RAYMONDVILLE, Texas – A South Texas prosecutor who has tried to oust several county officials for alleged misconduct was himself arraigned Monday on corruption charges filed by a special prosecutor.
Willacy County District Attorney Juan Guerra 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.
On Monday, Guerra was charged with three counts of theft by a public servant and one count of interfering with the public duties of a peace officer.
Bail was set at $22,000, which Guerra's attorney, former Cameron County Judge Gilberto Hinojosa, said he expected to post before the day was out. Guerra is expected to continue as county prosecutor while under investigation.
"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.
Special prosecutor Gustavo Garza said Sunday that Guerra was under investigation for theft by a public servant, official oppression and abuse of office. He said the allegations involve "a $10,000 attempted extortion," the sale of a car that belonged to the state and an $800 telephone bill reimbursement
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, said he was appointed special prosecutor by Lopez.
Guerra 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.