Former Cameron Co. Employee Face Charges in Fajita Theft Case
SAN BENITO – A Rio Grande Valley man is charged with using $1.2 million of taxpayer money to allegedly fund the theft of thousands of pounds of fajitas.
Cameron County District Attorney Luis V. Saenz said Gilberto Escamilla is accused of selling thousands of pounds of fajitas to his own customers. He's currently facing first-degree felony charges.
A San Benito grandmother who wished to remain anonymous was at the facility Monday. She was surprised by the news.
"I mean this money belongs to try to work with the kids," she said. "Try to give them help in whatever they can. You know, educate them, give them more counseling."
The crooked plan came to light in early August. According to the Cameron County District Attorney, a food delivery truck with 800 pounds of fajitas showed up to the detention center.
At the time, Escamilla was out of the office. The order left employees scratching their heads. The detention center doesn't serve fajitas to detainees.
"That's when the alarm went off," said Saenz. "'Well, we don't take fajitas! This can't be ours! You must be mistaken!' But of course, they were not mistaken because there was an order placed by a gentleman at that place.”
CHANNEL 5 NEWS spoke to a Valley meat market who sells fajitas at $6.99 a pound. Saenz told us Escamilla made hundreds of purchases per year.
"It involved thousands of pounds. You know, we know that this was more than personal use. So we know that he was out there reselling these, making money," said Saenz.
CHANNEL 5 NEWS reached out to Cameron County Juvenile Justice Department for comment. While the detention center chief, Rose Gomez, declined an on-camera interview, she said in a statement:
"At the request of the Cameron County Juvenile Justice Department an audit was undertaken of the purchasing of food commodities ostensibly for the nutritional needs of detainees at the Juvenile Justice facilities. The Cameron County Auditor's office determined that over a period of time, unauthorized food items were purchased which were not used for the benefit of the detainees. The situation was promptly brought to the attention of the Cameron County District Attorney's Special Investigation Unit. A criminal investigation ensued and the individual confessed to criminal misconduct."
Saenz told CHANNEL 5 NEWS it's the county auditor's job to analyze and scrutinize all invoices submitted for payment.
We wanted to know how the sham went unnoticed for nearly a decade. CHANNEL 5 NEWS reached out to the county auditor's office for comment.
No one returned our calls.
"If this investigation has revealed anything, it has revealed that the protocols in place are not sufficient enough and are not good enough to stop this from happening," said Saenz.
Saenz claims a review of Escamilla's financial history reveals little to no possibility of restitution for taxpayers.
Escamilla now faces the possibility of five to 99 years or life in prison. The district attorney is still working to determine if anyone else is complicit in the crime.
The special investigations unit will present their case before a grand jury. The jury will determine whether to issue an indictment.
Saenz told CHANNEL 5 NEWS they've identified at least two of the alleged purchasers in the crime. He said they're complying with the investigation.
The DA claims disclosing their identities could compromise their investigation.
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