Wilmer and Hutchins. Not even 10,000 people live in these neighboring cities. Yet, there's plenty of political intrigue to go around.
Recently, a Dallas County grand jury indicted the outgoing mayor of Hutchins, the city secretary and others. Now comes word that ousted Wilmer Mayor A. Hector Casarez was arrested Friday.
Casarez, 50, is accused of stealing a campaign sign belonging an outspoken critic and one-time political opponent. The charge is a Class B misdemeanor, punishable by up to six months in jail.
The former mayor’s attorney called the charges “ridiculous” in a statement.
“We are confident that once the true facts are revealed, Mr. Casarez will be wholly vindicated of any wrongdoing,” Thomas Keen wrote.
In an e-mail sent to News 8, the former mayor did not directly address the allegations of criminal wrongdoing, but instead described the dysfunctional state of politics in the tiny town.
“The history of Wilmer politics is that there is usually one or two groups that are fighting for control of the council by whatever means necessary,” Casarez wrote. “They bully each other until one group finally gives up into submission. I have seen this go on now for 44 years. They say the definition of insanity is doing the same thing over and over and expecting a different result. When will the so-called leaders of Wilmer learn that they cannot continue fighting and bickering with each other and expect for Wilmer to advance and develop?"
Casarez was appointed mayor in 2011 after the prior mayor resigned under presser. He was elected in May 2012 when he defeated Joe Aldrich, an outspoken critic.
Allegations that Casarez had absconded with the sign were first made public on May 11 on the Wilmer Citizen Activist, a local blog run by Aldrich. That sign and three others had been posted around town.
The signs referenced allegations that Casarez had moved to Houston at one point during his tenure as mayor. They labeled Casarez “Mayor Houston” and stated, “He moved, worked and lived in the Big City and abandoned the voters in this little city of Wilmer. Mayor Houston shame on you."
According to police reports, the incident occurred on the evening of the May 10 election, hours after the polls had closed. Casarez lost the election by two votes.
Wilmer police officer James Blankenship noticed “Casarez bending down around political signs that were placed just off the roadway,” according to police records. “It appears to me that Casarez was picking up one of his political signs due to the elections being over with.”
Several witnesses soon came forward to say that Casarez had actually taken the sign belonging to Aldrich, records show.
“From what I’ve heard from the people that witnessed it, he just stood there a long time looking at the sign and then at some point brought his car over and dismantled the sign and drove it off,” Aldrich said. “The only thing that I could think …would be that he blamed the sign for his unsuccessful campaign.”
The sign was worth about $70, the records state.
In Hutchins, the charges that resulted in the indictment of outgoing mayor Artis Johnson, the city secretary and others were the result of a 16-month public corruption investigation.
Johnson faces two misdemeanors over an incident involving a check. He has denied any wrongdoing. He did not run for re-election and his replacement has been sworn in.
The former public works director and other employees were accused of stealing metals belonging the city and selling it to recyclers. City Secretary Janis Daniels was accused of misusing her city credit accounts. She, too, has denied wrongdoing.
Aldrich says that while the charges against Casarez and Hutchins officials may seen petty, he believes it’s actually “symptomatic of some larger” issues going on in the two cities.
Casarez may also face additional criminal charges. The Wilmer Police Department has referred a criminal trespassing case to the Dallas County grand jury. Casarez and others are accused of trespassing on a South Dallas Avenue property to clean up tree limbs and debris.
“Whether there’s any punishment involved for the former mayor is really not my call, but I would like to see in the future both our administration and our politicians take a much more, shall we say, serious view of what is the law and what side of that particular like they should stay on,” Aldrich said.