Asked why he abruptly left Hidalgo County Adult Probation last month — after nearly 15 years with the agency — San Juan Mayor Mario Garza said he just walked off the job.
“I got burned out,” Garza said on June 21. “I was just over it. I'm done with that probation work.”
Documents from Adult Probation, though, tell a different story.
Adult Probation Executive Director Arnold Patrick fired Garza, the court officer for state District Judge Luis Singleterry, on June 16, according to records obtained by CBS 4 News.
"On or about April 13, 2015 — April 5, 2017, you processed Motion Order Waivers and Early Termination Orders without following department protocol and necessary documentation," according to a memo placed in Garza's personnel file. "Additionally, you entered into a personal or business relationship or other interaction with a person under the direct or indirect supervision of this department that was outside the scope of necessary duties and job-related tasks."
Garza didn’t respond to requests for comment. San Juan City Commissioner Jesus “Jesse” Ramirez said Garza went on vacation and may be in Mexico.
Administrators with the Hidalgo County Community Supervision and Corrections Department — commonly called Adult Probation — apparently started scrutinizing Garza’s work during an internal investigation.
Adult Probation contacted the Hidalgo County Sheriff’s Office during May, when someone accused a probation officer of soliciting illicit cash payments.
While the Sheriff’s Office conducted a criminal investigation, Adult Probation administrators started reviewing other case files for irregularities.
Administrators discovered Garza hadn’t properly documented 8 to 12 cases involving people who requested early release from probation, Patrick said, adding that he didn’t know the exact number of cases with missing paperwork.
Along with concerns about the case files, administrators apparently uncovered a connection between San Juan politics and a woman on probation.
As CBS 4 News previously reported:
“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.”
Whether or not the woman received any special consideration remains unclear.
Adult Probation fired Garza on June 16 — the same day news broke about the scandal involving cash payments. Rumors started circulating that Garza had taken money too.
“And the timing was just so, so wrong,” Garza said on June 21, adding that he never solicited a bribe or took any money. “I mean, the timing just messed everything up.”
Former Probation Officer Carlos De La Fuente surrendered to Sheriff’s Office investigators. He’s charged with abuse of official capacity, a state jail felony.
Patrick said he isn’t aware of any connection between Garza and the Sheriff’s Office investigation, but couldn’t offer a definitive answer.
“I’m not sure that there's not something criminal there to be honest with you,” Patrick said.