Edinburg EDC employee charged with felony theft

An employee with the Edinburg Economic Development Corporation faces felony theft charges, court records show.

The corporation’s workforce development and special events coordinator, Michael Rene Balderas, faces one felony count of theft of more than $30,000 but less than $150,000, according to records.

According to the indictment, handed down Aug. 22, Balderas is accused of engaging in a scheme to “appropriate” more than $30,000 but less than $150,000, from a representative of the Association of Texas Professional Educators.

Based in Austin, the ATPE is the largest independent educator association, according to its website, and exists to serve the needs of the state’s teachers, paraprofessionals, administrators and all public education employees.

The indictment states Balderas, who was ATPE vice president for Region 1 between 2016 and 2017, allegedly ran this scheme against ATPE for more than five years, beginning in May 2013, through September 2018.

Region 1 covers the Rio Grande Valley and members of the state’s largest association for public educators pay membership fees ranging from $10 to $225 to receive legal, insurance and professional benefits and services.

When reached for comment, ATPE officials released the following statement.

“The Association of Texas Professional Educators (ATPE) is unable to provide comment regarding this case at this time. We would like to reassure our approximately 100,000 members that we have sound policies and practices in place with respect to financial accountability. ATPE considers the safeguarding of members’ dues dollars to be of the utmost importance,” the release stated.

At that time, Edinburg city officials released a police report summary to The Monitor via a public records request but declined to disclose other documents related to the case due to it being an open investigation, according to a March 4 letter it sent the attorney general’s office.

Balderas, a former technology support specialist with the Edinburg school district, and who served as vice president of ATPE’s Region 1 from 2016-17, said in March that he had only learned about the allegations against him beginning that month.

Balderas additionally said he needed “to look into what’s going on” before he would be ready to comment.

Balderas unsuccessfully ran for the Place 2 seat on the Edinburg school board in November 2018 and is currently employed with the EDC as workforce development and special events coordinator. At the time of the election, he was president of ATPE’s Edinburg chapter, according to his campaign materials.

Handed down Aug. 22, the District Attorney’s office then filed a warrant for his arrest Aug. 29, records show.

But Balderas was not served with the warrant until this Sunday, when a deputy with the Starr County Sheriff’s Office arrested him in connection with the arrest warrant.

He was released the following day, Monday, Sept. 30, the same day he was due in court for his formal arraignment.

The court, not knowing he was arrested the day before, subsequently ordered his $10,000 bond forfeited, and ordered Balderas to be arrested.

He was then due to appear in court for the formal arraignment Thursday, Oct. 3, but on Wednesday, his attorney, Artemio De La Fuente, presented the court with a signed waiver of arraignment from Balderas, stating he was aware of the charges against him, and asking the court to waive the arraignment hearing.

State District Judge Librado “Keno” Vasquez signed the waiver document and set Balderas’ next hearing for Nov. 4, court records show.

Notes entered by Vasquez’s court staff for Wednesday, when De La Fuente filed his waiver of arraignment, make no mention of Balderas’ appearance at that time; and accordingly a plea was not entered along with the waiver.

If convicted of the theft of property charge, a third-degree felony, the 42-year-old Edinburg man faces a maximum of 10 years in prison and up to $10,000 fine.