Separate criminal case could arise from arrest of RGC secretary

A Rio Grande City employee’s attempt to drop the charges against a coworker who was allegedly recording her is being reviewed for a possible separate criminal case.

The city’s HR Director, Valerie Brown, provided a non-prosecution letter stating she wished to drop the charges against City Secretary Lyzette Peña who was arrested for allegedly placing a recording device in Brown’s office.

However, investigators are looking further into the letter.

“I can confirm that we’re reviewing information that may turn into another separate criminal case,” said Robert Caples, commander of the Starr County Special Crimes Unit, when asked.

He could not provide more details and referred all further questions to Starr County Attorney Victor Canales, under whose office the SCU operates.

“We don’t like to really comment on ongoing investigations because of the nature of what they are,” Canales said.

He added that ongoing proceedings in the case are efforts to wrap it up.

“It was just a housekeeping matter that happened and so we’re just proceeding,” Canales said. “It’s not arising from any additional action that she took or anything like that — it all stemmed from the original investigation.”

“Like I said, it’s kinda sorta just tying loose ends to finish things off with the case,” he added.

Peña, 32, is facing three counts of unlawful interception, use or disclosure of wire, oral or electronic communications for allegedly placing a recording device in Brown’s office on Sept. 6, 2019.

After an investigation that included syncing surveillance video with the recorder’s audio, the SCU charged Peña with the first count in January.

Authorities then charged Peña with the remaining two counts last week which name Police Chief Noe Castillo and Police Officer Juan Perez as people whose conversations Peña was also allegedly attempting to intercept.

Castillo and Perez stated they did not consent to being recorded and provided affidavits for the ongoing investigation.

Before those two later charges were filed, though, Peña’s attorney, Hilda Gonzalez Garza, filed a motion to dismiss the first count earlier this month.

The motion was based off of a letter of non-prosecution that was signed by Brown, according to an official with knowledge of the case.

Starr County Justice of the Peace Jesus M. “Chuy” Alvarez denied the motion during a hearing earlier this month.

Peña’s arrest has inadvertently shed light on divisions within the city administration through investigators’ interviews in the case.

When Peña was questioned, she said she didn’t know anything about the recording device but mentioned an investigation into Brown.

“Lyzette insisted that the detectives should have spoken to the City Manager, Alberto Perez, before speaking to her,” according to the Aug. 6 probable cause affidavits.

She also told them she needed to check with the city attorney to see how much information she could disclose.

“When asked how any of that was related to the recording device, Lyzette stated that, ‘They wanted to know how easy it was to get information from Valerie,'” the probable cause affidavits stated.

But when Perez, the city manager, was asked for possible reasons for anyone to place a recording device in Brown’s office, Perez said there were none that he had authorized or been aware of, according to the offense report.

He did, however, acknowledge that he’d had issues with Brown and even placed her on probation because she had allegedly disclosed confidential information about personnel matters.

In a recovered deleted file from the audio recording device, Brown’s voice is heard speaking on the phone about an employee who was allegedly arrested. That phone conversation happened on May 23, according to the report.

Perez met with Brown the following day and asked her if she had heard about the employee’s arrest and she admitted she had but hadn’t informed Perez.

A few days later, on May 30, 2019, Perez wrote her up for “insubordination and not keeping me apprised of potential legal matters.”

The offense report, which was obtained by The Monitor through a public information request, detailed other allegations of political divisions among the city staff and of leaks that were not directly related to the case.

Peña remains on administrative leave.