After resigning from his position with the city in June, former La Joya City Administrator Mike Alaniz has pleaded guilty to a federal theft charge.
Alaniz was charged with selling land to the city at a price much higher than its market value.
In 2012, Alaniz attended a public auction as a representative of the city, where he purchased several plots of land for both the city and himself. One of the purchases was $9,700 for land referred to as Lot 112. But in 2017, when Alaniz sold Lot 112 to the city, he did not sell it for what government prosecutors stated was the market value of $15,000; instead, he sold it to the city for $39,400 of taxpayer funds.
At the moment, it is still unclear who exactly approved the purchase, with both the city commission and Mayor Jose “Fito” Salinas pointing fingers at each other and claiming ignorance. Following the guilty plea from Alaniz, government prosecutors set their sights on Mayor Salinas, alleging he approved the purchase of Lot 112. The Monitor reports Salinas denies all accusations against him. Salinas stated that had he approved the purchase, it would have had to be approved first by the commission—but the purchase of the lot was never brought before the city commissioners.
This is not the first time La Joya public officials have found themselves under intense scrutiny. The La Joya Independent School District previously spent over $20 million in public school funds on a water park. Residents responded by sending a new trustee to the board, and the superintendent that oversaw the project resigned this April.
All this comes to the forefront as the campaign for three commission seats rolls on, and La Joya residents head to the polls. Mayor Salinas is running for re-election alongside Daniel Flores Jr. and Dalia Arriaga, who are running for the two open seats; the three candidates are running on the “La Joya Citizens Working Together” ticket. Challenging Salinas is Jaime Gaitan, on the “Three Candidates, One Vision” ticket, and Isidro Casanova on the “We Are La Joya” ticket. The latter slate has made a point to call attention to the FBI investigations surrounding Salinas, with the campaign slogan “It’s Time.”
Alaniz could ultimately spend as long as 10 years in federal prison. His sentencing is scheduled for January 9, 2020.