Fajita thief appeals 50-year sentence

Defendant Gilberto Escamilla looks back before the start of a sentencing hearing Friday, April 20, 2018, in the 107th state District Courtroom in Brownsville, Texas. Escamilla entered two pleas of guilty for charges related to the theft of over 1-million dollars of meats he stole and resold over two years through his position with Cameron County.

A former Cameron County employee serving 50 years in prison for stealing more than $1.2 million worth of fajitas during a nine-year period has appealed his sentence.

Gilberto Escamilla, 53, pleaded guilty on April 20 to theft by a public servant and visiting State District Judge J. Manuel Banales sentenced him to five decades in prison for the theft that totaled $1,251,578.

The Cameron County District Attorney’s Office Special Investigations Unit arrested Escamilla in 2017 after a driver from Labatt Food Service in Harlingen called the Darrel B. Hester Juvenile Detention Center to let the employees know that their 800-pound delivery of fajitas arrived. Fajitas are not on the menu at the detention center.

Defense attorney Ed Stapleton, who is representing Escamilla, filed the appeal on Monday.

Escamilla claims three points of error in his appeal.

In his first point, Escamilla alleges that Banales erred by relying on an invalid order to accept his written waiver of his right to a jury trial.

He also claims that he received ineffective assistance of counsel because his attorneys failed to develop and present mitigation evidence for the punishment phase of his trial, according to the appeal.

His last claim also alleges ineffective assistance of counsel because, according to Escamilla, his attorneys failed to investigate the judge before advising him to let Banales assess punishment instead of having a jury assess punishment.