Jury mulls fate of Yzaguirre after closing arguments

CORPUS CHRISTI — Jury deliberation in the case of the State of Texas v. Tony Yzaguirre Jr. has begun.

During its closing argument, the state argued that the tax assessor-collector knew exactly what he was doing when he processed Texas Department of Public Safety informant Mel Sosa’s title transfers.

The defense brought up Sosa’s history as a dealer and his business of buying and selling used vehicles to show that he was acting as a dealer during DPS undercover operations.

Investigators also were unaware of the dealer distinction until a few weeks before the trial, the defense stated.

“If it walks like a duck, quacks like a duck, then with certainty, it’s a duck,” defense attorney Myles Garza said.

The regulations for registering titles and conducting title transfers are different for dealers. They do not need a photo ID or proof of insurance. They do, however, require a dealer number.

“As you saw the two video clips, you see the defendant (Yzaguirre) going through the documents. He should’ve noticed that there was no dealer information,” prosecutor Kristine Trejo said. “The defendant was willing to let his friends go through lines, if they paid him a couple of dollars. What a betrayal of public trust.”

Trejo reviewed the bank statement evidence with the jury. Not all of the $329,539.40 could be explained by rent or barbecue tickets, she said.

Assistant District Attorney Peter Gilman apologized to the jury for the mistake by prosecutors in attempting to try Yzaguirre for the Dec. 15 transactions, which were all dealer titles.

Seven charges were dropped Monday morning as a result of this error. Yzaguirre is now charged with eight counts of bribery, six counts of abuse of official capacity and one count of official oppression.

Sosa has known Yzaguirre since 1997. He even allowed Yzaguirre to test drive a car he was selling for one of the tax assessor-collector’s family members prior to his arrest.

“Look at the history they have together. If they’ve been doing this (exchanging money for services) for about two or three years, it’s routine. That’s why they’re talking about things like travel and the weather (in the videos),” Gilman said.

Sosa stopped being a dealer in 2004 or 2005. He was not a dealer at the time of the undercover operation because he was unlicensed and did not have a permanent and established business, Gilman said.

“It doesn’t take a rocket scientist to see if they were dealer transactions or not,” Gilman said.

When Yzaguirre’s office was raided by multiple government agencies on Jan. 6, 2016, investigators found an envelope with $300 on his desk, the same amount Sosa had just left minutes ago, Gilman said.

Lead defense attorney Eddie Lucio once again referenced the “hot mic incident,” in which one DPS agent, Janie Alvarado, expressed her doubts as to whether Yzaguirre was taking the money.

Supervisor Ryan Maza testified in court Tuesday morning that she was unaware of the “totality of the investigation” and came from a narcotics background.

“If these guys are experts saying, ‘Don’t trust Janie, trust us,’ well, who are the ones making mistakes? Who didn’t know the law?” Lucio said.

Lucio also pointed out that Yzaguirre inspected the paperwork in one of the videos and raised a concern when something appeared to be missing. He then asked an employee to review it and process the paperwork if everything checked out.

A few titles were even rejected during the course of the investigation, Lucio said.

“When it passes, it’s evidence, but if it gets rejected, it’s not? You can’t ignore those instances, that’s very important,” Lucio said.

Each side was allowed 40 minutes to present its final arguments. Lucio went 30 seconds over, imploring the jury to reach a verdict of not guilty.

“There is a beautiful power you have, a strong power, to make this man hold his head up high. Use that power to make this right,” Lucio said.

Jury deliberation continues this morning.