Ex-La Joya mayor pleads not guilty, released on bond

Fito Salinas, left, former mayor of La Joya, walks out of the Federal Courthouse on Thursday in McAllen, accompanied by his wife, Mary, and attorney Richard Zayas. By Joel Martinez, The Monitor

McALLEN — The former La Joya Mayor Jose “Fito” Salinas was released on bond Thursday after pleading not guilty to two charges of conspiracy to commit wire fraud.

Salinas, 81, appeared before U.S. Magistrate Judge Juan F. Alanis who set $75,000 unsecured bond and set conditions for Salinas’ release.

Those conditions included that he have no contact with his daughter, Frances A. Salinas, who is a co-defendant in the case, no contact with other co-defendants or possible witnesses in the case, no drug use, no excess alcohol use, and restriction on his travel to the Southern District of Texas.

The former mayor was arrested on Wednesday stemming from two alleged schemes — one involving a public relations contract and the other involving the purchase of property.

The first involves a former employee of the city, Sylvia Garces Valdez, 39, and his daughter, Frances Salinas, 52, both of whom were already arrested in the case.

From June 2018 to approximately November 2018, the city entered into a public relations contract with Garces Valdez. However, the government alleges that as a condition of receiving the contract, Garces Valdez agreed to give Frances Salinas a portion of the contract’s payments.

According to the criminal complaint filed against Frances Salinas on Dec. 12, she indicated that she had connections with a city official who would ensure the approval of the contract and later amendments, if necessary.

The complaint states that the contract was approved and signed by Official A and Garces Valdez on June 12 and June 13, 2018, respectively.

The second alleged scheme, which Salinas allegedly devised from January 2016 to approximately July 2016, resulted in the city purchasing his property at a highly inflated rate.

Fito Salinas, who served as mayor of La Joya from 2010 until he was voted out in December 2019, is represented by Richard E. Zayas of Zayas & Hernandez P.C., a Brownsville-based law firm.

Zayas said he would not comment on the case as he accompanied Salinas and his wife, current La Joya City Commissioner Mary Salinas, out of the federal courthouse shortly after 5 p.m. Thursday.

His final pre-trial hearing is currently scheduled for April 3 while his trial is scheduled for April 7, both before U.S. District Judge Randy Crane.

bereniceg@themonitor.com