HAMMER: Love, money and politics
BY NAXIELY LOPEZ-PUENTE
EDINBURG — A whirlwind romance that ended in a messy dispute between the former city manager and one of his employees may have landed the police chief here in hot water.
The relationship between former city manager Juan Guerra and his subordinate, former legislative affairs liaison Miriam Cepeda, was fraught with whispered rumors since its start in early 2019.
Both had just started working for the city when news of their blossoming romance began to circle throughout city hall — mostly because employees believed it went against the city’s rules of conduct. As Cepeda’s supervisor, Guerra was prohibited from dating her.
Cepeda, however, eventually left her post after serving just four months, and a few days later, the couple made their relationship official via a social media post that showed them vacationing together in South America.
Several months later, they announced their engagement, but it all came to a screeching end Dec. 15, when Cepeda called Edinburg police to report an alleged assault by her fiance, Guerra.
What exactly transpired that day depends on who you ask. Cepeda claims Guerra pushed her to the floor and caused her to bang her head on furniture during an argument.
“Yes, every couple has fights, but there is a line drawn,” she said Monday. “I am a strong woman and I’ve never felt so low in my life (like) after this fight.”
Guerra claims Cepeda is trying to extort him for money — specifically the $250,000 the council gave him to walk away from his post in November.
“I believe all of this started with the severance pay Edinburg gave me,” he said Monday. “As our relationship was ending, she claimed it (money) was due to her. I said, ‘No. If you want money, get a job.’”
Both say they have proof of each other’s transgressions, but police have yet to make any arrests. And that’s why Edinburg Police Chief Cesar Torres was suspended for five days, a source close to the issue told The Monitor.
Torres declined to confirm.
“I can’t comment, but you can ask the CM (city manager),” he said via text Monday.
Interim City Manager Richard Hinojosa declined to give details about his decision via city spokesperson Cary Zayas on Monday. He cited the city’s policy to not discuss personnel matters in public.
The Monitor requested a copy of the police report and other related records via a public information request last week, but the city has yet to respond to the inquiry.
A second source, however, provided a copy of the police report’s front page to The Monitor on Monday. The document offers minimal information, but confirms Guerra and Cepeda were involved in an assault and criminal mischief case at a home in the 2700 block of Woods Drive in Edinburg at about 8:10 a.m. on Dec. 15.
Police, however, listed both of them as “victims.”
“I gave them statements with visual proof, audio proof and screenshots of messages that prove I am being set up,” Guerra said. “Don’t pay attention to the pretty woman with tears and emotions coming out. It needs to be based on facts — not emotion.”
Guerra also said he told police: “Before you do something stupid and arrest me for something I didn’t do, look at the documenation and the back up.”
Cepeda, however, argued Guerra has a history of being aggressive and said she doubted Edinburg police would give her a fair investigation given Guerra’s former role with the city. That’s why she spoke to staff at Hidalgo County District Attorney Ricardo Rodriguez’s office.
“Juan has been mentally abusive and physically abusive throughout our whole time dating,” she said. “I hid my bruised face from the police trying to protect him. However, it’s unfortunate that he is not willing to protect me.”
Rodriguez said his office directed Cepeda to the proper law enforcement authorities.
“If they come to our office, we will refer them to the appropriate agency where they can go make the reports or file a complaint based on what allegedly happened,” the district attorney said. “That happens a lot.”
Cepeda said she also has proof.
“I have pictures,” she said. “I have not shared them out of fear for his reputation, as well as my own.”
But it’s that same reputation that Guerra believes Cepeda is using against him.
“She understands I’m a public official and my reputation is extremely important,” he said. “She and every other female need to know I can not be extorted. I am not a victim. I will defend myself.”
Cepeda also claimed Guerra wanted her to file a false statement to police to protect himself.
“He wants a statement that I fell on my own, which I refuse to give,” she said. “He’s saying extortion? No. I’m not wanting his money. It’s just ridiculous that I had to sign something that I didn’t want to sign.”
Cepeda said Edinburg City Attorney Omar Ochoa asked her to sign a document that essentially indemnified the city from any lawsuits so that Guerra could get his quarter of a million dollars from the city.
“When he got the severance package, it was contingent that I sign that he didn’t do anything wrong to me as (my) employer,” she said.
Ochoa, however, said the document was needed as part of Guerra’s exit review.
“It’s all really straight forward. There was this concern there may have been improper conduct … because she was a city employee,” Ochoa said. “She confirmed there was none and we memorialized that in a document.”
Ochoa said the city needed to do its due diligence to finalize Guerra’s role with the city.
“This was an important process in this specific incentive package, given the nature that it’s the city manager and (an employee),” he said.
Cepeda also never expressed a concern about signing the document to Ochoa, the city attorney said.
“And she was represented by counsel during the discussion, prior to the time of the signing and at the time of her signing,” Ochoa added.
Both Guerra and Cepeda have once again retained attorneys, this time to defend themselves against the other.
Guerra will be holding a press conference alongside his attorney Reynaldo Merino on Wednesday, where he vowed to present a timeline and proof of his innocence.
“Once my name is clear, I will go on the offense and file charges against her,” he said. “There’s got to be consequences to false allegations.”
For her part, Cepeda said she would pursue charges after initially declining to do so.
“Both of our reputations are on the line, but he has failed to apologize,” Cepeda said. “All I want is an apology.”