Another South Texas School Board Member Admits Taking Bribes - Texas Scorecard

Another South Texas school board member has resigned after admitting he used his position to extort bribes from district vendors.

Last week, the U.S. Department of Justice announced La Joya Independent School District trustee Oscar “Coach” Salinas pleaded guilty to federal extortion charges.

District officials said Salinas resigned March 3, the same day he admitted to federal authorities he took money from one contractor and voted to terminate another contract when he didn’t receive more money as part of the scheme.

He faces up to 20 years in federal prison. He’s scheduled to be sentenced June 16.

Salinas is the second school board member in the South Texas district to plead guilty this year to federal corruption charges.

In January, La Joya ISD trustee Armin Garza resigned after admitting he accepted bribes and kickbacks totaling nearly a quarter-million dollars, in exchange for using his influence as a school board member to award contracts to a specific company.

Garza is scheduled to be sentenced March 18. His plea deal will likely reduce or eliminate any prison time.

La Joya ISD is a low-income district near the southern border in Hidalgo County.

The district earned national notoriety in 2018 when it opened a $20 million water park and sports complex.

Under criticism for spending state tax dollars on the complex, longtime La Joya ISD Superintendent Alda Benavides (who was earning $340,000 a year) retired in 2019.

In November 2020, Benavides was elected to La Joya’s school board and is now board president.

Three of the remaining five LJISD board members—Nereyda Cantu, Esperanza Ochoa, and Mary Hernandez—are up for re-election this November.

Both Garza and Salinas were elected to serve through November 2024, so voters will need to elect their replacements as well.