Former Ag Foreman Accused of Embezzling $359K Walks Due to Plea Deal
A 36-year-old former Connell wrestling coach and ranch foreman will not go to jail despite being implicated in the theft of about $359K worth of fake farm workers checks.
Due to conditions of a plea deal, Camilo Mendez Jr. will have to stay out of trouble for two years, or else the deal is off, according to the Tri-City Herald. Mendez Jr. worked for Washington Fruit and Produce Co. for 16 months. In 2016 a theft case was filed against him for allegedly cashing payroll checks belonging to fake, or 'ghost' ag workers.
He had worked for Jayhawk Orchard in Pasco between 2009 and 2015. Washington Fruit handles the payroll for that facility. Officials and an accountant hired to investigate found at least 28 fake workers who never existed, and some 575 paychecks were issued to them. Most of them were cashed at Mr. Quik's in Eltopia, and according to the Herald, 59 were cashed in one day.
However, authorities were not able to directly tie Mendez Jr. to the fraud or the check cashing. Signatures didn't match his, and there was not enough of a paper trail (such as bank account or computer records) to implicate him. However, there was plenty of other evidence to show he was the only person in the position capable of pulling off such a scheme. But officials say it's too circumstantial to hold up firmly in court.
Under the terms of his plea deal, he has to stay out of any legal trouble for two years while the case continues. If he does so, the theft charge will be dropped. If he fails, he will go before a judge and face a jury trial.
Mendez Jr. previously was convicted of sexual abuse stemming from a relationship with a teen in 2012-13. He is scheduled to go on trial in December for failing to register as a sex offender. He also has a 2009 conviction for cocaine possession.
Benton County Prosecutor's Office officials say the plea deal was made because they don't have the paper trail or enough evidence to convict him.
Records show Jayhawk Orchards had unusually high expenses for a facility of that size, and after Mendez Jr. left they dropped by over $76,000.