

In December 2017, when Interim General Manager Richard LeFevre abruptly resigned, Saenz took the job. Saenz kept working on engineering projects after he became general manager.

Agua SUD paid nearly $1.1 million to Saenz in 2018 and nearly $2.2 million to Saenz in 2019, when he still handled other engineering work, according to audits approved by the utility board.

In 2020, when Saenz stopped working on engineering projects, Agua SUD paid him $210,000.

Saenz created Synergos Consulting LLC in July 2019, according to records filed with the Secretary of State’s Office.

He didn’t respond to a request for comment.

> Peñitas City Manager Omar Romero, ST Infrastructure Group and Government Asset Services

Romero owns ST Infrastructure and Government Asset Services.

ST Infrastructure sold water tanks to Agua SUD, according to documents released under the Public Information Act. The utility board approved the purchases in 2017 and 2018.

Romero also did consulting work for Agua SUD in 2016 and 2017, according to documents released under the Public Information Act.

“I’m not aware of any subpoenas in order to understand what they are requesting,” Romero said in an email.

> Performance Services Inc.

The utility board approved a nearly $7.7 million contract with Performance Services Inc. to “replace and modernize” about 14,700 water meters, according to a news release from Agua SUD.

Performance Services Inc. said the new water meters would save Agua SUD about $816,000 annually — and cover the cost of the project.

The company didn’t respond to a request for comment.

> Ecolectrics LLC

Ecolectrics is an Austin-based company that specializes in solar power.

“Our in-house experts conduct site surveys, offer finance options, engineer, permit, install and commission your system, and provide monitoring, operation and maintenance services,” according to the Ecolectrics website.

The company didn’t respond to a request for comment.

> J&G Enterprises, which does business as Best Medical Supply

McAllen-based Best Medical Supply is owned by Jose Luis Trejo and his wife, Gabriela Trejo, according to documents filed in a civil lawsuit.

Jose Luis Trejo was charged with money laundering in October 2020. He pleaded not guilty.

Trejo did business with both Peñitas City Manager Omar Romero and Kenneth B. Ponce, the former owner of Hidalgo County EMS.

Attorney Alejandro Ballesteros of McAllen, who represents Trejo, did not respond to requests for comment.

> Mariano Garcia and M. Garcia Engineering LLC

McAllen-based M. Garcia Engineering is owned by Mariano Garcia, according to documents filed with the Secretary of State’s Office. He didn’t respond to a request for comment.

> Mission Mayor Armando “Doc” O’caña; the Red, White and Blue Foundation Inc.; Mission Vision and Hope Foundation Inc.; and Mission Heroes Inc.

Mission Mayor Armando “Doc” O’caña is part of all three organizations, according to documents filed with the Secretary of State’s Office.

O’caña said he made presentations to Agua SUD when he worked for Peñitas. They discussed plans for a water plant and ways to improve the Insurance Services Office rating for Peñitas.

“I wouldn’t know what the connection would be, what they’re looking for,” O’caña said.

None of the three organizations had any dealings with the utility district, O’caña said, adding that anyone is welcome to review their bank statements.

The subpoena also requested:

> All minutes, agendas and recordings from Agua SUD board meetings in September 2017 and January 2018.

> “All correspondence, e-mails and records relating to the Agua SUD’s negotiation of an ‘approximately 200,000 gallon booster station in the northern area along Western Road’ as authorized by the Agua SUD Board on Jan. 17, 2018.”

> Agua SUD audits for 2016, 2017, 2018, 2019 and 2020.

The Mission Subpoena

Mission received a subpoena on May 20, according to information obtained by the Progress Times.

It requested information on:

> Performance Services Inc.

In January, the Mission City Council voted 3-2 to approve a contract with Performance Services Inc. to upgrade water meters and install LED lights.

Mayor Armando “Doc” O’caña, City Councilwoman Jessica Ortega and City Councilman Alberto “Beto” Vela voted to approve the contract. City Councilwoman Norie Gonzalez Garza and City Councilman Ruben Plata voted against the contract.

> Izaguirre Engineering Group

Mission-based Izaguirre Engineering Group is owned by Diana Izaguirre, the president of the Hidalgo County Irrigation District #6 board of directors.

Izaguirre said her company worked on a proposal for Mission to provide sewer service north of Alton and assisted S&B Infrastructure with the Madero bridge project but had never done any work for Performance Services Inc.

She declined to comment on the subpoena.

7 Comments

  1. Nanis on June 10, 2021 at 6:53 pm

    .

  2. Satar on June 13, 2021 at 6:59 pm

    All smiles on political ads but no smiles now

  3. Juan on June 15, 2021 at 9:09 am

    Good reporting thanks…

  4. josh on June 15, 2021 at 10:40 am

    don’t rush to judgment a subpoena is a request for information not an accusation or charge, but none the less it will be interesting to see what comes of this.

  5. David on June 15, 2021 at 3:14 pm

    Psalm 14:3 “They have all turned aside, They are all alike corrupt. No one is doing good. Not even one ”
    RGV will never change for the good, until its leaders do.

  6. Satan on June 18, 2021 at 5:19 pm

    Puras ratas, no llenan!

  7. Deanna on June 19, 2021 at 6:12 pm

    A false witness will not go unpunished, and whoever pours out lies shall perish.

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