SAN ANTONIO – Court has recessed for the day and will reconvene at 1:30 p.m. on Oct. 3.
Sentencing continues Tuesday for Michelle Barrientes Vela less than two weeks after a jury convicted her on two felony charges of tampering with government records.
Barrientes Vela, 48, who has elected for Judge Velia Meza to decide her punishment instead of the jury, faces up to 10 years in prison.
Prosecutors, however, have said “realistically” the former Bexar County Precinct 2 constable is likely looking at being sentenced to probation since Barrientes Vela has no previous criminal history.
A jury on Sept. 1 took less than four hours to convict Barrientes Vela of tampering with security payment logs from Rodriguez Park and then handing over false logs to law enforcement after receiving a grand jury summons for records in the summer of 2019.
On Monday, Jeremy Miner, who served as a lieutenant under Barrientes Vela and was part of her administration at the time she left office, heaped criticism on his ex-boss as he testified for hours.
“I believe she was a cancer to her own office,” said Miner, when asked by defense attorney Jason Goss if it was accurate to describe a fellow deputy, Leonicio Moreno, as a cancer after Moreno was reinstated from being terminated in 2018.
Miner, who said he now works as a deputy in McMullen County, mumbled throughout his testimony and spoke in a low voice, making it difficult to follow what he was saying.
The criminal investigation stemmed from accusations that Barrientes Vela, while in full uniform, had shaken down a man for hundreds of dollars while he rented a pavilion at the park on Easter 2019.
Barrientes Vela’s former clerk, Susan Tristan, testified during the nearly two-week long trial that Barrientes Vela had instructed her to fill in new information on the park’s cash logs.
Tristan described the demands for records as “too much” and the work as “messy,” stating that the process was interfering with her other duties.
Tristan testified that a significant amount of time that summer was spent altering and compiling these records.
The lead investigator in the case, Texas Ranger Bradley Freeman, testified that records handed over by an attorney for Barrientes Vela did not match records provided by Tristan, who had become a witness for the state.
Texas Rangers and FBI agents raided Barrientes Vela’s county offices in September 2019. She was indicted by a Bexar County grand jury alongside her former captain, Marc D. Garcia, months later in January 2020.
Prosecutors last year dismissed the most serious public corruption charge against Barrientes Vela: aggravated perjury.
What happens to the official oppression charges?
Barrientes Vela, who was first taken to trial on the felony tampering charges, also faces three counts of official oppression.
Prosecutor Dawn McCraw said the state intends to prove up those charges as part of sentencing this week.
“Once we accomplish the sentencing we will dismiss those cases,” said McCraw.
Those charges include accusations that the then-constable subjected one of her deputies, Leonicio Moreno, to being wrongfully arrested in April 2019 after he filed to run against her for constable.
She is also accused of subjecting Moreno and a second Precinct 2 deputy, Christopher De La Cerda, to harassment and retaliation and creating a hostile work environment for them.
The county last year settled multiple lawsuits filed by the two deputies about their treatment at work for a combined $347,000.
Prosecutors have not said if Moreno or De La Cerda will be called to testify during sentencing, although both names appeared on the state’s witness list during jury selection.
Both the prosecution and defense were barred from bringing up the official oppression allegations during Barrientes Vela’s tampering trial.
Meza nearly declared a mistrial late last month after Freeman said on the witness stand that he believed Barrientes Vela had committed official oppression.
The judge ordered Freeman to attend a “show cause” hearing at a later date to determine whether he should be held in contempt of court.
The sentencing of Barrientes Vela is expected to last two days.
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