Hildalgo County Border Fence-Levee Case Ends with Dismissal of RICO Claim

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Photo by Callie Richmond for The Texas Tribune

Following a four-year investigation and in the wake of remarks by a visiting judge that he “wrestled to find enough smoke to suggest that there is a fire some place”, the final claim remaining against Hidalgo County Drainage District No. 1’s former manager, Godfrey Garza, Jr., was voluntarily dismissed by the attorneys representing the drainage district.

The dismissal involved a claim hastily filed at the last minute by the drainage district alleging that Integ Corporation and Godfrey Garza, Jr. engaged in racketeering with others in connection with improperly profiting from drainage and levee border wall projects (Hidalgo County District Court, Hidalgo County, Texas, 275th Judicial District, Cause No. C-0373-17-E).

“The facts cited in the racketeering claim were based on the same facts that the judge said last week did not exist,” said Garza’s attorney, Ethan Shaw of the Austin-based law firm Shaw Cowart. “This four-year investigation that Hidalgo County undertook at a significant cost to its taxpayers has shown nothing.”  Shaw also said that pre-litigation letters sent to the drainage district explaining to them that Integ had been properly compensated per the terms of its contract – as confirmed by the drainage district’s own attorney – “fell on deaf ears.”

Despite the warnings to the drainage district about their own attorney’s position that Integ had been paid correctly under the contract, the District filed suit in January 2017, alleging $3.5 million in damages. The Drainage District’s lawsuit was based on breach of contract, breach of fiduciary duty, fraud, conspiracy, unjust enrichment and constructive trust against Garza and his company, Integ Corporation.  On January 31st of this year, visiting Judge Martin Chiuminatto ruled against the drainage district and disposed of all of those claims.

Garza’s wife, Annie, and sons, Jonathan and Godfrey Garza III, and their company Valley Data, were also named in the suit which received national media attention.  The motion for summary judgment granted last week and the voluntary dismissal of the racketeering claim also effectively ends the actions against them.

“We’re hopeful the Hidalgo County Drainage District and the county commissioners will accept the rulings of the court,” Shaw said.  Garza and his family have steadfastly denied accusations made to the County Commissioners Court beginning in 2014 when questions arose about rehabilitation of 22 miles of crumbling levees along the Rio Grande River to which a border fence was added.

Whether the drainage district will exercise any rights it may have on appeal remains to be seen, but if taken, “would be ill advised and a waste of taxpayer money” in Shaw’s opinion.  Trial had been set to begin on February 26, but is no longer necessary with the Judge’s latest rulings against the drainage district.