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Former Starr County attorney indicted on bribery, extortion and theft charges

The FBI arrested former Starr County Attorney Victor Canales Jr. on bribery, extortion and theft charges Friday.

Victor Canales Jr., 49, of Rio Grande City — who represented Starr County from 2005 to 2022 — provided other public officials with legal advice and prosecuted misdemeanor cases.

Canales also controlled the Starr County Attorney’s Office bank account.

“Victor Canales would convert funds destined for the Starr County’s Attorney’s Office for fines and fees, by requesting payment in cash or money orders, and then depositing the cash or money orders into his personal accounts,” according to the indictment against him.

Court records don’t list an attorney for Canales, who remained in federal custody Friday and couldn’t be reached for comment.

Canales was raised in Roma and studied law at St. Mary’s University in San Antonio.

Victor Canales Jr. (Photo courtesy of Starr County.)

In 2005, less than seven years after he passed the bar exam, Canales became the county attorney. Canales also represented the Rio Grande City Grulla Independent School District and a local water supply corporation, among other clients.

In April 2022, though, Canales abruptly resigned without explanation. Rumors circulated that he was under federal investigation.

When the investigation started and what triggered the inquiry remain unclear.

The case against Canales is somehow linked to Operation Ice River, a federal investigation that targeted Ignacio “Nacho” Garza, 51, of Rio Grande City.

Garza is accused of running a major drug trafficking organization that smuggled methamphetamine, cocaine and marijuana through Starr County. Along with Garza, prosecutors brought charges against former Justice of the Peace Roel “Role” Valadez Jr. and Garza’s wife, Melissa, the city secretary for Rio Grande City.

Assistant U.S. Attorney Patricia Cook Profit is handling both cases.

A federal grand jury indicted Canales on Wednesday.

Canales is charged with one count of violating the federal Travel Act, four counts of theft and four counts of extortion.

According to a news release from the U.S. Attorney’s Office for the Southern District of Texas, which is prosecuting Canales, he embezzled property worth at least $5,000 from the Starr County Attorney’s Office every year from 2018 to 2021.

The extortion charges, meanwhile, resulted from incidents during July, September and October 2021, according to the indictment. In each incident, Canales “obtained property” from someone “under color of official right.”

In most cases, the charge involves a public servant who takes an official act in exchange for money, according to information published by the U.S. Department of Justice.

Each of the four extortion charges against Canales involves a different person or entity identified only by initials.

The first incident, which took place on July 6, 2021, involved “COA.” The second incident, which took place on Sept. 2, 2021, involved “FLV.” The third incident, which took place from Sept. 3 to Sept. 7, 2021, involved “JVO.” And the fourth incident, which took place on Oct. 4, 2021, involved “LG.”

Neither the indictment nor the news release provided any details about the official action Canales allegedly took or what he received in return.

Canales is also charged with one count of violating the Travel Act because he used a bank to carry out the bribery and extortion schemes, according to the indictment.

The most serious charge against Canales, extortion, is punishable by a maximum of 20 years in prison.

Canales is scheduled to make an initial appearance in federal court on Monday.

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