La Joya EDC accuses former city administrator, former chairman of the board of directors of the Régie du logement, of wrongdoing – Progress Times
Economic development corporation La Joya on Tuesday accused former city administrator Mike Alaniz and former La Joya Housing Authority board chairman John Pena of participating in a conspiracy to steal land. money to a small business loan program.
EDC La Joya made the allegations in a Legal action against former mayor Jose A. “Fito” Salinas and his daughter, Frances A. Salinas.
Frances Salinas allegedly embezzled money from an EDC La Joya-funded project and solicited bribes throughout the construction process. The lawsuit claims that Fito Salinas, Alaniz and Pena – who together served on the board of directors of La Joya EDC – were aware of its program but still approved small business loans for the project.
“We want people to know that we are doing all we can, in our power, to put an end to this,” said Mayor Isidro Casanova. “And hopefully get some of the funds back.”
The project has had problems from the start.
In May 2015, a consultant named Joseph Campos helped a local couple apply for a small business loan. The couple, Miguel and Silvia Ochoa, wanted to open a daycare center in La Joya, but they had no business experience.
After reviewing the request, EDC La Joya loaned them $ 217,000 in April 2016.
Campos, however, was caught stealing money from the project. He pleaded guilty to theft and agreed to pay $ 130,000 in restitution.
Only $ 708.08 was left in the Arcoiris Daycare Project account as of November 2016, according to Hidalgo County Sheriff’s Office files filed in the Campos theft case. Construction stalled.
Frances Salinas, the mayor’s daughter, offered to provide the Ochoas with “advisory and management assistance,” according to letters issued under the Texas Public Information Act. With her on board, EDC La Joya authorized a second loan of nearly $ 242,000 to complete the project in August 2017.
EDC La Joya approved two more loans in December 2017, but Arcoiris daycare never opened.
Frances Salinas allegedly solicited bribes from contractors throughout the construction process and stole money from the Arcoiris daycare bank account.
A federal grand jury indicted Frances Salinas and Fito Salinas last year. They have pleaded not guilty.
EDC La Joya filed a lawsuit against them on March 8, attempting to recover the money. Edinburgh lawyer Jose L. Caso, who represents EDC La Joya, changed the trial Tuesday to add claims against Alaniz and Pena.
According to the lawsuit, Alaniz and Pena knew about the scheme and still approved the loans.
Alaniz has pleaded guilty to theft in a separate case involving an illegal land transaction. He has not been charged with any wrongdoing in the Arcoiris Daycare case.
“It wasn’t the right place, the wrong time to be city manager,” said attorney Rick Salinas of Mission, who is representing Alaniz in the criminal case.
Alaniz, however, frequently clashed with Frances Salinas and was not involved in any conspiracies to help her, Rick Salinas said.
“They weren’t getting along,” said Rick Salinas. “There’s a long story that they didn’t get along. It was a very ugly and tenuous relationship.
Pena also denied any wrongdoing.
“I remember telling Mike to ask Ms. Ochoa why she hired Frances,” Pena said. “I had no idea that one. This was my first concern regarding this loan.
Pena said he was unaware Frances Salinas stole money or solicited bribes and was not involved in any conspiracies.
“I’m not that kind of person,” Pena said.
The lawsuit is one of many filed by EDC La Joya, which is trying to recover money from people who have defaulted on small business loans.
Two lawsuits resulted in judgments against the borrowers. Three others, including the Arcoiris Daycare case, remain unresolved.
“And we’re going to sue them until we get justice – until we give some money back to the taxpayers who trusted these companies,” Caso said.