The amazing story of Texas' multi-million dollar fajita heist

The amazing story of Texas' multi-million dollar fajita heist

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The Texas Department of Justice is renowned as one of the toughest, most no-nonsense institutions in the United States. The home of barbecue has one of the country’s highest rates of incarceration, and currently has more citizens behind bars than any other state. With such an emphasis on law and order, you could be forgiven for thinking that the legal system is a slick, well-oiled machine, with integrity and professionalism at its core. Unfortunately, it turns out that the lone star state’s Department of Justice is just as susceptible to silliness as everyone else.

Cameron County police car Credit: Flickr/Cameron County District

On August 7, 2017, Cameron County Juvenile Justice Department employee Gilberto Escamilla had the day off work for a medical appointment. Having been a member of the Department of Justice for nearly a decade, Escamilla had built up a reputation as a hardworking and trustworthy employee. His long-term connection with the Department made it even more baffling when, in his absence, a truck pulled up quoting his name, looking to make a delivery of 800 pounds of fajitas.

A confused security guard explained to the driver that he must have the wrong address. The facility in question did not, nor ever had, supplied fajitas to the inmates - or to anyone for that matter. An equally confused driver protested that the guard must be mistaken, as he had been delivering fajitas to this address every month for the last nine years. Both baffled parties scratched their heads. Management was summoned. However, as the situation was explained and the facts became clear, bemusement turned to anger.

plate of fajitas Credit: Flickr/Wil Baker

It transpired that Escamilla had been living a secret double life. By day, he was the self-effacing Justice Department employee, diligently going about his duties and helping to keep the peace in Cameron County. By night, however, he threw off the oppressive cowl of the law-abiding citizen and assumed his true identity as the Fajita Bandit of South Texas.

Close up of a fajita

After a few hours spent digging through old invoices, stunned authorities quickly discovered the extent of Escamilla’s crimes. Unbeknownst to prison authorities, Escamilla had been ordering packets of fajita sauce and seasoning to the facility with department funds, before distributing the products to a network of contacts on the outside world. After receiving the goods, he would drive around the local community, selling the contraband from the back of his truck on a rapidly growing fajita black market. This outrageous scheme was only now rumbled because he had got his dates mixed up.

Unsurprisingly, Escamilla was immediately asked to come into the office to explain himself. Confronted with the increasingly incriminating facts of the situation and the realities of the fajita theft, the panicked bandit was fired on the spot. The next day, authorities arrested him at his residence. There, they found fridges full of fajitas and fajita products, providing further proof that Escamilla had been involved in something seriously suspicious.

To have a member of the Department of Justice involved in one incident of attempted larceny would be embarrassing. However, to the alarm of authorities, the errant order that ended up scuppering the entire operation was just the tip of the tortilla-shaped iceberg. While the products recovered from this vehicle were estimated to be between $2,500 and $30,000 in value, Escamilla’s operation ran much deeper. Once all invoices had been collected an appraised, it became clear that he had in fact stolen and sold more than $1.2 million of fajitas during his nine-year career as an outlaw. The scale of the crime was stunning.

Humiliated and horrified, the Juvenile Department of Justice decided that they needed to send a message to other would-be internal food thieves. Escamilla couldn’t be seen to get away with a million-dollar heist. He was therefore brought to stand trial against the entirety of the justice system’s legal team - all of whom were out for blood.

At the trial itself, Escamilla confessed to everything and described the affair as a series of mistakes. “It was selfish,” he explained to the unimpressed-looking bench in an impassioned plea for mercy. Escamilla went on to add that the whole operation had “started small and got bigger and out of control” and that “it got to the point where I couldn’t control it anymore”. Clearly, Texan enthusiasm for contraband Mexican food has until now been sorely underestimated.

Unfortunately for Escamilla, the scale of the caper would end up costing him dearly. As the amount of product stolen was valued at over $300,000, Escamilla’s sentence would have to automatically be bumped up to the most extensive punishment possible. To make matters worse, the fact that he had used his position with the Department to facilitate his crimes necessitated that he be made example of. Because of this, Escamilla was sentenced to a whopping 53 years in prison on April 20. The saga of the Fajita Bandit had ended in defeat. The law had won.

Escamilla’s story has sparked several different reactions. Some have praised the Department of Justice for acting decisively and sending a strong message about their stance on fajita theft. Others have spoken out in support of the guilty party and have even described him as a cult hero for his unconventional approach to crime. Wherever you stand, it’s clear that the tale of the Fajita Bandit will go down in food legend.