Prior incident raised in Yzaguirre trial

CORPUS CHRISTI — Before the Sept. 14 undercover operation that eventually led to the arrest of Cameron County Tax Assessor-Collector Tony Yzaguirre, there was one prior incident that caught the Texas Department of Public Safety off guard.

In June 2015, Mel Sosa was instructed by DPS agents to get the tax office to do some title transfers for him. What they did not foresee was that the tax office would detect the titles were junk titles, or “vehicle death certificates.”

“Did it make you doubt that (Yzaguirre’s) office and clerks were (committing bribery)?” lead defense attorney Eddie Lucio said.

“It made me wonder why certain transactions went through and others did not,” DPS Special Agent and lead investigator Rene Olivarez said.

Olivarez later determined that tax office employee Marisol Sifuentes had accessed a secure database she was not authorized to use to learn that the titles were fake.

“I was given temporary access. I didn’t know it was a bad thing,” Sifuentes said in a video interview. “Because I checked stuff, that was wrong?”

Sifuentes told agents she was offered money by Sosa once. She did not take it, nor did she know how much it was, she said.

“I just wanted my job. That’s why I would never take money. If a clerk was caught doing favors for someone, they’d be fired,” Sifuentes said.

Agents questioned why that would be the case if Yzaguirre was taking bribes “all the time.”

One agent said he hoped Sifuentes would tell them she was forced to do things out of fear of losing her job. Instead, it looked like she had her “head in the sand.”

Sifuentes was arrested on one count of felonious breach of computer security. The charge later was dropped. She is expected to testify as a state witness.

The next time Sosa made contact with Yzaguirre was Sept. 14, 2015, with three “vehicles” that did get processed.

In the Sept. 14 video recording, Yzaguirre appears to be inspecting Sosa’s paperwork and even raises a concern when something seemed to be missing.

He then instructs an employee to look it over.

“He asks them to check it out and see if everything is OK, and, if it is OK, to go ahead and take it,” Sosa reported to Olivarez in the recording.

Lucio once again asked Olivarez if this exchange gave him pause.

Olivarez responded that, based on what could be seen in the video, Yzaguirre seemed to care about the paperwork “to a certain extent.”

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