BROWNSVILLE — Cameron County Tax Assessor-Collector Tony Yzaguirre Jr. held a press conference yesterday alongside his attorneys to proclaim his innocence in the criminal allegations against him and to announce the scandal would not uproot him from office.
Standing with his attorneys, retired state District Judge Robert Garza and his son Myles Garza, Yzaguirre asked the public not to rush to judgment until all the facts had been presented.
“I ask that the citizens of this county hold off judgment until all the facts have been presented,” Yzaguirre said at the press conference held in the Cameron County Tax Assessor-Collector’s Office on East Harrison Street in Brownsville.
Yzaguirre said he planned to continue to work at his office while his attorneys work on clearing him of the charges.
“I will continue to serve this office and the citizens of Cameron County until I am acquitted of all these allegations,” he said.
Because Yzaguirre is an elected official, the Cameron County Commissioners Court cannot remove him from office. Had he been an appointed official, they could have taken some type of action following his Jan. 6 arrest.
Yzaguirre was one of four men from the Cameron County tax office arrested in a multi-agency investigation that shut down operations at the tax office.
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 bonds issued by Magistrate Alfredo Padilla.
Yzaguirre said the criminal allegations against him were unfounded attempts from Cameron County District Attorney Luis V. Saenz to benefit Saenz’ upcoming election campaign.
Robert Garza reiterated Yzaguirre’s statement, saying it was Saenz’s “last straw” before the March primary election.
“He’s got the election coming up, he wants to say something, he wants to put it out in the public. This is his last straw, for what? You all have read the affidavit for allegedly somebody left an envelope for $300 on his desk. Give me a break,” Robert Garza said.
“His (Saenz’s) political signs have been out there saying I helped clean Cameron County. He wants to continue with that, and I guess this is one of the reasons why (he went after Yzaguirre),” Robert Garza said.
Saenz is running for re-election as district attorney. He is being challenged by Democrat Carlos Masso and Republican Jeremy SoRelle.
“The community needs to hold off. There are some very nasty things that are being said about Tony which are very hurtful not only to him but his family. They (the public) need to hold off and be patient and I think that once they do that and at the end they are going to see that this is ridiculous,” Robert Garza said.
Saenz declined comment yesterday.
“My good name, my family, and my staff have been tainted with the events of last week for the political benefit of District Attorney Luis Saenz,” Yzaguirre said.
Last Wednesday, Saenz revealed the arrests were part of a multi-agency investigation code name “Operation Dirty Deeds,” which had been in motion over the last two years. State and federal authorities raided the tax office and shut it down for three days so they could search for and seize evidence.
Garza said shutting down the office for that amount of time was unnecessary. “This office has to run. There are so many people that pay taxes,” he said.
Probable cause affidavits released Friday 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 that in the meeting Yzaguirre 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.
Yzaguirre has held his position for 28 years and is running for re-election unopposed this March. Although he is the only candidate running for the office, Yzaguirre said he is not focusing on the election, but rather that he gets his name cleared.
“I am not thinking that far. All we are thinking right now is about taking care of this issue as soon as possible,” Yzaguirre said.
Citizens Against Voter Abuse plans to converge before the Cameron County Commissioner’s Court this morning to protest Yzaguirre’s decision to remain in his seat.
Mary Helen Flores, founder of the organization, said she created the event on Facebook to let the public know that the Commissioner’s Court would discuss the tax office during its executive session.
Flores said she learned that as an elected official, Yzaguirre’s fate is out of the hands of Commissioners Court. Flores said the organization plans to file a title 87 petition for removal by a Cameron County state district judge to have Yzaguirre removed from office.
Flores cited the corruption scandal of former Cameron County District Attorney Armando R. Villalobos as the reason behind the call to action.
“I just feel like someone has to force some action. Last time this happened, Armando Villalobos stayed on the payroll a long time,” Flores said.
Villalobos is incarcerated at the Ashland Federal Correctional Facility in Ashland, Kentucky where he is serving a 13-year sentence for his Feb. 11, 2014 conviction on one count of violating the Racketeer Influenced and Corrupt Organizations statute, one count of conspiracy to violate the RICO Act, and five counts of extortion.
Mervyn M. Mosbacker Jr., attorney for Mireles, said it was too early to talk about the facts in the case but claimed Mireles was innocent of the charges.
“Once this hits the light of day, I think it will be obvious he (Mireles) had no intent to commit any crime and he didn’t commit any crime,” Mosbacker said.