Sides start statements in trial of Yzaguirre

CORPUS CHRISTI — In the eyes of the Cameron County District Attorney’s office, Tax Assessor-Collector Tony Yzaguirre Jr. violated the trust of the people just to line his own pockets.

The State of Texas v. Antonio Yzaguirre Jr. is finally underway, and in its opening argument, the state reasoned that Yzaguirre acted unlawfully because he thought nobody was watching.

“They say the true test of a man’s character is what he does when no one is watching,” state attorney Kristine Trejo said. “That is why we are here today.”

Trejo told jurors that one of the state’s key witnesses, Mel Sosa, would testify to five occasions where he was able to do 11 illegal title transfers and vehicle registrations. Sosa was the cooperating individual who took part in the sting operation that eventually led to the arrest of Yzaguirre and five tax office employees.

“He bypassed the lines, and was able to meet with the defendant and hand over these documents to him to get these title transfers … What’s wrong with this picture?” Trejo said.

During the defense’s opening argument, lead attorney Eddie Lucio brought up what he called the “hot mic incident.”

After Sosa finished recording another meeting with Yzaguirre, he reported back to the Texas Department of Public Safety to hand in the recording device.

When he leaves, one of the agents can be heard expressing doubt as to whether Sosa is even leaving the money with Yzaguirre, a doubt they had expressed to the supervisor several times, Lucio said.

A phone call comes in from the supervisor, and the agents quickly change their tune, Lucio said.

“As the prosecutors said, it’s when you’re off the tape that you know what’s going on,” Lucio said. “This is one month before they drag Mr. Yzaguirre out of his office in handcuffs.”

The state’s first witness, Jesse Estrada, is a deputy constable in Precinct 1 who used to work at the tax office.

Estrada made a complaint to the D.A’s office in June 2013. In his complaint, he described seeing Yzaguirre constantly meet with certain individuals privately.

“What was transpiring, I couldn’t tell you,” Estrada said.

State witness Richard Arevalo, who works with the Texas Department of Motor Vehicles in Pharr, provided an explanation of how title transfers work. Enforcement of this process falls to the county tax assessor-collector and his employees, Arevalo said.

Senior State District Judge Manuel Banales expects the trial to take eight to 10 days.

Yzaguirre is charged with 11 counts of abuse of official capacity, 10 counts of bribery and one count of official oppression.

If found guilty, Yzaguirre faces up to 20 years in a state penitentiary for bribery, a second-degree felony, and up to a year in county jail for abuse of official capacity and official oppression, Class A misdemeanors.

The trial resumes with the defense’s cross-examination of Arevalo this morning.