San Juan mayor quits county probation job, but says he isn't linked to corruption probe
San Juan Mayor Mario Garza abruptly quit working for Hidalgo County Adult Probation on Friday — hours before the Sheriff’s Office announced a theft and bribery investigation focused on the probation department.
Rumors about Garza and other probation officers started crisscrossing the Hidalgo County Courthouse.
“But I can guarantee you and I can guarantee the community that I have nothing to do with that type of behavior,” said Garza, who spent roughly 15 years with Adult Probation.
Former Probation Officer Carlos De La Fuente, 34, of Edinburg, surrendered to investigators on Tuesday.
Investigators believe De La Fuente illegally took cash payments from people on probation, collecting about $6,330, according to the criminal complaint against him. De La Fuente is charged with abuse of official capacity, a state jail felony.
The investigation involved at least one other county probation officer.
Garza, who served as the court officer for 92nd state District Judge Luis Singleterry, said he never took any money or solicited a bribe. He just quit.
“And the timing was just so, so wrong,” Garza said. “I mean, the timing just messed everything up.”
Garza said he walked off the job Friday without submitting a resignation letter and doesn’t plan to return.
“I got burned out,” Garza said. “I was just over it. I'm done with that probation work.”
Adult Probation Executive Director Arnold Patrick said that, as far as he knows, Garza wasn’t linked to the bribery and theft allegations involving other probation officers.
“The Sheriff's Office has asked me not to discuss any of the other stuff because there’s an ongoing criminal investigation,” Patrick said.
Garza, though, acknowledged that Adult Probation management had questioned him about a connection between San Juan politics and a woman on probation.
“It didn’t have nothing to do with my campaign, it had to do with Rubio Muniz,” Garza said.
Garza campaigned for mayor with support from City Commissioner Jesus “Jesse” Ramirez and Rubio Muniz, a political newcomer who works for the Pharr-San Juan-Alamo Independent School District.
While Garza and Ramirez won a majority of the vote during May, the third race went to a runoff. Muniz faced independent candidate Neto “Coach” Guajardo
A woman who worked on the Muniz campaign asked for assistance with court fees, Garza said.
“Apparently what happened there was: She was working his campaign and she was talking to, wanting to — what do you call it? — I guess help, as far as fees,” Garza said. “And we routed her. She needed to talk to the judge on that.”
Garza said he didn’t remember the woman’s name, who she spoke with or who instructed the woman to contact the court. Garza said he hadn’t dealt with her.
“That I can recall?” Garza said. “No.”
Muniz said he didn’t recall the woman or her situation.
“I don't recall anybody asking for any help,” Muniz said, adding that he didn’t think a campaign worker requesting help with a court case would be appropriate. "I would have remembered if somebody came up to me with something like that.”
Garza said Adult Probation management asked him about what happened with the woman, but didn’t recall when the conversation with management happened or who, exactly, he spoke with — the director, assistant director or both.
The campaign worker’s request for help with court fees and the resulting questions from management didn’t prompt him to quit, Garza said. He simply decided to walk away.
"I’m here, I’m the mayor for the next four years and I will dedicate all my time and energy to progress this community,” Garza said. “The whole goal for me and the Commission is to improve the quality of life for the citizens. That's what I'm here for.”