Monday, February 12, 2007

South Texas DA Arraigned on Corruption Charges-Associated Press

S. Texas D.A. arraigned on corruption charges

Associated Press

RAYMONDVILLE — A South Texas prosecutor who has tried to oust several county officials for alleged misconduct was himself arraigned today on corruption charges filed by a special prosecutor.

Willacy County District Attorney Juan Guerra, 51, blocked the door of his office and dared police to arrest him Sunday as they tried to serve a search warrant looking for evidence of abuse of office, theft and oppression.

"We had no other choice but to place him under arrest," Raymondville Police Chief Uvaldo Zamora told the Valley Morning Star.

Today, Guerra was charged with three felony counts of theft by a public servant and one count of interfering with the public duties of a peace officer.

The theft charges allege that Guerra tried to extort $10,000 from a bail bonding company, privately resold a car that had been seized by forfeiture, and took $800 in public funds by seeking reimbursement for expenses he didn't make.

Bail was set at $22,000. Guerra's attorney, former Cameron County Judge Gilberto Hinojosa, said he posted bond at about 2 p.m. Guerra is expected to continue as county prosecutor while under investigation.

A hearing is scheduled for Feb. 23.

"At the end of the day, I think you're going to see that the motive is purely political and that the charges against Mr. Guerra have no merit whatsoever," Hinojosa told reporters after the arraignment.

Guerra has long had disagreements with his colleagues in the county's justice system on issues including the appointment of Garza, a longtime political rival, as special prosecutor to investigate him.

Last week, Guerra filed papers with the county's district clerk seeking to have the sheriff, district clerk, county clerk and state District Judge Migdalia Lopez — all elected officials — removed from office for allegations of misconduct. He said the clerk refused to accept his petitions.

Garza, a Cameron County justice of the peace, was appointed special prosecutor on Jan. 17 by Lopez, who met with grand jurors complaining about Guerra's conduct. The order appointing the special prosecutor cites grand jurors' concerns that Guerra was abusing his office and requesting indictments without evidence.

Guerra, who grew up a migrant farm worker and was a high school science teacher before becoming a lawyer, has been wrestling with his colleagues in the county justice system for years over issues such as county audits and prison contracts. Other officials say he is antagonistic and holds vendettas over breaches of political loyalty.

He led an investigation into a bribery scheme involving federal prison contracts that led to guilty pleas by three former Willacy and Webb county commissioners, and said he was preparing to expose corruption involving a $50 million U.S. Immigration and Customs Enforcement facility that opened last summer.

Hinojosa said he would seek to disqualify Garza and Lopez from the case against Guerra.

"Political campaigns get pretty rough here in the Rio Grande Valley," said Hinojosa, who lost his seat as a neighboring county's chief executive in the wake of a scandal involving corruption by a sheriff.

Raymondville is in the Rio Grande Valley, about 25 miles north of the Mexico border.


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