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County workers indicted; Accused of falsifying time cards

October 7, 2018

HARLINGEN — Two Cameron County employees accused of collecting pay checks for work that wasn’t done have been indicted by a grand jury.

Melissa Escalante, 29, and Belinda “Bibi” Castillo Garza, 52, are both clerks for Pct. 4 Justice of the Peace Juan Mendoza in Los Fresnos.

Garza also is a Los Fresnos City Council member.

They are accused of falsifying time cards that allowed them to collect $750 or more but less than $2,500 from Cameron County.

They face charges of theft, a Class A misdemeanor, and state jail felony tampering with a government record.

Cameron County records show Escalante and Garza are set for an arraignment hearing on Dec. 18 at 8:30 a.m.

Escalante was arrested on Sept. 10 and Garza on Sept. 11.

According to court documents, security cameras show Garza punching-in and then leaving, only to return several hours later to punch out, including on weekends when the Justice of the Peace Office is closed.

Court documents also allege Garza turned in a false 40-hour Cameron County time sheet for Escalante knowing she did not work.

Escalante received $600 for the time period of Monday, May 28, through June 1, 2018, knowing she did not work, according to prosecutors.

Prosecutors also say Escalante admits the reason for falsifying the time sheet was because as a temporary full time employee she is not afforded the benefits of sick leave or vacation,

Garza and Escalante are still active employees, according to the Cameron County Commissioners Court Civil Legal Division.

Garza is a salaried employee earning $35,472 a year.

Escalante earns $15.02 an hour.

Phone calls to Escalante, Garza and Judge Mendoza were not answered.

Garza was elected to Los Fresnos City Council Place 4 in 2015. Her term expires in November 2018. She is not on the ballot for re-election.

According to Cameron County Sheriff Omar Lucio, on Aug. 7 the Cameron County Auditor’s Office notified the Sherriff’s Department of an irregularity in time sheets for the two Cameron County justice of the peace clerks.

Lucio said an internal audit conducted by the Cameron County Auditor’s Office revealed that employees of the justice of the peace were claiming they worked hours on the official Cameron County time sheet but had not reported for work those times.

Tampering with governmental records is a state jail felony and theft a Class A misdemeanor.

The DA’s office is not releasing any information because the investigation is still on going.

rgarcia@valleystar.com

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