Estela Fajardo bought so much stolen property from burglars and thieves that her “home looked like a pawn shop,” a prosecutor told jurors Wednesday.
Fajardo, 46, an undocumented immigrant trying to fend off deportation, is on trial for felony theft in Waco’s 19th State District Court.
While Fajardo and her supporters have denied she was involved in wrongdoing, Assistant District Attorney Tiffany Clark told the jury in opening statements that Fajardo, who owned three Waco businesses, had to know the merchandise she was buying was stolen by the sheer volume alone found at her Robinson home in 2016.
One big-screen TV found in Fajardo’s home still had the brackets and a piece of drywall attached and two drops of paint that perfectly matched the freshly painted wall from which the burglars yanked it, Clark said.
“TVs, electronics, jewelry and other items taken from hard-working people who had their stuff taken from their homes all ended up in this defendant’s home,” Clark told the jury. “She had to know that it was all stolen.”
Fajardo has lived in Waco 32 years and has four children who are U.S. citizens. Her cause, buoyed by the Waco Immigrants Alliance and others, has attracted media attention because of her lawsuit claiming mistreatment by guards at the privately operated Jack Harwell Detention Center and her struggle against deportation so she can stay with her family.
Her attorney, Gerald Villarrial, told the jury in opening statements that Fajardo owns a moving company, a hair salon and a building she leases out as a gold and jewelry store and is a valuable asset to the community.
Clark told jurors stolen items were found at all three locations plus the large cache at Fajardo’s home.
Villarrial said two street-wise burglars, Ja Tramaie King and LaDerran Henry, manipulated her into buying items from them, and that she did not know they were stolen. He said she is a collector who frequented trade shows, flea markets and pawn shops in search of items, acknowledging that 72 items were seized from her home but that most of the goods belonged to her.
Fajardo was arrested on engaging in organized criminal activity charges with King and Henry. However, after she had been jailed more than two years, prosecutors reduced the charge to Class A misdemeanor theft. After Fajardo declined to plead guilty to the misdemeanor, the DA’s office indicted her on theft of more than $2,500, a state-jail felony punishable by up to two years in a state jail.
Fajardo has been in jail 875 days, more than the two-year maximum sentence. She could not bond out because Immigration and Customs Enforcement officials placed a hold on her and she has an existing deportation order that she and her lawyers are fighting.
King, 30, who is serving a 20-year prison term for a string of daylight residential burglaries, said he and Henry teamed to strike homes all over the city, but mainly focused on homes in South Waco.
He said Fajardo probably bought $6,000 to $7,000 in jewelry and other items from them over several months in 2015 and 2016. King said he told Fajardo he got the items from his cousin and he never told her they were stolen.
King told Villarrial under cross-examination that Fajardo never instructed him to steal anything for her and said she only bought items that she tried on that seemed to fit her, such as rings, bracelets and necklaces. He told Villarrial that he and Henry’s girlfriend and her baby met with Fajardo once and she agreed to loan them some money while holding on to some jewelry they had until they could pay her back.
In other testimony, Waco police Detective Jason Bihl told jurors about the search warrant he and other officers executed at Fajardo’s home on Robinson Drive. There was a big safe on a wooden pallet in her living room, and the home was cluttered with bags of jewelry, electronics, TVs, computers, tablets and more, Bihl said.
Police were able to locate the owners of some items after they turned on tablets and photos of the owners popped up on screen savers, he said.
Many of the burglary victims were undocumented Hispanic immigrants, who Bihl said routinely do not report being crime victims because they fear reprisals from police or immigration officials.
Clark and prosecutor Evan O’Donnell called Henry as a witness, but he refused to cooperate, even after he was granted testimonial immunity and Judge Ralph Strother appointed an attorney to advise him of his rights.
Henry is serving a 12-year sentence for his roles in the burglaries. He said he does not remember telling detectives Fajardo knew the items she bought from them were stolen and denied saying she placed orders for items she wanted them to steal for her.
The prosecutors also called six witnesses who testified about the anxiety they experienced after King and Henry broke into their homes, including their distress over losing cherished family heirlooms that were never recovered.
Prosecution testimony will resume Thursday morning.