Ex-Starr County attorney Canales pleads guilty to extortion charge

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Victor Canales

Former Starr County attorney Victor Canales pleaded guilty to extorting a mother who went to him for help over her son’s traffic tickets.

Canales, 50, of Rio Grande City entered a guilty plea of extortion under color of law, U.S. Attorney Alamdar S. Hamdani said in a news release Tuesday.

He was accused of accepting $1,500 from a woman in the form of three money orders and depositing them into his own checking account, “and used it for his own personal needs rather than depositing the monies into the Starr County account.”

A Starr County attorney from 2005 to 2022, Canales — whose role was prosecuting misdemeanor cases — was approached by the woman in September 2021 for help with her son’s tickets in Starr County, three misdemeanor offenses.

“He said he could help her and that for $1,500, he could take care of the Starr County tickets,” the release stated. “Canales then sent a series of letters to Cameron County indicating the three charges against the woman’s son would be dropped.”

According to the U.S. Attorney’s Office, the FBI worked together with the Texas Attorney General’s Office on the case as part of a Border Corruption Task Force investigation. The Drug Enforcement Administration, Homeland Security Investigations and Texas Rangers assisted, among other agencies.

U.S. District Judge Ricardo Hinojosa set Canales’ sentencing for Dec. 15.

The former attorney is currently free on a $100,000 bond until the hearing, where he’ll face up to 20 years in prison and as much as a $250,000 fine.

Canales retired from his position as Starr County attorney on April 21, 2021, and was later charged in an indictment with bribery and extortion.