County doesn’t have oversight in fajita case

BROWNSVILLE — The Cameron County Commissioners Court has released a statement regarding a former county employee accused of stealing $1.2 million worth of fajitas during the past nine years.

In the statement, the Commissioners Court says it has no oversight of the operations of the Juvenile Justice Department, which is where the former county employee worked.

“We wanted to make sure that it was clear that the commissioners court, the county commissioners court, does not have oversight over the Juvenile Probation Department, and we also wanted to make clear that the auditor’s office also, we have nothing to do with regards to the hiring or evaluating of the auditor’s office and oversight there. That is an independent office, and he or she is hired by the board of judges,” County Judge Eddie Treviño Jr. said Wednesday.

Gilbert Escamilla, a former employee of the county’s Juvenile Justice Department, was arrested on theft charges on allegations he stole the fajitas.

Escamilla was fired Aug. 8 and first arrested Aug. 9 after the Cameron County District Attorney’s Office Special Investigations Unit obtained a search warrant. When officers searched Escamilla’s house, they found packets of fajitas in his refrigerator.

Treviño said other than providing funding to the department, the Cameron County Commissioners Court has no oversight for this department’s operations.

According to the commissioners court, the Juvenile Justice Department is overseen by the Juvenile Board of Judges, which is comprised of the district judges. The Juvenile Board of Judges oversees the staff and its annual budget. The county’s audit department is charged with auditing the Juvenile Justice Department.

In an earlier interview, Cameron County Auditor Martha Galarza declined to comment because the investigation was ongoing.

Treviño said what happened at the Juvenile Justice Department raises a lot of questions on the day-to-day operations of the department.

“It’s hard to believe that this happened for nine years, and then the amounts that were involved. It certainly raises a lot of questions to the day-to-day activities over there … the fact that had he not been missing that particular day when the delivery was made, would this have been continuing?” Treviño said.

On Aug. 7, Escamilla took the day off to go to a medical appointment. A driver from Labatt Food Service in Harlingen — the Juvenile Justice Department’s meat vendor — called the kitchen to inform it about an 800-pound delivery of fajitas.

The woman who answered the phone told the driver he was mistaken, and that the kitchen did not serve fajitas. That was when the driver told her he had been delivering the meat to the department for the past nine years.

“I can understand the public’s disappointment and outrage at this particular incident. It’s just not good in any sense of the word, and I hope this is the last time we ever hear of something like this,” Treviño said.

Treviño said the commissioners court expects everyone involved in the case to be prosecuted to the “fullest extent possible under the law.”

The District Attorney’s Office reported yesterday there are no new developments in the case.

“The actions of one individual have embarrassed the hard-working employees, including those who work at the Juvenile Probation Department, as well as the rest of this county. It is certainly not representative of what we strive for in Cameron County” the statement ended.