Records shed light on Yzaguirre probe

BROWNSVILLE — Two probable cause affidavits released by authorities yesterday reveal how criminal charges brought this week against Cameron County Tax-Assessor Collector Tony Yzaguirre Jr. and three others transpired in an investigation dubbed “Operation Dirty Deeds.”

An undercover operation in 2015 by the Texas Department of Public Safety led to the arrest Wednesday of Yzaguirre, county tax investigator Pedro Garza, dealer/notary supervisor Omar Sanchez-Paz and Chief of Investigations Lt. Jose Mireles.

The probable cause affidavits detailed dealings in which Yzaguirre allegedly would take cash in exchange for private meetings to perform fraudulent vehicle registrations this past September and December. The probable cause affidavit also states Yzaguirre in the meeting had one of his investigators check a person — referred to in the affidavit as a “cooperating individual” — to see if he was wearing a “wire,” also known as a recording device for undercover law enforcement operations.

The probable cause affidavit alleges that, for a $100 fee per vehicle, Yzaguirre would meet personally with vehicle registration applicants who otherwise couldn’t register a vehicle.

Yzaguirre is accused of helping register vehicles that were junked and no longer in service. The vehicles were surrendered to the Texas Department of Motor Vehicles. According to the probable cause affidavit, the vehicles were to be registered to individuals who did not exist.

The probable cause affidavit states a “cooperating individual,” or “CI,” met personally with Yzaguirre and after having the three vehicles registered, he pulled a tax office envelope off Yzaguirre’s desk and placed $300 inside it, leaving it for the county tax assessor-collector.

According to the probable cause affidavit: “Yzaguirre acknowledged to the CI of the CI leaving money for Yzaguirre.” The cooperating individual left Yzaguirre’s office with registration for the three vehicles in which he paid $819.75, and this alleged incident occurred on Sept. 14, 2015, the affidavit said.

In another incident, a cooperating individual met with Yzaguirre on Dec. 15, 2015, where the county tax assessor-collector helped facilitate the registration of two other vehicles without having the documents to register them, the probable cause affidavit states.

According to the affidavit, Yzaguirre had a clerk assist the “CI” with the registration of the vehicles. At the conclusion of the registration, the “CI” paid Yzaguirre $200 to have the vehicles registered, the affidavit reads.

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.

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

Sanchez-Paz was charged with engaging in organized criminal activity and abuse of official capacity, a Class A misdemeanor.

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 Wednesday and were later released on a personal recognizance bonds issued by Magistrate Alfredo Padilla.

The investigation prompted federal and state authorities to shut down the tax office and the Administration Building for three days in order for authorities to search and seize documents from the tax office.

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

Sepulveda said the tax office and Cameron County Administration building would re-open for business Monday. He said county officials are working with the Department of Motor Vehicles to ensure the DMV system will be in operation Monday.

It is still unknown at this time who will be representing the four men against the criminal charges. The office of Cameron County District Attorney Luis V. Saenz was contacted to determine who would be representing the men. However, a spokesperson said the office had yet to receive word from any attorneys.

Yzaguirre was contacted for comment on the charges but has not responded.