An Edcouch elected official turned himself in to authorities after a warrant was issued for his arrest earlier this week.
Edcouch Place 5 Alderman Lorenzo “Lencho” Cabrera turned himself in to Edcouch police Wednesday morning to face a charge of theft by a public servant, a Class A misdemeanor.
Shortly thereafter, Cabrera made an initial appearance before visiting Weslaco Municipal Judge Juan Alvarez, Cabrera’s attorney confirmed. Jail records show Cabrera posted a $5,000 personal recognizance bond and was released from custody Wednesday.
Cabrera was charged with theft for allegedly misusing a travel allowance the city paid him when he attended a Texas Municipal League conference in San Antonio in October 2019.
The city issued him a check for just under $700 that included $400 for per diem expenses and another $278 in travel allowance, according to a probable cause affidavit for Cabrera’s arrest.
Edcouch officials allege Cabrera improperly kept that $278 for himself even though he traveled to the conference with City Secretary Manny Hernandez, who drove to the conference in a rental vehicle.
City Manager Victor Hugo de la Cruz says the travel allowance was only meant to be used as a mileage reimbursement, but Cabrera’s attorney, Alex Aguirre, argues that that is not clear from any of the documents he has received thus far.
However, a 2019 memo written by the city manager and addressed to the city’s finance department prior to the conference shows a breakdown of the funds that the city authorized to be issued to the alderman. The memo is dated Oct. 1, 2019 — a week before the conference was scheduled to take place.
“Please make the following check for Alderman: Lorenzo Cabrera,” reads the memo. Below that line is a calculation for the four-day per diem at $100 per day, plus a “mileage” allowance calculated at “480 Mi. X .58 = $278.40.”
A copy of the issued check, along with a subsequent expenditure explanation, refers to the mileage reimbursement as a “travel allowance.”
Beyond the semantics of what the payment was called or what the money was intended to be used for, Cabrera’s attorney fears his client’s highly publicized arrest may be a result of political retaliation.
Edcouch is currently gearing up for a municipal election in which three seats are up for grabs. Three incumbents are running together on a slate and are being challenged by a separate trio who have formed a unified slate of their own.
Last month, two of those candidates sued the city after officials deemed them ineligible to run for office. A temporary restraining order currently enjoins Edcouch from removing those candidates’ names from the November ballot, or from doing anything that would prevent them from running for office.
Cabrera’s seat is not one of the positions up for election, but he has shown some disagreement with the decisions made by the current city council. And that, Aguirre fears, has resulted in political retaliation.
“As much as I don’t want it to be, it does. It sounds like political retaliation,” Aguirre, Cabrera’s attorney, said.
“He is not supporting their slate of candidates. And he’s bumped heads with them to some real estate that the city has donated to a developer who has not developed anything,” he said.
Aguirre characterized everything about his client’s arrest — from the investigation, to the warrant, to the heavy media presence surrounding Cabrera’s magistration — “troubling.”
He openly questioned why the city manager took his concerns to Edcouch police rather than an outside law enforcement agency, intimating the entire ordeal verges on official oppression.
“The police chief works for the city manager. Now when the city manager goes to the police chief and says, ‘I think a crime has been committed and I want this man arrested,’ it’s basically like your boss saying you should do this and that’s troubling. That’s troubling right there,” Aguirre said.
Aguirre also questioned why the warrant was issued by Edcouch’s municipal judge, rather than a magistrate not associated with the city.
For his part, de la Cruz said there was nothing malicious behind those decisions, and that he didn’t expect the situation to devolve the way it has.
“My intentions were for none of this to go the way it did. I thought he would come in and clear it up. He didn’t,” the city manager said.
De la Cruz said Edcouch police reached out to Cabrera several times over the last few days asking him to come in to discuss the issue, but Cabrera declined pending his ability to retain a lawyer.
“Chief Quintana called him a couple of times to come in and discuss an allegation, not a crime, not a charge. He wasn’t charged with anything,” de la Cruz said.
But when pressed about the differences between being called in by law enforcement versus being called in by a member of the city staff to discuss the issue, and how that could have colored Cabrera’s decision to seek legal counsel first, de la Cruz conceded the point.
“Yeah, I can see that. I can see where that can go that way,” he said.
Aguirre maintains Lt. Juan Quintana, who is serving as interim chief, only reached out to Cabrera once — on Monday afternoon. The warrant was issued just hours later.
De la Cruz also denied implications that Cabrera’s arrest is political retaliation or a result of a personal grudge; however, he did blame politics for why he didn’t reach out to Cabrera himself rather than referring the matter to law enforcement — despite characterizing his relationship with the alderman as close, at one time.
“Politics. Mr. Cabrera has been distant from everyone, myself being one of them,” de la Cruz said.
“These things have been happening because of politics and it’s unfortunate,” he said.
However, for Cabrera’s attorney, it’s hard to not call it retaliation when the city manager has resorted to name-calling on social media.
“Initially, I didn’t want to think that, however, since then I have seen a video by the city manager — the very same one that accused Mr. Cabrera — basically just calling everybody criminals, the candidates themselves criminals. I believe he called Mr. Cabrera a politiquera,” Aguirre said.
De la Cruz didn’t deny it, saying he called Cabrera a politiquero in a Facebook podcast. It’s one of several spirited diatribes the city manager has posted with commentary regarding the election, the candidates and other city business.
But de la Cruz, who is not an Edcouch resident, is always careful to qualify his videos by saying they are his own opinion, and not an official statement on behalf of the city.
“Calling somebody a politiquero, that’s a matter of opinion. Now I have my beliefs and what I feel the political, the voting system should be. Is Edcouch a place that needs change in that aspect? Yeah,” he said.
Meanwhile, Aguirre has already gone on the offensive for his client.
“I’m looking forward to court. I’m looking forward to filing subpoenas. I’m looking forward to seeing their phone records, their emails, their Facebook posts, everything,” Aguirre said.
“I’m gonna dig everything out I can and force them to prove beyond a reasonable doubt that my client committed a crime, because right now, I’m not seeing it,” he said.
Alluding to the ongoing civil lawsuit regarding the candidates, Aguirre spoke of how the rules of engagement are different in a criminal case.
“When you start accusing somebody of breaking the law and committing criminal offenses, you’re actually messing with their freedom. And that’s a whole different ball game. And we don’t necessarily play nice when you start screwing around with that,” he said.
Editor’s Note: This story has been updated to reflect that Edcouch police attempted to contact Alderman Lorenzo Cabrera once — on Oct. 4 — before issuing a warrant for his arrest later that day.