SAN ANTONIO - New allegations in the Democratic runoff for State Representative in House District 117.
Former City Councilman Philip Cortez is accusing attorney Tina Torres of breaking state election law by not living in the district which stretches across the far west and southwest portions of Bexar County.
Over the past week hidden cameras have caught Torres appearing to live in a house she has owned since 2005 in Gold Canyon near Stone Oak, which is outside the district.
State law says a candidate must live in the district where they run for office.
County records show Torres claims her homestead exemption on the house, but her political paperwork says she lives an apartment off Alamo Ranch Parkway - deep in the heart of the district.
I spoke to a woman in the next apartment over from where Torres claims she lives. She told me she's never seen Torres.
Over the past week hidden cameras have found Torres at the house on the far North side along with her boyfriend and brother. Torres would come home at night - and leave in the morning.
But we were not the only ones watching. We investigated after her opponent hired a licensed private investigator to find out where Torres was living and shot his own video.
“We'd been hearing it for some time, so we just wanted to verify. That way the voters understood what they're trying to do, this is what she's trying to do, pull the wool over your eyes,” said Cortez.
I called Torres this past Tuesday and her Austin-based campaign manager returned the call. I explained we had questions about where Torres is living. But he later told us she would not do an interview - and sent an email from Torres saying "The fact is that my residency meets the spirit and letter of the Texas election code."
We thought voters deserved an answer directly from the candidate seeking public office. Since I spoke to her campaign manager, Torres has now been staying at the apartment in District 117. We know because the private investigator hired by her opponent videotaped her coming in carrying several bags.
When I approached Torres outside this apartment as she was leaving for work, she claimed she’d be there all along. “So this apartment is your home, where you live in the district?” Torres replied: “Yes, it is since October.”
But when I showed her the hidden camera footage, she denied staying at her house.
“I have lived in this apartment. And there’s nothing wrong with getting an apartment inside the district,” insisted Torres. “And I actually, and I'd like to put this on the record. I have been looking for a house.”
Her opponent -- predictably -- is not buying it. “Bottom line is she was being dishonest with the residents. There are qualifications that you must meet to run for office," said Cortez. “She is misleading the residents saying she is a resident here, that she is one of them, when it’s plainly obvious and there's evidence that she has not been living in district 117.”
Cortez says he won't challenge Torres's residency in court because it’s too close to the July 31st runoff. Early voting starts Monday. But he has called a news conference for Friday morning to release the video shot by that private investigator to other media outlets.
We'll keep you posted on any developments.