SAN ANTONIO – A former Bexar County Precinct 2 clerk who sought out the Texas Rangers to expose “wrongdoing” by Michelle Barrientes Vela testified Friday that she wore a secret recording device repeatedly in the summer of 2019 but did not tape the then-constable saying anything incriminating.
The second day of testimony from clerk Susan Tristan came as the first week of the indicted ex-constable’s public corruption trial came to a close.
Barrientes Vela, who left office in late 2019 and was indicted on a flurry of charges in early 2020, is currently on trial for felony tampering with evidence. She faces up to 10 years in prison if convicted.
Her trial is expected to stretch well into next week.
Prosecutors accuse Barrientes Vela of concealing security payment logs for Rodriguez Park and turning over a false set of records when learning she was under criminal investigation in 2019.
Tristan’s second day of testimony was repeatedly interrupted by objections from the defense and by matters taken up by the court outside the presence of the jury.
“I wanted somebody to know what was going on inside that office,” testified Tristan, who eventually met with Texas Ranger Bradley Freeman and then an unnamed FBI agent.
The FBI provided Tristan a secret recording device, which she repeatedly wore at work, before traveling to the FBI offices and dropping it off at the end of each day.
Despite repeatedly engaging Barrientes Vela in conversations at work about Rodriguez Park and using tips provided to her by law enforcement on how to do so, Tristan said she did not record the then-constable saying anything incriminating.
Tristan testified Thursday that after Barrientes Vela was accused of shaking down a man for hundreds of dollars in security payments at Rodriguez Park on Easter 2019, the then-constable pressured her to fill in new information on the park’s cash logs.
Friday Tristan testified that she was given a write up by the captain of Barrientes Vela’s administration in June 2019 for shredding documents related to the park.
She told the jury the policy in her write up was different than the policy given to her when she first began working for Barrientes Vela and that the new policy included the phrase “shredding of documents.”
Barrientes Vela’s former civil attorney, Les Sachanowicz, testified Friday afternoon about handing over records from Rodriguez Park on behalf of his client.
He said Barrientes Vela hired him in a private capacity in June 2019, after she received a grand jury subpoena.
Prosecutor Dawn McCraw at one point told the judge she was willing to be called as a witness regarding the chain of custody of the records after Sachanowicz handed them over.
If that were to occur, McCraw will have been an investigator, prosecutor and witness in the same case.
The cross examination of Tristan began around 3:30 p.m.
Attorney Jason Goss asked her to answer questions regarding when security is required to work park events, and whether she had answered questions from the prosecution Thursday without taking the duties of law enforcement into account.
She also conceded that names of deputies may have changed on paperwork because the original deputy assigned to work the event was unavailable.
Testimony concluded Friday with the defense playing a portion of one of the conversations taped by Tristan on the recording device she had been provided by the FBI.
In it, she relays to Freeman what Barrientes Vela told her regarding meeting with law enforcement about its investigation.
“She told me don’t worry about this, ‘be truthful, we didn’t do anything wrong,’” Tristan was heard saying on the recording.
Tristan previously testified that she meant a member of the administration other than Barrientes Vela told her not to worry.
The prosecution repeatedly objected to the playing of the clip in court, stating that Tristan had already clarified who had spoken to her, only to be overruled by Meza.
Barrientes Vela’s trial is scheduled to resume Monday at 8:30 a.m.