San Juan mayor changes tune on departure from probation office

While details of San Juan Mayor Mario Garza’s departure from Hidalgo County’s adult probation office remain unclear, Garza made no attempt Tuesday to be transparent.

Asked Tuesday following the San Juan city commission meeting about why he is no longer working at the probation office, Garza said “it was time.” When asked further, Garza said he would, “not comment on anything right now. There might be some legal involved.” To a follow up question about “legal” being involved, Garza again refused to answer.

Garza, who was court officer for District Judge Luis Singleterry of the 92nd state District Court, had not responded to repeated inquiries by The Monitor in recent weeks since it was revealed that the probation office was under investigation for alleged bribery and theft by employees.

Arnold Patrick, the director of the probation office, has declined to go into detail about Garza’s departure from the department, specifically whether or not Garza was terminated or if he resigned June 16, the same day the sheriff’s office announced an investigation into alleged bribery and theft by some in the probation department.

Garza told KGBT-TV last week that after 15 years as a probation officer, he quit on that same Friday the sheriff’s office announced the investigation. Garza told KGBT that he was “burned out,” but did not give additional details, acknowledging the timing was “so, so wrong,” but said he did not take any bribes at any point.

Patrick initiated the investigation after a private citizen approached him about possible indiscretions in his office. So far, one arrest has been made — Carlos Delafuente, 34, surrendered to authorities last Tuesday. And unlike Delafuente, Garza told KGBT he did not submit a resignation letter the Friday he departed the probation office, but instead just “walked out” and had no plans to return.

Delafuente was formally arraigned by a justice of the peace last Tuesday on one count of abuse of official capacity — a state jail felony punishable by up to two years in county jail.

The former probation officer, who worked for more than 10 years at the probation office, is accused of taking at least $6,000 in cash from probationers in exchange for early termination of their probation, or other favors related to their case since at least 2009, according to the criminal complaint filed against Delafuente.

Despite the bombshell revelation that some of his officers may have been taking bribes, Patrick said he and his staff immediately conducted an inquiry into the allegations against Delafuente, contacted the District Attorney’s office, which then initiated communication with the sheriff’s office. The current investigation began in earnest on May 17, a little over a week after Patrick and his staff were made aware of the allegations against Delafuente.

“Obviously it’s not pretty. I have at least one problem, if not two, (but) we looked into (the allegations made against Delafuente) and found some issues with multiple cases,” Patrick said. “We went to the (DA’s office) and (First Assistant Criminal District Attorney) Juan Villescas who took it very seriously. Then the sheriff’s investigators talked to us — met with us and looked at the information we gathered.”

The potential second problem Patrick is referring to is a second probation officer, who has not been charged in connection with the investigation, but resigned Monday after learning of the internal inquiry conducted by Patrick’s staff.

Patrick declined to discuss the monetary figure disclosed in the criminal complaint against Delafuente, which alleged the former probation officer took more than $6,330 beginning in 2009 until May of this year.