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Former La Joya mayor sentenced to nearly 3 years in federal prison

A judge sentenced former La Joya Mayor Fito Salinas to nearly 3 years in federal prison Thursday for participating in schemes to defraud the city of La Joya, the La Joya Housing Authority and the La Joya Economic Development Corp.

Fito Salinas (Courtesy Photo)

During a hearing on Thursday afternoon, U.S. District Judge Randy Crane sentenced Jose A. “Fito” Salinas, 83, of La Joya to 33 months in federal prison. Fito Salinas didn’t apologize or appear to show any remorse.

“It is what it is,” Fito Salinas said.

Fito Salinas attended La Joya High School and earned a bachelor’s degree from Pan American College. After graduation, he became a teacher.

Fito Salinas worked in Zapata and Crystal City before accepting a job with the San Antonio Independent School District in 1976. A talented baseball player, Fito Salinas also coached many sports teams during his 30-year career.

In 1995, when he retired, Fito Salinas and his wife, Mary, moved back to La Joya.

Fito Salinas won a seat on the school board in 2006. His wife, Mary, joined the La Joya City Council in 2007.

Fito Salinas frequently clashed with longtime La Joya Mayor William “Billy” Leo — and left the school board to run against him in 2011.

With support from several local power brokers, Fito Salinas defeated Leo and joined his wife at City Hall. His daughter, Frances, attempted to follow in her father’s footsteps.

Frances Salinas served on the La Joya school board and became a precinct chairwoman for the Hidalgo County Democratic Party.

She also took over a troubled La Joya EDC project and convinced the housing authority board to make her the interim executive director.

Frances Salinas, though, seemed to steal money wherever she went.

She convinced the La Joya EDC — where her father served on the board — to approve loans for a small business project, stole the money and solicited kickbacks from subcontractors. She paid for personal expenses with housing authority funds. And she solicited kickbacks from a friend who handled public relations for La Joya.

Fito Salinas, meanwhile, participated in a scheme to sell property to La Joya for an inflated price.

“Essentially, they’re all kind of treating La Joya as their personal bank account,” said Assistant U.S. Attorney Sarina S. DiPiazza, who prosecuted the case.

How much Fito Salinas knew about the schemes that involved his daughter remains unclear.

Frances Salinas (Courtesy of Bexar County Jail)

“I take full and sole responsibility for my actions,” Frances Salinas said Thursday, when she apologized to her father and her family.

The judge sentenced Frances Salinas to 39 months in prison.

After they’re released, Fito Salinas and Frances Salinas must pay restitution.

Fito Salinas must pay nearly $321,000 in restitution, which included $100,000 to the La Joya EDC, nearly $59,000 to the housing authority and $162,000 to the city.

Frances Salinas must pay nearly $281,000 in restitution, which included $200,000 to the La Joya EDC, nearly $59,000 to the housing authority and $22,000 to the city. Prosecutors also requested that Frances Salinas forfeit $61,500 she received during the schemes.

Crane, the federal judge, said the Salinas family clearly fostered a culture of corruption in La Joya.

“You just feel bad for the citizens of La Joya when you look at this case,” Crane said. “All the way around, it’s sad.”

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