Tuesday, October 27, 2020

La Joya Housing Authority former maintenance director charged with fraud


The former maintenance director for the La Joya Housing Authority is the latest person to be indicted in a case in which the former mayor of La Joya, his daughter, and a former city employee are all facing charges.

Federal prosecutors charged Ramiro Alaniz, the maintenance director for the La Joya Housing Authority from Feb. 1, 2017 to Nov. 2, 2018, with one count of wire fraud conspiracy related to the construction of a daycare center.

At the time of Alaniz’s employment, Frances A. Salinas served as the interim executive director for the housing authority and she hired Alaniz as the general contractor for the Arcoiris LLC daycare project, according to the superseding indictment.

Alaniz, Frances Salinas, and her father, former La Joya Mayor Jose “Fito” Salinas, are accused of participating in a scheme to defraud the city and the La Joya Economic Development Corporation.

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Around Nov. 11, 2016, Frances Salinas “drafted or caused to be drafted” a letter that gave her full authority over the daycare project, including its finances, which was signed by one of the owners of the daycare, according to the indictment.

Prosecutors allege that she requested loans for the project from the La Joya EDC through their revolving loan program.

As the mayor, Fito Salinas also served as chairman of the EDC board and voted to approve those loans for the project, according to the indictment.

As part of the alleged scheme, Frances Salinas allegedly instructed Alaniz to inflate the billing invoices and then he instructed some subcontractors to inflate their invoices “to hide that (Frances) was being paid kickbacks with money loaned to Arcoiris LLC from the La Joya EDC.”

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According to the indictment, from 2017 through approximately 2018, Frances Salinas would write checks to the subcontractors from the bank account that contained the loan money that was awarded to Arcoiris, LLC.

She would allegedly give those checks to Alaniz who would then give it to the subcontractors. He would then allegedly go to the bank with the subcontractor to cash the check. Prosecutors claim that Alaniz would take the cash back from the subcontractor and then return only part of the money to that subcontractor.

Alaniz was arrested on Oct. 7 and is the fourth person to be indicted in the case.

A former city employee, Sylvia Garces Valdez, was the first to be arrested in the case August 2019.

She is charged with one count of wire fraud and one count of federal programs bribery related to another scheme in which prosecutors allege that Frances helped Garces Valdez obtain a public relations contract with the city by influencing her father, Fito Salinas.

In exchange, Garces Valdez allegedly paid Salinas a portion of the money she made from that contract.

Frances, Fito and Garces Valdez all pleaded not guilty to the charges against them prior to Alaniz’s arrest.

Alaniz pleaded not guilty during his arraignment on Oct. 13 and was released on a $50,000 unsecured bond.

An attorney for Alaniz did return requests for comment as of press time.

All four are tentatively scheduled for a final pre-trial conference on Dec. 4 and jury selection on Dec. 8 before U.S. District Judge Randy Crane.


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