Escobares officials’ arrests politically motivated, defendant claims

Two city employees were arrested in Escobares a week ago after a grand jury indicted them on forgery charges, and one of the defendants believes the investigation has political undertones, a claim the district attorney called “laughable.”

Lauro Ramirez, the fire chief in Escobares, and Lynette Montemayor, the city secretary, were indicted Sept. 24 by a grand jury in Starr County. The two are married, but currently separated, Ramirez said.

Ramirez is facing five counts of forgery related to official forms that were used to show proof of the purchase of a 2001 Chevrolet vehicle on May 25, according to the indictment.

The court records show Ramirez was accused of providing false information and illegally signing the name of a seller, Sonia T. Diaz, on a Starr County affidavit of fact form, as well as providing false information on an assignment of title for a motor vehicle sold on May 25, and providing false information and illegally signing the name of Diaz on an application for Texas title and/or registration.

Montemayor was only charged with providing false information as a notary public on the affidavit of fact.

Starr County District Attorney Gocha Allen Ramirez released a statement following their arrests in which he mentioned the charges and their official titles as fire chief and city secretary for Ramirez and Montemayor, respectively.

“Identifying, investigating, and prosecuting public corruption in our communities, in partnership with federal and state law-enforcement, continues to be a priority of the 229th Judicial District Attorney’s Office,” his statement read.

The district attorney said the investigation sprung from an unrelated probe in March, but declined to explain whether the charges were related to their duties in office.

“The fact that they’re public servants and that from the press release there may have been some involvement with the city or at least in their capacity as public servants, I think that’s pretty clear from the press release,” the DA told The Monitor on Wednesday,

Although many defendants usually abstain from speaking about their cases so early in the judicial process, Lauro Ramirez also spoke to The Monitor and said the vehicle he claimed to be his own was purchased privately, not as a city vehicle.

The prosecution has yet to provide court records or discovery to defense attorneys. However, details from a police report obtained by The Monitor match the date, vehicle description and vehicle VIN number listed on the indictment.

According to the police report, around 9 p.m. on May 22, a 2001 Chevrolet pick-up truck was abandoned after a suspicious entourage of three vehicles, including the pickup truck, were spotted driving in northern Escobares on Docker Road. A police officer was dispatched that way after a report of migrants damaging a fence line and property nearby at North San Julian Road.

The officer stated the vehicle slowed down as they approached the Docker and San Julian intersection. The two vehicles traveling behind the Chevrolet pickup truck stopped before reaching the intersection and turned back, heading west on Docker; meanwhile, the driver of the pickup truck was parked across the road, pointing north and south, and blocking traffic.

Although the officer approached the truck, an eyewitness said the driver fled into the brush. Police seized the truck and filed the report for the abandoned vehicle.

Lauro Ramirez told The Monitor he purchased the vehicle through a verbal agreement, claimed the truck a few days later and paid the fee to get the truck released to him.

“This is where everything went sideways,” Lauro Ramirez said.

Four months later, a grand jury determined probable cause existed in the charges alleged against him and his wife.

Initially, Lauro Ramirez hired Daniel Garcia as his defense attorney. Before the indictment, Garcia said he spoke to the DA’s office through the lead assistant district attorney, Abel Villarreal.

Villarreal represented former Escobares City Secretary Rosario Ramirez, who was terminated and later replaced by Lauro Ramirez’s wife, Lynette Montemayor.

“The way it works here in Starr County, it’s a small community. It’s not like in Hidalgo where they have 40 attorneys. Pretty much, they all interact over cases,” Garcia told The Monitor on Thursday. “Has he [Villarreal] been involved with the case? Yes. Is he still on? I don’t know. Is there other attorneys involved? I don’t know.”

Garcia represents Lynette Montemayor, and said he preferred not to comment on the case at this point.

Most recently, Ramirez took on another attorney, former DA Omar Escobar Jr., believing the situation is fraught with politics.

“I won’t endorse somebody like them,” Lauro Ramirez said, referring to the sitting district attorney and his political supporters. “So, I’m in the way.”

Escobar defended his client’s claims.

“I think Mr. Lauro Ramirez and Ms. Lynette Montemayor have every right to be both concerned and highly suspicious of the deep political undertones in the case,” Escobar said via a statement shared with The Monitor. “Abel Villarreal has been intimately involved in this case from the start. Up until last week, Abel Villarreal has been handling this particular matter with defense attorney Daniel Garcia. Any claim otherwise is simply a lie.”

The sitting district attorney, Gocha Allen Ramirez, refuted the claim when he spoke to The Monitor on Wednesday. He confirmed Villarreal spoke to Garcia several times prior to the indictment when Ramirez was out of the office.

“That’s a ridiculous accusation. It’s laughable, because I’m the one who is in charge of this investigation,” the DA said. “I am the one who is in charge of this case. I have been at the forefront of all of this. Abel is my first assistant. Abel does what I tell him to do. So, when Mr. Ramirez, because Abel may have had a couple of discussions with Mr. Garcia and Mr. Garcia was his attorney, when Mr. Ramirez concludes that somehow it’s political, that’s a very convenient veil to hide behind, especially when you’ve committed a felony.

“All I can tell you is that the evidence against Mr. Ramirez is very strong. I can tell you that much.”

Both Lauro Ramirez and Montemayor remain employed with the city, Mayor Ivan Escobar said.

Garcia said an arraignment on the indictment is tentatively scheduled in the coming weeks.

Editor’s note: This story’s headline was updated to correct the number of defendants making the claim.