La Joya school board Trustee “J.J.” Garza resigned Thursday — and may plead guilty to federal wire fraud charges.
Faced with a federal indictment, Garza said he wants to focus on the criminal case and spend more time with family.
“I did the best I could,” Garza said. “Now we have to let somebody else take over.”
Born in Camargo, Mexico, on March 2, 1968, Juan Jose “J.J.” Garza moved to La Joya as a child.
He graduated from La Joya High School in 1987 with a who’s who of western Hidalgo County politics: La Joya City Attorney Roberto Jackson, school board President Oscar “Coach” Salinas and former Hidalgo County Judge J.D. Salinas.
“We grew up together, just a few houses down,” Jackson said, adding that Garza became a baseball star during high school and played pool like a pro.
The La Joya Housing Authority hired Garza in July 1999. He replaced former Executive Director Jose Reynaldo Trevino, who pleaded guilty to federal embezzlement charges.
Garza won a seat on the school board in November 2012 — along with Salinas, his high school classmate.
“I should have listened to my wife, she didn’t want to,” Garza said. “I don’t regret it, it’s just that it is a lot of work. A lot of people don’t know. All the meetings you have. Long hours.”
Parents called him with questions. Employees called him with suggestions. Teachers called him with concerns and complaints.
“It’s pretty tough, you know,” Garza said. “I was getting over 100 calls a day.”
Signs of trouble surfaced during December 2013, when federal investigators raided the housing authority.
Without any arrests, the spectre of scandal faded. Voters re-elected Garza in November 2014.
The U.S. Attorney’s Office for the Southern District of Texas announced the indictment in September 2016:
Juan Jose Garza, 48, and Armando Jimenez, 52, were arrested Friday. This morning, the two men made their initial appearances before U.S. Magistrate Judge Dorina Ramos.
Garza is the executive director of the La Joya Housing Authority. The indictment alleges that from July 2012 through March 2013, Garza and Jimenez engaged in bid rigging for construction contracts with the Alamo and Donna Housing Authorities. Garza and Jimenez allegedly submitted false bids so that Jimenez Construction would be awarded construction projects. Jimenez then falsely submitted invoices for work he claimed his construction company did, but that had been completed by subcontractors working for Garza, according to the charges.
The charges aren’t related to Garza’s work at the La Joya Housing Authority or service on the La Joya school board.
Garza pleaded not guilty. But the calls stopped.
“I lost a lot of friends,” Garza said. “You can easily see who are your real friends.”
The La Joya Housing Authority board fired Garza in December, accusing him of negligence, incompetence and accepting bribes. Garza responded with a lawsuit, claiming the board didn’t treat him fairly.
He’s now working two part-time jobs.
Garza said he’s weighing a guilty plea but doesn’t know what he’ll do.
“There’s only two things: yes or no,” Garza said, reflecting on the plea. “We don’t know yet.”
Garza said he’ll rely on advice from his well-respected criminal defense attorney, Roberto J. Yzaguirre, when he makes the decision.
U.S. District Judge Ricardo Hinojosa canceled a court hearing scheduled for Monday. The docket notes “re-arraignment setting is forthcoming.”
Garza initially pleaded not guilty; defendants typically plead guilty during a re-arraignment.
If convicted on any wire fraud charge, Garza faces up to 20 years in prison.