On Friday, former Cameron County Juvenile Detention Center cook Gilberto Escamilla was sentenced to 50 years in prison for the felony theft of an estimated $1.2 million in fajita meat.

What originally started as stealing small amounts of county-purchased fajitas, quickly escalated to hauling off truckloads. “It got to a point where I couldn’t control it anymore,” Escamilla pleaded before the judge on Friday.

According to the Cameron County District Attorney’s Office, a total of 180,000 pounds of fajita meat, $1,251,578 worth, was unknowingly purchased with county tax dollars and used by Escamilla for his personal business. However, these numbers don’t include other meats he confessed to stealing, such as pork chops, brisket, sausage, and chicken.

After gathering evidence from Labatt Food Service, Cameron County DA investigators concluded Escamilla would intercept county-funded food deliveries to Darrell B. Hester Juvenile Detention Center and reroute them to his own customers. Escamilla confessed to committing the crime for nine years.

It wasn’t until August 7, 2017, when he was absent from work, that a delivery of 800 pounds of fajita stirred confusion within the kitchen staff of the jail facility. The jail does not serve fajitas to their detainees. Escamilla was fired the following day and on April 9 investigators discovered packages of fajita meat in his refrigerator. Cameron County District Attorney’s Office Special Investigations Unit arrested Escamilla and he posted bond on a first-degree felony theft charge.

Escamilla’s trial was set for April 23rd, but he entered a plea deal and appeared before the 107th District Court on Friday.

“I feel horrible. I wish I could take this back. It was selfish,” he pleaded during his sentencing hearing. 

Escamilla’s attorney asked Corpus Christi visiting Judge J. Manuel Bañales to consider probation and the maximum of five years in prison, adding that Escamilla should be given the opportunity to repay Cameron County taxpayers. However, Cameron County Assistant District Attorney Peter Gilman requested Escamilla be sentenced up to five decades to deliver a strong message to all public servants. Escamilla received 50 years.

County District Attorney Luis Saenz has openly expressed his discontent with the county, as it shows a complete and “total failure” in administration. “What do you tell the taxpayers?” he said. “Up and down the chain of authority, people were signing off on these things. They should’ve seen it.”

Cameron County’s Chief Juvenile Probation Officer Rose Gomez stated that Escamilla’s actions have led to a review of department policy.

Miriam Cepeda

Miriam Cepeda is the Rio Grande Valley Bureau Chief for Texas Scorecard. A second-generation Mexican American, she is both fluent in English and Spanish and has been influential in grassroots organizing and conservative engagement within Hispanic communities. If you don’t find her “Trumping”, you can find her saving animals, running her dog, hiking the Andes, or volunteering with the U.S. National Park Service.