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Yzaguirre trial testimony centers on registering car titles

January 26, 2017 GMT

CORPUS CHRISTI - After their cooperating individual, Mel Sosa, was able to successfully get three illegal title transfers, the Texas Department of Public Safety wanted to see how far Tax Assessor-Collector Tony Yzaguirre would go.

Day two of Yzaguirre’s bribery trial got underway Tuesday morning in Corpus Christi.

According to DPS Special Agent and lead investigator Rene Olivarez, the next step was to see if Yzaguirre would register two titles without buyer and seller information.

“We knew Mr. Yzaguirre was allowing vehicles to be registered if Mr. Sosa didn’t have driver’s license and insurance, because the vehicles had been processed,” Olivarez said. “We decided to take it a step forward by not putting in a signature.”

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Sosa first attempted this on Dec. 10, 2015. He was unsuccessful.

State attorney Kristine Trejo asked Richard Arevalo, who works with the Texas Department of Motor Vehicles in Pharr, what level of harm the tax office could cause by not following procedure.

“The county won’t know if it’s an actual person, or if the vehicle is stolen. That’s why we have (the photo ID) rule,” Arevalo said. “It (also) does hurt consumers. How do we know the people next to you on the highway have liability insurance if they get into an accident?”

If the county tax assessor-collector processes documents with the missing information, the DMV would not know, Arevalo said.

Rene Rangel, a regional manager with the DMV in Pharr, was the person Olivarez made contact with in March 2015.

Olivarez needed their help with an investigation into improper registration, Rangel recalled.

The 11 vehicles used in the operation did not exist. They were junk titles, or “vehicle death certificates,” Rangel said.

“Once the transaction took place, the agent would send photos of the transacation or the title document number,” Rangel said.

Lead defense attorney Eddie Lucio questioned whether DPS was made aware of statute for car dealers, which does not require them to have photo ID or proof of insurance.

One of the “vehicles” used in the Sept. 14 sting operation was “registered” with a dealer, Olivarez said.

“So we put real dealer numbers in, with signatures, addresses, dates, bringing titles back to life,” Lucio said. “And nobody says, ‘Hey guys, if you’re going to arrest him for not providing proof of ID or insurance, don’t because the documents we’re giving you don’t require it?’”

Rangel did not recall having such an exchange, he testified.

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Olivarez, however, would later testify that they were aware some of the “vehicles” used were from a dealership.

“Is Mr. Sosa a dealer? Does he have dealer ID? Did you check?”, asked Cameron County Assistant District Attorney Peter Gilman.

Olivarez confirmed that he did the neccessary checks, and before sending Sosa out to the tax office, agents would search him to make sure he was only holding what was given to him.

Under the direction of DPS agents, Sosa attempted to make contact with Yzaguirre 21 times. He was only able to meet with him five times throughout the investigation.

fgarza@brownsvilleherald.com