A second postponement has been granted for the trial of former Superior Mayor Jayme Valenzuela on charges that he used the town debit card to make more than $2,300 in personal withdrawals during his term in office.
Acting on a motion by Valenzuela defense attorney Gary Husk, Maricopa County Superior Court Judge David Cunanan granted a second continuance, moving the beginning date for the trial from Feb. 21 to April 18. The trial had originally been set to begin on Dec. 20.
Arizona Attorney General Office (AGO) Prosecutor Adam Schwartz made no argument against granting the second continuance but did state before Judge Cunanan that the AGO could be rethinking its prosecution of the case as it relates to probable cause. Schwartz declined to elaborate on what this might mean for the trial.
Valenzuela stands accused of one count of theft (a class 5 felony) for making eight personal withdrawals totaling more than $2,300 from the Superior town debit card between August 2013 and December 2014. The withdrawals were made public in December 2015 by former Superior Town Clerk Rachelle Sanchez in her testimony at a meeting of the Superior Town Council. Her report was later verified by the auditing firm of Colby & Powell LLC and the Special Investigations Section (SIS) of the Arizona Office of the Attorney General.
The SIS investigation, as reported last summer in the Superior Sun, alleged that Valenzuela carried the town debit card with himself instead of returning to the Superior Town Hall between uses as is policy, and used the card on eight occasions when his personal banking card was low on funds. These transactions were not reported. An addiction to gambling was cited as a reason for the misuse of the Superior debit card, with two transactions made at an ATM in the Wild Horse Pass Casino in Chandler, the SIS report alleged.
Valenzuela has contended that his misuse of the town debit card was a “mistake” and after the December 2015 revelation he reimbursed Superior in two payments.
If convicted of the charges, Valenzuela faces a maximum penalty of 2 years/6 months in jail, though he could get only probation if the jury finds his returning the funds in two installments in the month following the Sanchez revelations a mitigating factor.
Fallout from Valenzuela’s indictment last July has already cost him the mayor’s position as Superior voters replaced him with Mila Besich-Lira in a recall election last August. He also was terminated from his high-paid job as a commander overseeing contracts and supplies at the Pinal County Detention Center in Casa Grande.
The trial will be held in Arizona Superior Court, 175 W. Madison in Phoenix on April 18, following a pre-trial conference on April 13.