Lawsuit Highlights Political Favors and Retaliation in Texas Border County

Starr County Courhouse
Starr County, Texas

A lawsuit being fought in a Texas State District Court accuses current and former Texas border county officials of lowering property tax rates for their allies as a way of providing favors within the political elite. The lawsuit was filed in the 381st State District Court by Luis Rios Jr. the former assistant chief appraiser for Starr County Appraisal District. Rios claimed that one of the members of the board of directors pressured him to lower his property tax rate and that of his relatives.

The lawsuit which was obtained by Breitbart Texas and attached below, names former Rio Grande City School Board President and former member of board of directors Basilo “Bacho” Villarreal and Humberto Saenz, the chief appraiser for the taxing district as the two individuals who pressured Rios to lower taxes. Their actions created a hostile working environment in the form of political retaliation.  The retaliation, according to the lawsuit, comes from Rios being the son-in-law of sitting Starr County Judge Eloy Vera who is Villarreal’s political opponent.

The Rios claims that in December, 2012, Villarreal personally called Rios to request that he reassess and lower the taxes of his properties, his businesses and those of his relatives.  Rios went to Saenz for advice who then told him to do as he was told because he “didn’t want any problems”, the document revealed.

Rios then called Rene Montalvo, the attorney for the taxing board who told him that legally he could lower Villarreal’s tax rate. After Rios reassessed the taxes and lowered his tax bill, a group of political rivals began gathering information against Villarreal and the lowering of taxes for himself and relatives.

Rios asked a member of the private law firm that handles the tax collection for the district to check if his name came up in relation to Villarreal’s tax favor and it did. When Villarreal found out about Rios’ investigation, he demanded that Rios be fired. Saenz carried out the termination while admitting that it was “political” in nature, the lawsuit revealed.

Rios is demanding a trial by jury and seeks to collect $500,000 from Starr County and Villarreal in damages. It remains to be seen if Starr County Appraisal District will settle the lawsuit or if the lawsuit will go to trial as is currently scheduled.

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Starr County Tax Lawsuit by ildefonso ortiz


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