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Amid a criminal investigation implicating Rio Grande City staff, a new interim city secretary has been appointed to replace the recently fired former secretary. 

Lyzette Peña, the former official in charge of overseeing city elections, was removed in January after being arrested on charges of unlawful interception and use or disclosure of wire, verbal, or electronic communications.

Peña allegedly planted a recording device under the desk of Human Resources Director Valerie Brown Garza, who discovered the audio bug when she accidentally kicked over her computer and informed local authorities in September 2019.

After Peña was placed on unpaid administrative leave in late January, Melissa Garza was sworn in as interim city secretary on February 5. Rio Grande City Mayor Joel Villarreal said Garza was selected based on recommendations from the city manager and staff. Garza is a former employee of the city manager. 

The Monitor reported new details from the investigation into Peña that illustrate the scene of the crime. 

City Manager Alberto “Beto” Perez and Peña had been suspicious of the human resources director, who Perez suspected was leaking confidential information about personnel matters. He had previously written her up for “insubordination” and not keeping him “apprised of potential legal matters.” 

On the day Peña allegedly planted the audio bug, she is seen on camera checking the surrounding area for people nearby.

Perez denies all knowledge of the audio recording device. He also denies directing Peña’s actions or leading her into the belief he would want it planted. Perez has not been charged with any crimes.

Overseeing elections is one of several jobs entrusted to the city secretary, and the overturn of the position comes in the run-up to May municipal elections and as suspected voter fraud cases in Starr County are investigated. Texas Scorecard previously reported on the efforts of politiqueras to harvest votes.