A former U.S. Department of Agriculture (USDA) Farm Service Agency (FSA) employee in Texas has been sentenced to two years in federal prison after leading a farm loan scheme that defrauded the government of more than $166,000.
Barbara Serna Salinas, 43, a former FSA loan officer in Uvalde, Texas, was sentenced on April 8 to pay $166,744.20 in restitution to USDA. In addition to Serna’s two year jail sentence, she will also serve a supervised release for a period of five years following her discharge from prison. According to the Department of Justice, the sentencing was handed down by U.S. District Judge Alia Moses in Del Rio.
Serna had previously plead guilty to one count of making a false statement on a loan application on June, 28, 2018. In the guilty plea, Serna admitted to issuing multiple fraudulent loans through FSA during a period from May 2011 to June 2016.
Serna was approving loans in exchange for cash or other forms of payment that were made by co-defendants, Ruben James Valadez, 44, of Uvalde, and Eric Torres Neira, 44, of San Antonio. A review of USDA loans approved by Serna after 2011 revealed that several loans were approved to Neira and Valadez that totaled more than $150,000.
Both Neira and Valadez had previously pleaded guilty to the same false statement charge. Neira plead guilty on March 29, 2018, and was later sentenced by Judge Moses on Dec. 4, 2018, to serve five months in prison. Neira also must pay restitution with Serna to USDA totaling $142,961.94. Valadez plead guilty on April 26, 2018, and will appear in court for sentencing October 2, 2019.
Arrests of Serna and Valadez were made on Nov. 8, 2017, while Neira was arrested the following morning. At the time of the arrest the three had also been charged with wire fraud, but those charges appear to have been dropped. The false statements on loan documents could have resulted in a penalty of up to 20 years in federal prison.
The investigation was led by USDA’s Office of Inspector General-Investigations, with the assistance of the Federal Bureau of Investigation. Assistant United States Attorney Todd Keagle is prosecuting this case on behalf of the Government.