This article originally appeared in the Friday June 7, 2019 issue of the Progress Times.
The police officer who stole $16,000 from the La Joya ISD Campus Crime Stoppers program will not spend a single day in prison.
A judge sentenced former La Joya school district police Officer Carlos Javier Garcia, 58, of Brownsville to four years probation during a brief hearing Monday morning.
“I regret doing it,” Garcia said.
After nearly 16 years with the La Joya Independent School District Police Department, where he managed the Crime Stoppers program, Garcia abruptly resigned in September 2017.
Garcia had spent years siphoning money from Crime Stoppers, withdrawing cash to pay for groceries, rent and gas.
Administrators provided details about the transactions in a report submitted to the Governor’s Office. The report documented how Garcia transferred money from the probation account to the activity account and withdrew the cash at ATMs.
“The La Joya ISD Campus Crime Stoppers Program has learned a very harsh, yet important lesson this year; and that lesson learned is to be transparent,” according to the report. “Transparency and open communication is the key to any successful crime stopper program.”
A grand jury indicted Garcia for theft by a public servant, a third-degree felony. He pleaded guilty and state District Judge Noe Gonzalez scheduled sentencing for May 30.
Garcia, though, couldn’t repay the money on May 30. Judge Gonzalez delayed sentencing until Monday, when Garcia arrived with a cashier’s check for the full amount.
“I’m requiring him to pay the restitution back to Crime Stoppers. And if he pays the restitution back to Crime Stoppers, then we consider a probated sentence,” Judge Gonzalez said Monday. “If he does not pay it back, then, obviously, it’s not a probated sentence. I mean, he’s stealing from this organization and he’s going to go do prison time.”
Judge Gonzalez told Assistant District Attorney Mauricio “Maury” Martinez to walk Garcia to Auxiliary Court A, where senior state District Judge Fidencio Guerra Jr. would handle sentencing.
Attorney David R. Gorena, who represented Garcia, asked Guerra to consider two years deferred probation.
“He has no prior criminal history, judge,” Gorena said. “This is the only incident he’s ever been involved in and the restitution has been paid in full.”
When a defendant receives a sentence of deferred probation, the defendant pleads guilty but the judge defers making a finding of guilt — and the defendant isn’t actually convicted of a crime.
Martinez requested straight probation. The Hidalgo County District Attorney’s Office also wanted Garcia to surrender his law enforcement license.
“While he was there, he took advantage of the situation,” Martinez said. “Over the course of about two-and-a-half years is where this theft occurred. It was in small increments.”
Guerra sentenced Garcia to four years deferred probation.
“It is the opinion at this time of the court, pursuant to the negotiations that went on between the judge and the defense counsel and state’s attorney, that the finding of guilty and all further proceedings in this matter are, at this time, hereby deferred,” Guerra said.
Along with four years probation, he required Garcia to pay a $750 fine, cover the court costs, perform 100 hours of community service and attend classes for people convicted of theft offenses.
Garcia is also prohibited from seeking employment with any school district while on probation.
“We wanted a conviction,” said Hidalgo County District Attorney Ricardo Rodriguez. “We wanted a straight conviction and we wanted his license.”
What punishment to assess is a question for the judicial system, said La Joya school district police Chief Raul Gonzalez.
“My whole concern here had always been recovering the money that belongs to the program,” Chief Gonzalez said.
Gorena, the attorney who represented Garcia, said restitution played a major role in the decision-making process.
“Our concern was the victim. The victim’s been made whole. The total restitution was paid,” Gorena said. “And we’re happy with the outcome.”