BROWNSVILLE — The latest corruption scandal to mar Cameron County unfolded yesterday morning when the Cameron County Administrative building was closed off to the public as a multi-agency investigation force converged on the Cameron County Tax Assessor’s Office.
Four men, including longtime county Tax Assessor-collector Tony Yzaguirre Jr., were arrested as the result of a two-year investigation under the code name “Operation Dirty Deeds,” District Attorney Luis V. Saenz announced in a brief news conference on the steps of the administrative building following the arrests.
Yzaguirre was charged with four counts of bribery, a second-degree felony; engaging in organized criminal activity, a first-degree felony; and official oppression, a class A misdemeanor.
County tax investigator Pedro Garza was charged with bribery, engaging in organized criminal activity and official oppression.
Dealer/notary supervisor Omar Sanchez-Paz was charged with engaging in organized criminal activity and abuse of official capacity, a class A misdemeanor.
Chief Lt. Jose Mireles was charged with bribery, engaging in organized criminal activity and official oppression.
The investigation was a collaborative effort from the FBI, Drug Enforcement Administration, Homeland Security Investigations, the District Attorney’s Office and the Brownsville Police Department.
Saenz said the tax assessor’s office, two private residences and four local businesses were subject to search warrants from the multi-agency investigation.
A man working on a construction project yesterday morning at the courthouse witnessed Yzaguirre being arrested.
The man, who asked not to be identified, said he was working on a project at the courthouse when a group of lawmen rushed into the administrative building.
“All of a sudden we saw five, six DPS (Texas Department of Public Safety) cars, FBI coming in. They were rushing inside. They almost ran up the stairs and through the door,” the man said.
He said authorities escorted Yzaguirre out the front doors of the administrative office, which houses the tax assessor-collector’s office, but then walked him back inside the building.
“Within five minutes, they were taking Mr. Yzaguirre in custody. They had him in custody, and he saw the people outside looking at him and he said something to the guy who had him handcuffed, an FBI agent, and he took him back in,” the witness said.
Yzaguirre, Garza, Sanchez-Paz and Mireles were released Wednesday afternoon after they were booked at the Carrizalez-Rucker Detention Center in Olmito. Each was granted a personal recognizance bond.
Yzaguirre’s family members drove the men from the jail in a white Ford Explorer.
As the group was being processed at the detention center, authorities remained at the tax office all day Wednesday, and shortly before 6 p.m. they were seen removing boxes and file cabinets from the building and loading them into a waiting truck.
County Administrator David A. Garcia said yesterday afternoon that it was too soon to say what would happen in regard to the jobs held by the employees who were arrested earlier in the day.
“We haven’t gotten to that point because there is still an investigation ongoing. We will let that run its course. We will probably get some direction from authorities. I would imagine the commissioners would have an agenda item at their next meeting to discuss any issues regarding the tax office,” Garcia said. “At this point, we are not taking any action one way or the other.”
Yzaguirre has been the county’s tax assessor-collector since 1988. He previously served as tax assessor-collector for the city Brownsville.
County Judge Pete Sepulveda Jr. issued a news release following the arrests to ask that the public postpone their business at the tax offices throughout Cameron County until further notice.
According to Sepulveda, the offices were closed Wednesday but would reopen today for property tax collection purposes only. Sepulveda said county residents could pursue filings with the Texas Department of Motor Vehicles at H-E-B stores countywide, A.V. Lopez Supermarket in Brownsville on International Boulevard and AMEX Check Cashing on Price Road.
Saenz was unavailable for comments after the announcement. It was unknown at press time if more arrests are expected in the case. According to a news release from the DA’s office, the investigation continues.