A former Valentine Independent School District employee has been arrested over allegedly misappropriating school district funds for personal expenses.

The United States Attorney’s Office in Western Texas inculpated 42-year-old Ernesto Villarreal of using district-issued credit cards for several unauthorized purchases—including travel, lodging, home improvements, and university tuition payments.

Villarreal is also accused of accessing payroll information to direct employees’ and former employees’ payroll payments into his personal bank account by replacing their information with his own bank account information.

Now, the Marfa native faces one count of theft concerning programs receiving federal funds and eight counts of wire fraud from the U.S. Attorney’s office. If convicted, he could face up to a decade in prison for the theft charge and two decades for each wire fraud count.

Villarreal was first indicted by a grand jury on June 13 and voluntarily surrendered at the FBI office in Alpine on Monday, reported The Big Bend Sentinel.

One day later, U.S. Magistrate Judge David Fannin permitted Villarreal to be released from Presidio County Jail before his trial if he could meet a $50,000 bond. As of Wednesday morning, he is still in jail.

“He voluntarily turned himself in,” said Villarreal’s attorney, Shane O’Neal. “He’s eager to address the government’s allegations. We were happy that the judge recognized his cooperation by finding that he should be released while we work through this case.”

Assistant U.S. Attorney Scott Greenbaum is leading the case’s prosecution, while the Federal Bureau of Investigation is looking into the matter further alongside the Texas Rangers and the U.S. Department of Education’s Office of Inspector General.

Valentine ISD first discovered roughly $165,000 in unauthorized transactions and multiple instances of falsified documents while performing an annual audit in the fall of 2022.

“The District’s investigation into these discrepancies revealed evidence that the District’s Business Manager, Ernesto Villarreal, may have misused District resources for personal gain,” explained Superintendent Debbie Engle to Texas Scorecard.

“Upon discovery of the potential financial improprieties, the District immediately placed Mr. Villarreal on paid leave, and turned this matter over to law enforcement to investigate possible criminal charges,” she added. “Mr. Villarreal tendered his resignation from the District on November 1, 2022.”

Engle assured that the district will continue to work alongside federal authorities as they continue to investigate the matter.

Luca Cacciatore

Luca H. Cacciatore is a journalist for Texas Scorecard. He is an American Moment inaugural fellow and former welder.

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