HARLINGEN — Prosecutors have dropped a check forging charge against former NFL punter and Harlingen High School football star Leobardo Araguz.
The owner of a San Benito home construction company was accused of forging a check of one of his clients.
However, on Monday, a judge dismissed the case at the request of prosecutors. It was just one week before Araguz was set to go to trial on the felony charge.
District Attorney Luis Saenz said if the case would have gone to trial, the evidence would have shown that Araguz was entitled to the money, and he had no intent to defraud or harm anyone.
Asked what that evidence was, Saenz said, “The alleged victim acknowledged that Mr. Araguz was entitled to that money.”
The couple who had chosen Araguz to build their new home said he did, indeed, sign and cash a check he wasn’t authorized to.
“Texas Regional Bank made the check out to three people — myself, my wife and Mr. Araguz,” Dempsie Clinton said. “They expected those three people to sign it, not one person to sign it.”
After finding out the check had been cashed without his signature, Clinton said he contacted the bank Araguz deals with and explained what happened.
That check was rescinded and had to be cut again, Clinton said.
“The law said there was no intent,” he said. “That is what it reads, that is what it reads.”
Araguz’s attorney, Daniel Sanchez, said his client has maintained his innocence from the beginning and is happy the case was dismissed.
“It’s unfortunate that he had to go through the embarrassment of being arrested and all this going into the pubic eye when there was never a crime committed,” Sanchez said.
“And the worst part is not only did he have to get arrested in front of his family, spend the night in jail and all of that, he’s lost a lot of money and business opportunities because of this. There’s been banks that don’t want to acknowledge him as a builder that they’ll do business with because these charges were pending.”
Clinton said he and his wife did nothing wrong, either.
“The only thing we did wrong was not research him,” Clinton said. “He showed us some nice homes, but we never saw a homeowner or a portfolio of happy homeowners we could contact. I wonder why?”
The case began when on Oct. 28, 2016, a man went to the Harlingen Police Department saying “a known male” had forged his signature and his wife’s signature on a check and cashed it. Araguz was listed as the suspect.
Araguz was indicted on a felony forgery charge on April 26, 2017. The case was delayed three times as a prosecutor requested more time to review it.
It was finally dismissed this week.
After a court hearing in November, Araguz, owner of Araguz Construction, said, “The only money I took was my money.”
Araguz had been contracted by the Clintons to build them a new home in Laguna Vista.
“I would build, he (Clinton) would reimburse me and the very last check is the one he said I forged,” Araguz said after the hearing.
Araguz said “we signed six checks the same way” and the last check was the last 10 percent of his profit for building the house.
“This case is about somebody who had a home built and wanted extras done for free,” Sanchez said. “My client agreed to try and do some of those things if he could but it was not part of the contract.”
Clinton said yesterday that statement is 100 percent false.
“We never wanted him to do anything than what he agreed to do in a timely manner,” Clinton said. “We never said we weren’t going to pay him.”
Araguz is well known in the area. He was a punter in the NFL for eight years and played for four different teams. He holds the record for the most punts in an NFL game.
A street in Harlingen is named after him. What used to be King Avenue was renamed Leo Araguz Street in June of 1999. It’s the street on which he grew up.
Now he is a home construction builder.
Clinton says some other issues occurred with Araguz including a lien put on his property because of bills Araguz did not pay. Clinton also believes he may not be the only person who has had problems with Araguz.
“Dealing with Mr. Araguz has been a very eye opening experience,” Clinton said. “We will just leave it at that.”