A former corporate asset manager for a charter school nonprofit that administers the alternative school program for the Weslaco school district is facing charges of using that organization’s credit card for his own benefit.
Eric Hernandez, a 40-year-old McAllen resident, was booked into the Hidalgo County Adult Detention Center last Friday on 10 counts of credit or debit card abuse.
Those counts include allegations that he used Student Alternatives Program Inc.’s credit card to purchase tickets to two Houston Texans games, to book a trio of three-day stays at an Austin Hyatt Regency hotel to attend a music festival between 2016 and 2019, and the purchase of tickets to see the band Mana at the Bert Ogden Arena in Edinburg, all of which police say are among 10 unauthorized purchases totaling $11,172.25.
Student Alternatives Program Inc., or SAPI, is a nonprofit that contracts with school districts in the Rio Grande Valley to operate alternative schools.
On Oct. 29, a representative from the organization’s corporate office in San Antonio called Weslaco police to report 10 unauthorized credit card purchases that occurred at the alternative school at 813 E. Pike Blvd., according to a probable cause affidavit.
“Mr. (Horacio) Huerta indicated that an ex-employee by the name of Eric Hernandez … used the SAPI business credit card for personal benefits,” the affidavit states.
Huerta explained to police that Hernandez began with the company in 2013 and during a 2016 company transition Hernandez was named corporate asset manager and was responsible for all payables and receivables related to the Discipline Alternative Program, or DAEP, that was in Weslaco, according to the affidavit.
He had authority to use the company’s credit card for business expenses and was responsible in coordinating reports and audit compliance information with the company’s McAllen office, investigators say.
“Hernandez would also conduct cost allocation to other SAPI buildings in the Rio Grande Valley for necessary maintenance and repairs. Another responsibility of Hernandez was to file and maintain all bank statements that were pertinent to the (alternative school program) and paying credit card bills that were related to all authorized SAPI related expenditures,” the affidavit state.
And then the pandemic arrived.
In March 2020, the alternative school released all of the students for spring break and shortly after the nonprofit learned that due to COVID-19, the school districts would no longer send students to alternative schools, according to the affidavit.
“This prompted the program to close its doors in Weslaco and release existing employees. It was during that time that the program decided to begin the process of transitioning all fiduciary functions to the San Antonio Corporate Office. The change included the eventual termination of Hernandez’s position,” the affidavit said.
Once corporate obtained all the financial records from the Rio Grande Valley, employees in San Antonio reviewed all of the accounts, according to the charging documents.
On Aug. 11, the organization’s CEO, Eduardo Gutierrez, directed an audit of a specific credit card which revealed that between May 2016 and June 2020, a total of 10 unauthorized transactions totaling to $11,172.25 were found, police say.
“Upon further investigation with the vendors, it was discovered that Hernandez was using the company credit card for unauthorized personal purposes,” the affidavit states.
Investigators say those purchases include a little more than $4,550 in Austin hotel stays while attending a music festival in 2016, 2018 and 2019.
He’s also accused of spending $1,826.24 on tickets to see both the Colts and the Titans play the Texans in December of 2018 and 2019.
Police also allege that on three occasions in 2016, 2017 and 2019 that Hernandez used the company credit card to purchase more than $4,300 worth of merchandise from Bestbuy.com, including an Apple Woven Nylon 42 mm band, an Apple Watch S2 42mm SS Silver link, an Apple Leather Loop 42mm, an iPad Pro, an Apple Tablet Pencil, other Apple accessories and a Canon Ef 2470mm f28L USM long lens.
The affidavit also alleges he spent $460.50 on two tickets to see the Mana concert at the Bert Ogden Arena in Edinburg.
By late September of last year, the company began sending letters to Hernandez demanding payment.
On April 20, investigators met with Hernandez at the Weslaco Police Department.
“Hernandez stated that he was not the person who signed for the demand for payment letter and denied reading the letter,” the affidavit states.
When showed the credit card transactions, he said he recalled each transaction and the personal benefit from each person, investigators say.
“Hernandez stated that the transactions were his mistake and that he believed he was using his personal bank card when making the purchase,” the affidavit says.
Police say Hernandez told them that all of the transactions were done from his work computer at the alternative school.
“He claimed that two of his personal bank cards were saved on the same work desktop and (that) must have been where the error occurred,” the affidavit states. “He admitted that all the ten events were of personal nature and were not related to SAPI business.”
Hernandez bailed out of county jail on a $100,000 bond on Saturday, records show.