Contractor says he was left in dark about temp employee who paid girl for sex act on school grounds
photo by: Douglas County Sheriff's Office
After a stranger sexually victimized a teenage girl on school grounds last fall, community members — including other parents and the perpetrator’s employer, who was contracted by the school district — were never told what happened by Lawrence school district officials or law enforcement.
The school district does notify parents of safety issues currently affecting a school, spokeswoman Julie Boyle said, but in this case, the girl reported the crime weeks after it happened and “there was no safety issue affecting the school at that time.”
The few school board members reached last week either weren’t on the board then, or said they couldn’t recall if they’d been told of the incident at the time, but that if they had, it would have been in executive session.
The contractor said that — even though the district temporarily suspended his company over the incident — he was never told what his subcontracted landscaping employee was accused of doing until he read about it a week ago in the Journal-World.
“I’m just sickened by it,” said Michael Molle, of Baldwin City, who has owned Perfect Cut Lawn and Landscaping for 10 years. “I’m so sorry this thing happened. I pride myself on doing the right thing and good work, and for some individual to go out there and cost my company $10,000 — which is minimal compared to what happened to this young person — it’s ridiculous.”
Jesus Cervantes Garcia, 34, of Kansas City, Mo., is now in jail awaiting sentencing.
When he was arrested in July, the Journal-World reported that Cervantes Garcia was charged with commercial sexual exploitation of a child. The charges said the act occurred about nine months earlier, in October 2017, and involved a 16-year-old victim.
Instead of his case progressing to a preliminary hearing, where testimony would have shed light on the allegations, Cervantes Garcia entered a plea in late September and was convicted of unlawful sexual relations, a lower level felony. Allegations were not summarized at the plea hearing, either.
Information about what led to the charges only became public after the Journal-World requested and received, following a Douglas County District Court judge’s approval, the narrative written by detectives in support of Cervantes Garcia’s arrest.
According to that affidavit and additional reporting by the newspaper, Cervantes Garcia was working for Perfect Cut mowing the lawn at Lawrence High School, 1901 Louisiana St., after school hours on Sept. 29, 2017. Outside, he encountered a 16-year-old female student and paid her to give him oral sex, walking into a wooded area to complete the act and ultimately paying her $9 because that was all he had in his pocket.
About three weeks later, the girl disclosed the incident to school staff, who immediately reported it to police. A few days after that, police interviewed Cervantes Garcia, who admitted to paying the girl for the sex act and said he knew she was 15 or 16 years old.
It’s not clear why Cervantes Garcia wasn’t arrested right away when police interviewed him in October 2017. Instead, the DA’s office reviewed the case and filed charges in April of this year. The warrant remained outstanding until his arrest in July in Jackson County, Missouri.
Further, the Journal-World confirmed through an ICE spokesman, Cervantes Garcia is in the United States illegally and previously had been deported in 2016.
Both his former employer and the school district spokeswoman said they did not know of Cervantes Garcia’s immigration status until the Journal-World’s article.
The newspaper was unable to find any previous criminal history for Cervantes Garcia through name searches of Kansas and national sex offender registries, current and past Kansas prison inmates, Missouri court cases or federal court cases in any state. ICE did not respond this week to follow-up questions seeking more information about why Cervantes Garcia was deported in 2016.
Molle said his company has contracts to mow for Lawrence public schools, the city of Lawrence and the city of Overland Park.
In October 2017, Molle said the school district discontinued his whole company’s services for approximately three weeks. He said he was not told why.
A few days later, Molle said he got a call from police asking whether he could help them find Cervantes Garcia.
Molle said he personally drove Cervantes Garcia to the police station to be interviewed. Molle said he asked officers if they could tell him what was going on.
“They would give me no information,” which was frustrating, Molle said. “If I’m a contractor for the school district and there’s something inappropriate going on — man, I need to know that.”
Molle said that, even though Cervantes Garcia hadn’t been charged with a crime at that point, and he still didn’t know what police were asking him about, he fired him “a matter of days” after the police interview.
When police contacted Molle again months later, he guesses around the time they were looking to arrest Cervantes Garcia, Molle said by then he didn’t know where his ex-employee was and could not help.
Molle said he did not know Cervantes Garcia was undocumented and that he does not intentionally hire such workers.
Not unlike others in his and other industries, Molle said his company employs several full-time employees and then subcontracts — either other companies or individual workers — as needed.
He said he requires all subcontracted employees to provide social security numbers, tax id numbers or work visa numbers for taxes. However, he said, he doesn’t have a way to verify the individuals he’s paying aren’t falsely representing themselves.
Molle said he’s sorry about what happened to the girl and wished he could “wave a wand and fix it.” He said he’s never had a similar problem with any employee.
After police started investigating, the school district notified Molle that Cervantes Garcia was not to return to school property, but the district reinstated his company’s services, Molle said, though he lost a significant amount of revenue during the suspension.
District spokeswoman Boyle said the district renewed its mowing contract with Perfect Cut in February.
“The district did not know anything about this individual’s background until reading your article,” Boyle said, referring to Cervantes Garcia in an email to the Journal-World. “The district presumes all contractors we hire follow the law. We verify employment eligibility for the individuals we hire; it is the contractor’s responsibility to verify those they employ.”
As for notifying parents about when a serious crime occurs on school grounds, Boyle said the district does that when there’s an immediate safety issue.
“We had no knowledge of this incident when it occurred outside of the school day on September 29. When it was reported to staff on October 19, we immediately contacted law enforcement and notified the contractor to have the individual removed from the crew assigned to mow on school property. The contractor complied. There was no safety issue affecting the school at that time.”
The Journal-World called all current school board members to ask whether they were told of the incident when it occurred — which has now been a full year ago — and their thoughts on whether parents should have been notified.
Shannon Kimball and Melissa Johnson said they could not recall.
Kimball said that if the board had been told, it would likely have occurred in executive session due to student privacy laws. Kimball reiterated that, generally, schools notify parents when there’s an imminent threat or concern to other students’ safety.
Johnson said that, generally, she would not want the district to share information publicly that would “expose” a minor victim, violate any privacy laws or potentially compromise a law enforcement investigation.
Kelly Jones was not on the board when the crime occurred. She said she was cautious about sharing her opinion on what she described as “a delicate matter.”
The other board members did not return calls.