Previously deported lawn worker paid girl $9 for sex act on Lawrence school grounds

photo by: Douglas County Sheriff's Office

Jesus Cervantes Garcia

A man who’d previously been deported from the United States was mowing the lawn at a Lawrence public school the day he received oral sex from a 16-year-old student on school grounds, the Journal-World has learned.

The man paid the girl $9 cash, even though she’d asked for $15, because that was all he had in his pocket, he told police investigators afterward.

The crime occurred a year ago, and Jesus Cervantes Garcia, 34, of Kansas City, Mo., was recently convicted. Cervantes Garcia, initially charged with commercial sexual exploitation of a child, pleaded guilty to the lower-level felony of unlawful sexual relations.

However, beyond which law Cervantes Garcia allegedly broke, neither police, the school district nor prosecutors have ever disclosed what he was accused of doing or where. The Journal-World learned details only through additional reporting and through a police affidavit in support of his arrest, which the newspaper requested from Douglas County District Court and received this week.

The crime occurred after school hours on Sept. 29, 2017, a Friday, at Lawrence High School, 1901 Louisiana St., according to the publicly available portion of the Lawrence Police Department’s written report. The Journal-World sought information about the crime shortly after it appeared on a police call log, but police did not release information, including the location, and said the police report had not yet been completed. A review of the affidavit the Journal-World received this week revealed the crime took place at Lawrence High.

The girl told an LHS staff member about the incident on Oct. 19, 2017, and the school immediately reported it to police, school district spokeswoman Julie Boyle said.

A few days later, police interviewed the girl and then Cervantes Garcia, according to the police affidavit. Investigators wrote:

The report they received alleged that a man contracted to mow the lawn of the high school had paid the girl for a sex act.

The girl told police that the man approached her, asked if she wanted money, told her he was “horny” and asked for oral sex. Afterward, he gave her his phone number and asked how much money she wanted.

She said she originally asked for $15, but when the man hesitated she “didn’t want to seem greedy” and agreed to take what he had in his wallet, a $5 bill and some $1 bills.

Cervantes Garcia, whom police interviewed in Spanish, said the girl caught his attention first by saying “pssst, hola,” and offered him oral sex for $15. He said he followed her into a wooded area to complete the act and that afterward she agreed to take $9, which was all he had. He said she asked for his number and he gave it to her.

Cervantes Garcia told police he did not know her name and just called her “morrita,” a slang term for a girl.

Cervantes Garcia told police he estimated the girl was 15 or 16 and that he knew he would be in trouble with law enforcement if she spoke to anyone about what happened.

In response to questions from the Journal-World this week, Boyle confirmed that the suspect was working for an outside contractor hired by the district to mow. In addition to reporting the incident to police the same day the girl reported it to staff, the district informed the contractor that “due to the allegation this individual was not to return to campus.”

“Lawrence Public Schools is committed to student safety,” Boyle said, via email. “When a safety concern is brought to our attention, we immediately report it to the proper authorities for investigation.”

The Douglas County District Attorney’s Office declined to answer more questions about the allegations, as the case remains pending.

The Journal-World asked police for more information in the days following when the sex crime was listed on the department’s call log, but a spokesman said at that time the report was not complete and declined to share any information, including the location of the crime.

This week, beyond confirming the time and place the crime was reported, police spokeswoman Kim Murphree also declined to answer more questions, citing the nature of the crime.

Boyle said the contractor that employed Cervantes Garcia, Perfect Cut Lawn and Landscape, is still under contract by the district to mow at both its high schools, all four middle schools, the district office and the Lawrence Virtual School campus.

The DA’s office received the case from Lawrence police on Nov. 8, 2017, and after reviewing it, charged Cervantes Garcia and issued an arrest warrant on April 10, 2018, according to Cheryl Wright Kunard, assistant to DA Charles Branson. Wright Kunard did not elaborate on the delay.

It’s not clear where Cervantes Garcia was in the months prior to being arrested in the case.

Cervantes Garcia was arrested on the Douglas County warrant in late July in Jackson County, Mo., and booked into the Douglas County Jail after extradition proceedings in Missouri, according to Missouri court records and local jail records.

On his application for an appointed attorney filed after his arrest, Garcia listed a Kansas City, Mo., address, though the criminal complaint filed earlier lists his address as Kansas City, Kan.

On Sept. 26 before Judge Sally Pokorny, Cervantes Garcia pleaded guilty and was convicted of unlawful sexual relations, specifically involving “a student enrolled at the school where the offender is employed,” according to court records.

His sentencing is scheduled for Nov. 21. At Cervantes Garcia’s plea hearing, his appointed attorney, Angela Keck, and prosecutor Mark Simpson said the plea agreement they reached did not include recommendations for his sentencing. Keck did not respond this week to a request for comment on the allegations in this story.

Cervantes Garcia, a citizen of Mexico, is in the United States illegally, a U.S. Immigration and Customs Enforcement, or ICE, official confirmed.

Cervantes Garcia was previously deported from the United States, in October 2016, regional ICE spokesman Shawn Neudauer said. ICE has placed an immigration detainer on Cervantes Garcia with the Douglas County Jail, Neudauer said.

Generally, according to ICE, immigration detainers are placed on deportable people who are arrested on criminal charges, so the agency can take custody of the person if he or she is released from local custody for any reason. People who re-enter the United States after being previously deported, if convicted, can be punished by up to 20 years in federal prison depending on their criminal history.

Contact Journal-World public safety reporter Sara Shepherd