A former El Paso prosecutor sent emails to federal officials in an attempt to bar the widow of a Walmart massacre victim from entering the United States, District Attorney Bill Hicks said.
A letter from Hicks for the widow, dated Wednesday, said “then Assistant District Attorney Curtis Cox sent emails and made representations on behalf of this office to various law enforcement agencies regarding Rosa Maria Valdez Garcia” in the early fall of 2022.
“Please note that the former or current immigration status of Ms. Rosa Maria Valdez Garcia is not a matter that this office should have any concern about,” states the letter, which is intended for Valdez to present to border authorities if she is stopped for questioning.
Valdez is the widow of Alexander Gerhard Hoffmann Roth, a German national living in Juárez who was among the 23 people shot to death at the Cielo Vista Walmart on Aug. 3, 2019.
She and her family were thrust into the spotlight in August 2022 when an email purportedly sent to El Paso media by the Hoffmann family criticized the judge overseeing the state’s case against the Walmart gunman.
Valdez and her son, Thomas Hoffmann, testified in a November 2022 hearing that the email was written by Roger Rodriguez, a legal advisor to then-District Attorney Yvonne Rosales. Thomas Hoffmann recorded several conversations in which Rodriguez boasted about his connections and threatened people who had been critical of Rosales.
The alleged threats made by Rodriguez, and his attempts to discourage Valdez and her children from cooperating with efforts to investigate the email, were significant factors in a movement to remove Rosales from office. She resigned in December and Hicks was appointed by Gov. Greg Abbott to fill the position.
Hicks’ letter is the first public action by a government official that connects Rosales’ office to Rodriguez’s alleged efforts to intimidate the Hoffmann family. Cox’s communication with federal officials in the early fall came at the same time that 409th District Court Judge Sam Medrano Jr. was seeking Valdez’s testimony about whether the August email violated his gag order in the Walmart shooting case.
Cox, who resigned as assistant district attorney in November, did not respond to a phone message from El Paso Matters on Thursday requesting comment.
Valdez was detained by U.S. Customs and Border Protection for seven hours in September when she attempted to come to El Paso from Juárez to meet with her attorney, Justin Underwood, who was appointed by the court to represent the Hoffmann family in an investigation into whether the email violated a judicial gag order in the Walmart shooting case.
Underwood provided El Paso Matters with a copy of Hicks’ letter.
In an email response to questions from El Paso Matters, Hicks said he wrote the letter at Underwood’s request.
“The intent of the letter was to say that the District Attorney’s Office should not have a say either way in a person’s immigration status. This is not our area of purpose. Any former employee’s attempt to do so was improper and this office does not stand by anything he said or did in those efforts,” Hicks said.
He declined to answer questions about the specifics of Cox’s actions in office because it “definitely is an area that my hands are tied.” He did not elaborate.
Lawyers for the man who has confessed to the Walmart shootings attempted to question Cox in November about whether he communicated with federal officials to prevent Valdez from entering the country to testify about the email. But while on the stand under oath, Cox invoked his Fifth Amendment right against self-incrimination and refused to answer the questions.
In the letter, Hicks wrote, “This office should never have attempted to influence in any way Ms. Rosa Maria Valdez Garcia’s immigration status or her ability to enter the country.”
The letter is addressed “To Whom it May Concern,” which would allow Valdez to present it when questioned at the border, Underwood said. She is working to restore her visa and Sentri pass, he said.
“They picked on a little old lady that they thought they could take advantage of, and she absolutely fought back and beat them into oblivion. Well, beat them into resigning from office and taking the Fifth like a bunch of cowards because at the end of the day, that’s exactly what they are,” Underwood said.
Valdez and her two sons attended Wednesday’s federal court hearing in which the Walmart gunman pleaded guilty to federal hate crimes and weapons charges. The U.S. Attorney’s Office arranged for CBP to parole her into the country to attend the hearing because her visa remains revoked, Underwood said.
Previously, Valdez had a visa that allowed her to enter the United States and was enrolled in Sentri, a trusted traveler program that allows for people vetted by federal law enforcement agencies to use expedited crossing lanes at the border.
The specific content of Cox’s communication with federal officials hasn’t been made public. But in court filings last year, he said Valdez was not Hoffmann’s widow – a claim vehemently challenged by Underwood. Valdez obtained a ruling from Chihuahua state courts affirming common law marital status to Hoffmann.
Disclosure: El Paso Matters and the author of this story, Robert Moore, were mentioned by Roger Rodriguez in recordings made by Thomas Hoffmann. Rodriguez said he was planning to “attack” El Paso Matters because of its reporting.