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Letty Liked the Liners

June 16, 2016   ·   0 Comments

letty garza

from the Caller:

Falfurrias Mayor Pro Tem Leticia Garza was a staunch advocate of the 8-liner game rooms in Falfurrias. She even told businessmen from the Rio Grande Valley about a time she rushed out of the hospital to cast a vote in favor of the game rooms.

“If I wouldn’t have been there, they would have shut them down,” Garza told them.

However, Garza wasn’t talking to businessmen. She was talking to undercover federal agents in “Operation Fal Vegas,” who sought to prove the game rooms were operating illegally and that Garza encouraged the activity.

Garza pleaded guilty in federal court June 6 to aiding and abetting illegal gambling businesses. She faces up to five years in federal prison and a $250,000 fine. Garza was a frequent patron at the game rooms and owners let her play for free, according to recorded hearing obtained by the Caller-Times. U.S. District Judge Nelva Gonzales Ramos will sentence Garza on Sept. 22.

Game rooms began popping up in Falfurrias around 2009. By 2015, there were twelve operating in the city. In her plea hearing, Garza admitted using her influence to keep them open.

When undercover agents visited Garza, they expressed interest in opening their own game room. Garza drove the agents around, pointed out potential locations for their prospective business and told them what they needed to be successful, prosecutors said.

When the agents offered her $1,000 to help get their permits approved, she declined, and asked the agents to wait until the next local election. When the agents countered with $2,000, she accepted the money and later told the agents they would make “good partners,” according to prosecutors.

Agents raided each game room May 31, 2015, and seized $4.9 million. Garza turned herself in to authorities the next day.

Garza later admitted to agents she knew the game rooms were operating illegally, but said the town benefitted from the businesses.

She would solicit game rooms to donate to several causes, including financing travel expenses for Little League and basketball teams and an Easter egg hunt, prosecutors said.

A former mayor also told agents Garza led the charge to start a youth fund that was made up entirely of money from the game rooms in hopes of winning the public’s support. Garza mentioned the fund to the undercover agents, telling them she “didn’t want negativity from people who didn’t want the game rooms,” according to prosecutors. Garza’s attorney declined to comment about the hearing.

Interim City Administrator Samuel Maldonado did not return calls seeking comment on whether city officials plan to replace Garza. The regular city meeting scheduled Wednesday has been postponed in lieu of a special meeting, according to a notice signed by City Clerk Melinda R. Garza. No agenda has been posted for the special meeting, which will be Thursday evening at the Falfurrias Police Department.

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