Tax office closure: Arrests, investigation halt services at Brownsville site

BROWNSVILLE —Operations were once again halted at the Cameron County Tax Assessor-Collector Office in Brownsville yesterday after authorities ordered it be closed until further notice.

The order continued one day after Tax Assessor-Collector Tony Yzaguirre Jr, county tax investigator Pedro Garza, dealer/notary supervisor Omar Sanchez-Paz and Chief of Investigations Lt. Jose Mireles were arrested Wednesday morning as the result of a two-year investigation under the code name “Operation Dirty Deeds.”

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.

Jose Mireles was charged with bribery, engaging in organized criminal activity and official oppression.

The men were arrested and booked at the Carrizalez-Rucker Detention Center where they were later released on a personal recognizance bond issued by Magistrate Alfredo Padilla.

On Thursday, Cameron County Judge Pete Sepulveda Jr. said it was his understanding under orders by the magistrate that Yzaguirre had to wait at least 72 hours before he could return to the office.

It is unknown if Yzaguirre has hired an attorney to represent him. The Cameron County District Attorney’s Office said no attorney had contacted the office on Yzaguirre’s behalf. Yzaguirre did not return telephone calls seeking comment.

Brownsville residents Maria Del Refugio Gonzalez and Juan Larraga were disappointed when they were turned away Thursday afternoon while trying to renew their registration sticker for their vehicle.

Gonzalez said the closure of the office caused a hassle for the couple who were unaware of Wednesday’s multi-agency investigation at the Cameron County Tax Assessor’s Office.

Sepulveda said the closure was ordered sometime before noon Thursday.

The area pertaining to property taxes had been open a few hours Wednesday morning because it was not the focus of the investigation by federal and state authorities, Sepulveda said. However, before noon it was ordered that the entire office be closed.

“The investigation was focused on the DMV side of the office so the property tax function was not implicated,” Sepulveda said.

The county judge said the public can pay their property taxes at other Cameron County tax offices in the county.

People who have issues dealing with the Texas Department of Motor Vehicles will have to visit the H-E-B stores in Cameron County or the A.V. Lopez Supermarket on International Boulevard in Brownsville or AMEX Check Cashing on Price Road, also in Brownsville.

Sepulveda anticipates that the office could be back in operation sometime next week.

Cameron County Precinct 4 Commissioner Dan Sanchez said the arrests of employees from the county’s tax office raise public concern because allegations make it difficult for residents to trust public officials.

Although Sanchez said he didn’t pass judgment on whether the men were guilty of the charges he trusts the legal system to decide their fate.

“People are accused of crime everyday. I don’t know what the outcome of this is going to be, it could be that the case is dismissed,” said Sanchez, who is also running for Cameron County judge.

Brownsville resident Camilo Gonzalez said he called the tax assessor’s office Thursday to obtain information about taxes he’d paid but claimed he was hung up on six times.

“As a taxpayer we deserve the right to know what is going on with our taxpayer money and to get treated like crap and when I wanted to file a complaint, a young lady told me to call a judge and hung up again. That’s not right,” Gonzalez said.

Gonzalez said after his third call to the tax assessor’s office, the woman on the other end of the line told him that his persistence was harassment.

Gonzalez said he would have liked to be referred to someone at the office who could help him in his quest for information.

Brownsville police spokesman J.J. Trevino said temporary closure of the tax assessor’s office didn’t mean that drivers traveling in vehicles with expired stickers would not receive citations.

Trevino said those who received citations for expired stickers can contest the citation in municipal court.