The Fraud Examiner

Lessons Learned from the Fajita Bandit

Ron Cresswell, J.D., CFE  
Research Specialist, Association of Certified Fraud Examiners                                 

In 2017, a Texas man was arrested for stealing more than $1.2 million worth of fajita meat from his government employer. The man was quickly nicknamed “the fajita bandit,” a phrase that proved irresistible to headline writers. Dozens of news outlets picked up the story, and the fajita bandit gained brief, widespread notoriety. The case made news again in April 2018 when the fajita bandit was sentenced to 50 years in prison for his crime.


While it is a strange story, the case of the fajita bandit contains useful lessons about fraud and internal controls.


The case of the fajita bandit


In August 2017, a delivery truck arrived at the Darrell B. Hester Juvenile Detention Center in San Benito, Texas. The truck was from Labatt Food Services — the detention center’s meat vendor. The truck driver called the detention center’s kitchen and asked where he should unload 800 pounds of fajita meat ordered by the center. The employee who answered the phone was confused. She informed the driver that the detention center did not serve fajitas in its kitchen. The driver responded that he had been delivering fajita meat to the detention center for nine years. The employee reported the conversation to her supervisor.


It soon became apparent that another detention center employee, Gilberto Escamilla, was running a long-term scam. For almost a decade, Escamilla ordered meat for the detention center, intercepted the orders, and then sold the meat to third parties, many of whom were regular customers. On the day the scam was discovered, Escamilla was absent from work for a medical appointment. When he arrived at work the next day, Escamilla was confronted and confessed to stealing fajita meat for nine years. The detention center terminated him immediately.


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