Mission woman accused of embezzling more than $40K may plead guilty

De Leon

An attorney representing a 69-year-old Mission woman accused of embezzling more than $44,000 from the Hidalgo County Child Welfare Board more than two years ago said his client’s case should be resolved pending a plea offer.

Attorney Chris Sully made the announcement via video-conferencing during a pre-trial hearing Thursday morning for Maria Alicia De Leon, who is charged with theft, more than $30,000 but less than $150,000; misapplication of fiduciary/financial property, more than $30,000 but less than $150,000; and two counts of forgery financial instrument.

De Leon is accused of stealing a total of $44,718.45 from the nonprofit.

She’s been free on $32,000 in bonds since her July 3, 2019, arrest.

The investigation into De Leon began on March 7, 2017, when Sandra Betancourt, president of the Hidalgo County Child Welfare Board, which is a nonprofit that provides assistance to children and families involved with Texas Child Protective Services, met with Hidalgo County Sheriff’s Office investigators to report a theft.

Betancourt told investigators that De Leon, the board’s former treasurer who had access to the board’s account, was suspected of stealing thousands of dollars, according to the probable cause affidavit.

De Leon had been removed from the position due to poor conduct and was replaced by Carmen Pedraza, who was tasked with completing an audit of the treasurer reports for the board, authorities say.

Pedraza and Betancourt also set up a meeting at the International Bank of Commerce inside the Walmart in Edinburg, investigators say.

“Maria Alicia De Leon had also agreed to attend the meeting but she did not show up. They learned that one account had only $178.63 and the other had $2,860.99 which they both thought were very low balances,” the probable cause affidavit states.

On March 2, 2017, however, De Leon arrived at Pedraza’s residence where Betancourt was also present and admitted she had taken $20,000 from the board’s bank accounts for her family’s personal use, according to investigators.

Authorities accuse her of forging Betancourt and Pedraza’s names on 42 checks.

“After reviewing the bank transcripts, it was discovered that since May 2, 2014 through August 2016, there were forty two checks made payable to Maria Alicia De Leon and her family members. Maria Alicia De Leon made twenty four checks payable to herself, for a total amount of $5,313.45,” the probable cause affidavit states.

The woman is also accused of making 15 checks payable to her daughter for a total of $36,800; for making two checks out to her son-in-law for a total of $1,500; and for making one check out to her granddaughter for a total of $1,000, according to the charging document.

“Sheriff’s Investigators obtained the bank transcripts, which were reviewed with Mrs. Betancourt and Mrs. Pedraza. Both Mrs. Betancourt and Mrs. Pedraza provided an affidavit stating that Maria Alicia De Leon forged their signature forty two times for her personal and family’s gain,” the probable cause affidavit states.

State District Judge Ysmael D. Fonseca placed De Leon’s case on his Nov. 8 plea docket.