RIO GRANDE CITY, Texas — The county tax assessor, her staff and several other individuals have all been arrested in connection with a massive border corruption and embezzlement scheme linked to the theft of more $700,000 in taxpayer money. The charges include tampering with government records, theft by a public servant, forgery, organized criminal activity and more.
Authorities arrested Starr County Tax Assessor-Collector Maria del Carmen Pena on Wednesday afternoon, according to information provided to Breitbart Texas by the Texas Department of Public Safety and Starr County investigators.
Authorities also arrested Maria Crisanta Gonzalez, the deputy director for the county tax office and deputy clerks Griselda Quezada, Mari Ann Lopez, Cynthia Rivas, Norma Leticia Quezada, Mayra Garza.
Other individuals arrested in the case include Pena’s brothers, Jose Antonio Alvarez, Fernando “Freddie” Alvarez, and his wife Delicia Canales. Five others were also arrested in the case and sources have confirmed to Breitbart Texas that multiple other arrests are likely.
In addition to embezzling tax funds, investigators believe that the group also engaged in various bribery schemes with the issuing of license plates.
Investigators with the 229th District Attorney’s Office had raided the tax office in 2013 and seized documents in order to carry out a forensic audit into missing funds.
Breitbart Texas confirmed in late 2014 that Pena was the target of an ongoing corruption investigation. At the request of former public information officer David Kifuri had agreed to hold the story as to not jeopardize the ongoing investigation.
The allegations against Pena and her staff point to the embezzlement of funds having taken place for more than a year starting in 2012. Investigators confirmed that the missing funds actually go back to 2010. The statue of limitations for those offenses has since expired.
Public corruption runs deep along the Texas border as the FBI has had to establish a public corruption task force in the area, as continuously reported by Breitbart Texas.
In recent years, public corruption cases have been uncovered in Cameron, Hidalgo, Starr, Webb and Starr counties. The individuals who have been charged or convicted in the cases have included multiple county sheriffs, a Texas state judge, county commissioners, mayors, school officials, municipal officials, law enforcement officials and even federal agents. Most recently, Breitbart Texas reported on the conviction of Maverick County Commissioner Jose Luis Rosales and former Justice of the Peace Cesar Iracheta who pleaded guilty this week in federal court to taking bribes.
The case in Starr County was investigated by the 229th District Attorney’s Office, the Texas Department of Public Safety Criminal Investigations Division, Texas Rangers, Texas Department of Motor Vehicles, FBI, U.S. Homeland Security Investigations, U.S. Customs and Border Protection and the High Intensity Drug Trafficking Area task force.