Yzaguirre defense questions video evidence

BROWNSVILLE — When the Texas Department of Public Safety sent an informant into the Cameron County Tax Office for evidence of any wrongdoing by Tax Assessor-Collector Tony Yzaguirre Jr., they ran into some technical difficulties.

Yzaguirre’s defense attorneys contested the validity of the video evidence based on radio interference, footage seemingly missing and a lack of information from DPS agents on why the footage ended up that way.

Defense attorney Eddie Lucio reasoned that knowing which objects were used to record Yzaguirre were necessary to answer the question of the missing footage.

“The question is what devices are being used, so we can determine whether the (informant) can manipulate (the footage). I find it incredible that (Special Agent Lt. Rene Olivarez) does not know,” Lucio said in hearing yesterday.

Yzaguirre appeared in a state District Court for his final pretrial hearing. He is charged with 11 counts of abuse of official capacity, 10 counts of bribery, one count of engaging in organized criminal activity and one count of official oppression.

His trial is scheduled to begin Monday.

The first video clip Lucio played for the court was taken Sept. 17, 2015. Most of the footage displays nothing but white fabric, which is later shown to be the informant’s pants when he gets up and walks. The clip then cuts to him walking outside.

The camera goes haywire in another video, making it impossible to discern anything significant.

In a clip dated Oct. 7, 2015, two men can be heard speaking, but most of the footage is black.

The problem, Lucio points out, is that in these videos important events that were said to have occurred — the rejection of the informant’s request to process titles and a transaction between the informant and Yzaguirre — are missing.

“We’re asking for spoliation instruction. It is too coincidental that these three different incidents didn’t record,” Lucio said.

Senior State District Judge Manuel Banales overruled the objection to video evidence after the state argued the footage was complete due to a second camera taking video.

Lucio was successful in arguing that banking experts would be required for the state to present bank statements as evidence, but objections to other evidence — such as the atmosphere of the tax assessor-collector office — were overruled.

Lucio also was successful in momentarily frustrating Assistant Cameron County District Attorney Peter Gilman.

“They want me to lay out my entire case and all my theories when they haven’t even submitted their list of witnesses and experts to me,” Gilman said.

Gilman requested that the defense provide its lists by Jan. 23, the day of jury selection. Lucio agreed.

Yzaguirre is on paid administrative leave and cannot resume work at the Tax Assessor-Collector’s Office until the case is settled. He is earning approximately $86,230, according to a salary survey by the Texas Association of Counties.

The trial begins at 9 a.m. Monday on the fifth floor of the Nueces County Courthouse in Corpus Christi.