FBI arrests La Joya Housing Authority official for bribery

FBI spokeswoman Michelle Lee confirmed Monday morning the arrest of the La Joya Housing Authority’s vice chairwoman, Sylvia Garces Valdez, after a joint investigation between the FBI and the HUD-Office of Inspector General.

The La Joya Housing Authority vice chairwoman is accused of bribing a city official to be considered for a position within the city, according to an indictment unsealed shortly after her arrest at city offices Monday.

Sylvia Garces Valdez allegedly “gave, offered, and agreed to give cash to ‘Person A’ intending to influence and reward ‘Person B,’ an elected offi cial for the City of La Joya, for their influence in granting a public relations contract to (Garces Valdez),” the court document stated. Garces Valdez’s allegedly bribed the city offi cial between June and November 2018.

The indictment, handed down by a federal grand jury Aug. 13, comes on the heels of FBI agents raiding the La Joya city hall offices last week.

In its filing against Garces Valdez, the government seeks to seize about $10,000 of the woman’s property derived from “proceeds traceable to such offense,” the record shows.

Last Friday, agents were seen removing boxes from city administrative offices in connection with an investigation that was not revealed.

Part of city hall was shut down due to the search, disrupting the city’s main phone lines. City staff also had to leave their offi ces and move to the police department while the search was ongoing.

Robert Jackson, the former city attorney for La Joya who resigned in 2017, speculated Friday that the agents were investigating misuse of public funds for personal use.

Mayor Jose “Fito” Salinas, said he didn’t want to speculate on what the agents were looking into but said he was aware that the FBI had spoken to their former city administrator, Mike Alaniz.

Alaniz retired from the city at the end of June but his attorney, Rick Salinas, confirmed he was the focus of a federal investigation.

Salinas said that he was told he had to sign off on the inventory that the agents were going to remove from city hall.

“The thing about it is, how in the heck do I know what they’re taking?” he said. “I don’t keep inventory.”

“How can I sign something if I don’t know what they’re putting in the boxes.”

Monday before noon, Garces Valdez made her initial appearance before U.S. Magistrate Peter. E. Ormsby, and asked to have an attorney appointed, court notes show.

The court scheduled a detention hearing for later Monday afternoon.

If convicted of the bribery charge, Garces Valdez could face up to 10 years in prison and up to a $250,000 fine.