Cameron County authorities arrested four county officials Wednesday on public corruption charges, including Tax Assessor-Collector Tony Yzaguirre (far left above).
Tony Yzaguirre Background as Tax Assessor
Back in November 2012, Yzaguirre fended off an election challenge from Moses Sorola, a retired federal employee, former BISD teacher and owner of ABC Services, a bookkeeping, tax service, and payroll company.
After the 2012 election, Yzaguirre said he felt he deserved to be re-elected because of the work he’s done in office and said that much work remains to be done.
Specifically, he cited his office’s “scofflaw program” that goes after county residents who owe fines in municipal or county courts.
Under state law, “scofflaws” can be refused motor vehicle registration renewal if they have outstanding fines. Since the program began last year it has brought in about $866,000 in unpaid fines, Yzaguirre said.
“These are monies that should have been paid and they weren’t paid,” he said. “Because of this program people are paying.”
Operation Dirty Deeds
Luis V. Saenz, the district attorney for Cameron County, said his office led a two-year investigation, called Operation Dirty Deeds, into bribery, organized criminal activity and official oppression in the tax assessor-collector’s office.
Yzaguirre was charged with four counts of bribery, a second degree felony, among other charges.
The probe “centered on certain questionable actions and activities” of Yzaguirre’s office, Saenz said, reading from a prepared statement on the steps of the county administrative building, which was raided Wednesday by local, state and federal officers.
“As this investigation developed, it transitioned into a multi-agency effort,” he said.
Saenz declined to take questions or provide specifics on the charges.
Also arrested were Jose Mireles, chief of investigations and enforcement at the county tax office, Pedro Garza, an investigator for the office, and Omar Sanchez-Paz, a clerk.
Charged and Released
All four men face bribery charges. They are also charged with engaging in organized criminal activity, a first-degree felony, and official oppression, a class A misdemeanor. The district attorney’s office said all four posted bond and were released.
After the arrests, County Judge Pete Sepulveda Jr. announced the closure of tax offices throughout the county until further notice from law enforcement authorities, while Texas Department of Motor Vehicles business was shifted to temporary offices in area supermarkets.
Saenz launched a public integrity unit in 2013 to rebuild public trust in the wake of far-reaching public corruption scandals that roiled the region and made national headlines. He said the investigation into the tax office is still ongoing.
The Texas Department of Public Safety, the U.S. Attorney’s Office, the FBI, the Drug Enforcement Administration and Homeland Security Investigations assisted with the investigation.