The Texas Attorney General’s office raided the Starr County Elections Department

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Eloy Vera

Investigators with the Texas Attorney General’s Office executed a search warrant on the Starr County Elections Department offices Friday.

The warrant comes as the AG’s office conducts an investigation into allegations of illegal voting and ballot harvesting by politiqueros associated with the November 2022 campaign of longtime Starr County Judge Eloy Vera.

The allegations stem from a complaint filed by Project Red Texas, a Republican PAC that aims to flip county elected positions from blue to red.

Project Red Texas announced the AG’s execution of the search warrant in a news release on Thursday.

The search and seizure record indicates at least 180 mail (in) ballots were seized in the raid along with the voter registration application of one of the defendants,” the news release states.

The news release goes on to specify that three people are the targets of the attorney general’s office’s investigation, including a Roma woman named Modesta Vela and two others.

Vela allegedly illegally assisted at least one Starr County voter in completing their mail-in ballot, Project Red Texas stated.

“The complaint asserted that Vela, who told people she was working on behalf of Starr County Judge Eloy Vera’s reelection campaign, entered a voter’s home, filled out the person’s mail ballot, and left the home in possession of the ballot,” the news release states.

Project Red says photographic evidence exists to corroborate the allegations, including videotaped interviews with the voters whose ballots were allegedly harvested.

The group also says there is audio from a phone call in which Vela allegedly “admits to taking the ballot with her,” the news release states.

Vera, the Starr County judge, roundly refuted the allegations, calling Project Red’s actions a political maneuver meant to discredit the local Democratic Party.

“I think this is more political. And they try and do everything and they try to publicize it to make it seem like the Democratic Party here in the Valley is totally corrupted, but, in my opinion, it’s not,” Vera told The Monitor via phone Thursday.

Though the county judge admitted to retaining the services of Vela as a politiquera last fall, he said his was just one of many Starr County campaigns she worked for, including some Republican candidates.

“This lady was working for a bunch of different candidates,” Vera said.

This isn’t the first time either Vera or Vela have faced scrutiny over alleged election improprieties.

In 2019, a Starr County grand jury indicted Vela for illegal voting in relation to another of Vera’s reelection campaigns.

Those charges were dismissed in 2021, however, for lack of evidence, according to court records.

Vera has never been charged with a crime.

Nor will he, he said.

I think this is more political. And they try and do everything and they try to publicize it to make it seem like the Democratic Party here in the Valley is totally corrupted, but, in my opinion, it’s not.

“We follow the law. We’re not going to go to jail for anyone,” the judge said with a note of frustration in his voice.

The judge spoke directly of those frustrations as he faces a new set of allegations.

“As you can tell, I’m frustrated because I’m trying to work a budget, I’m trying to run a county,” Vera said, referring to the county’s fiscal budget planning process, which is currently underway.

The judge lambasted Project Red, which has in recent years begun to focus more heavily on elected county positions throughout the Rio Grande Valley — positions long held by Democratic candidates.

Aside from the multiple complaints that Project Red Texas has filed with the Texas Secretary of State against Vera, the group has also made complaints against another Starr County official and two officials in Cameron County.

“This is really funny for me. What (Project Red) should be doing, and the Republicans should be doing, is looking for votes, not looking for technicalities,” Vera said.

Vera added that he has served as an elected official for three decades, including nearly 25 years as Starr County judge.

“They’re not gonna outlast me, I guarantee you that,” he said.