The Office of the Texas Attorney General is investigating a voter fraud complaint which allegedly occurred during a recent water utility company board election in the Rio Grande Valley.
Eric Sanchez, 33, a Mission businessman, lost by three votes to incumbent Cesar Rodriguez, Jr., 35, for a seat on the Agua Special Utility District (SUD) board. The water utility is a nonprofit corporation that provides water and sewer services to more than 14,500 customers in the western Hidalgo County cities of Mission, La Joya, Penitas, and Sullivan City.
The Progress Times reported the complaint alleged that that Sanchez discovered seven people registered to vote from the same address – Rodriguez’s residence. However, only two of these people actually lived in the 1,900 square foot home. According to Hidalgo County Elections Department records, these individuals were Rodriguez’s relatives who voted using the incumbent’s home address. Reportedly, the relatives either registered to vote or updated their voter registrations between March 22 and 28. Early voting began in late April for the May 5 election.
Rodriguez first won his Agua SUD campaign in 2014. According to the county’s election records, only 11 people cast ballots and he prevailed by one vote. He works as a student discipline compliance officer for the La Joya Independent School District.
The Mission newspaper indicated that Sanchez filed the complaint in April. The Office of the Texas Secretary of State referred it to the AG’s office on May 30. Now, the case is in the hands of the AG’s Criminal Investigations Division.
“I’m not going to let it go,” said Sanchez, according to the Progress Times. “I was cheated.” He hoped the investigation would deter future voter fraud in western Hidalgo County.
The board race between Sanchez and Rodriguez reflected only one of numerous alleged conflicts of interest and potential corruption schemes plaguing the water district.
In 2017, state Senator Juan “Chuy” Hinojosa (D-McAllen) filed Senate Bill 814, prompted by concerns that four of the seven Agua SUD board members worked for La Joya ISD. Hinojosa posed that such a board majority gave one side political control over the water board. The Monitor quoted Hinojosa as saying the “La Joya school district is the largest employer within the Agua SUD and they have a majority of board members who work for La Joya ISD.”
SB 814 prohibited Agua SUD board members from working for other state “taxing entities” and blocked them from hiring each other’s board members as employees. Still, the water district found a loophole before the bill passed.
Then-Agua SUD Executive Director Oscar Cansino approved two five year employment contracts. One was an agreement with Oscar “Coach” Salinas, the water district’s community relations coordinator and La Joya ISD school board president. The other contract was with Armin Garza, a utility project manager and the La Joya ISD board vice president.
Hinojosa’s bill became law on September 1, 2017. Subsequently, Salinas and Garza were terminated but because of the created contracts, although these two men split a total of $489,000 in severance pay — $221,000 to Salinas and $268,000 to Garza. McAllen-based accounting firm Burton, McCumber, and Longoria called these payouts “abuse” because Agua SUD knew those employment contracts were signed as SB 814 waited before the Texas Legislature.
This January, the investigative Texas Rangers launched a probe into Agua SUD at the request of Hidalgo County District Attorney Ricardo Rodriguez to determine if any criminal offenses occurred regarding those contracts and severance payments.
In 2007, Agua SUD replaced the La Joya Water Supply Corporation through Senate Bill 3, Two years earlier, the water supply company was shut down after a state audit revealed that at least $170,000 it “collected from customers paying for metered water sales” went missing over a six-month period. La Joya Water later went into receivership.
Illegal voting is a second degree felony that carries a maximum 20 year prison sentence and a $10,000 fine if an individual is found guilty of this crime.
In June, a Texas District Court judge tossed the results of a Democrat May primary runoff race for a justice of the peace (JP) seat in nearby Kleberg County and ordered up a new election following similar voter fraud allegations.
Breitbart Texas reported that challenger Ofelia “Ofie” Gutierrez contested the results of the Kleberg County Democrat primary election for Precinct 4 JP against longtime incumbent Esequiel “Cheque” De La Paz. She then sued her opponent. In court, Gutierrez’s attorney argued that five adults registered to vote used De La Paz’s home address and two others did not live in the county. This netted seven questionable ballots cast by individuals either related to De La Paz or connected to members of his immediate family.
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