Mario Vela was born in Mexicali, Baja California, Mexico to the union of Veronica Villegas and Mario Vela. Mario’s parents both attended the UABC (Universidad Autónoma de Baja California) Law School. Mario’s mother became a successful attorney in Mexicali while Mario’s dad became Imperial Valley’s pioneer in the used car sales business by founding Ohh! Cars Auto Sales in Calexico in 1986.
Mario’s parents divorced when he was very young and remain amicable to this day. Mario was lucky enough to get a second mom when his dad married Maritza Vela. They then had three children: Mario’s sister, Maritza Vela and two brothers, Alonso and Rodrigo, who were all raised in Calexico. Mario’s mom also remarried Roy Saenz and she had another son, Mario’s youngest brother, Roy who was also raised in Calexico.
Mario attended Saint Mary’s Elementary School in El Centro, California and then Vincent Memorial Catholic High School in Calexico, graduating in 2008.
During his time at Vincent Memorial, Mario became interested in the mock trial program under the direction of his teacher-coach, Ms. Lourdes Ramirez. During his four years at Vincent, Mario found the inspiration for his career in the mock trial courtroom. It was mock trial that affirmed Mario’s childhood aspiration to become a trial attorney.
Mario attended Imperial Valley College, then transferred to the University of California at San Diego, where he graduated in June of 2011 with his undergraduate degree in Political Science and Public Law. While at UCSD Mario was Captain of the Mock Trial Team; became a two-time winner of the “All Region Attorney Award” and led the team in regional and national tournaments.
Eventually, Mario attended law school in Boston at the Suffolk University Law School where he earned the Pro-Bono Honors Award and was a part of the National Trial Team. Upon graduation, Mario was the Commencement Class Speaker and graduated with a concentration in Trial and Appellate Advocacy with a focus in Criminal Law.
Before, during and after law school, Mario volunteered as an attorney at a variety of law offices. However, it wasn’t until he began exploring the opportunities in criminal prosecution that he solidified what would become his life’s true calling. Mario is honored to have worked in the Suffolk County District Attorney’s Office in Boston and the Los Angeles County District Attorney’s Office. But it was always very important to him and he made a vow to return to the Imperial Valley, back to the community that raised him.
After graduating from law school and returning home to the Valley, Mario began coaching the mock trial program at Vincent Memorial Catholic High School. It was there he was able to give back in such an impactful way to the program that formed who he is as an attorney, and as a person. While coaching the team since 2016, the Vincent team made it to the County finals three years in a row and represented the Imperial County in the State Championships two years in a row – something that had not been done by Vincent in over 25 years. Mario cannot speak highly enough of the mock trial program and has invested countless hours of his own volunteer time in it, and will continue to do so for the rest of his career because he recognizes the importance of the program on the development of high school students.
The current District Attorney, Mr. Gilbert Otero, gave Mario his start as a career prosecutor in the Imperial County District Attorney’s Office in 2018. Within his first five months, Mario tried seven trials. He was immediately promoted to handling felonies, and has handled cases from minor drug offenses, driving under the influence cases, to rape cases, robbery cases, and even homicide cases.
On a daily basis, Mario represents the People of the Imperial Valley, with professionalism, exceptional courtroom etiquette, and an exemplary grasp of the law. He is respected by all those who come into contact with him, and values fair, but aggressive prosecution. Mario plans to continue to prosecute cases with a hands-on approach – simply put, he belongs in the courtroom and wants to stay there, even if he has the honor of being the elected District Attorney.