MERCED — A 35-year-old woman arrested this week on stolen property and child endangerment charges is a Merced County employee, the latest in a string of high-profile employee troubles for the county.
Marissa Ann Gonzales works in the countys Human Services Agency as a family services representative III, confirmed county spokesman Mike North. She has been a county employee since Aug. 10, 1999.
Gonzales was arrested Saturday along with 36-year-old Pedro Garcia, whom she refers to as her husband. She and Garcia are not legally married, but have been together more than 20 years, Gonzales said Wednesday.
Merced police said gang members were using the couples home on La Palma Lane to store firearms. At least one of the seven weapons recovered from the home had been reported stolen, police said.
On Wednesday, Gonzales denied knowing any weapons were in her home. She said that when police first came to her home Saturday, she told them they wouldnt find any firearms.
Unfortunately, they proved me wrong, Gonzales told the Merced Sun-Star. The cops said I shouldve known they were there, and, yes, I shouldve known, but if Id known either my husband (Garcia) or the guns wouldve been out; or both.
Merced police initially said Gonzales was a suspected gang member, but she was not booked on any gang-related charges, according to Merced County jail records.
Gonzales was arrested on suspicion of felony possession of stolen property and misdemeanor child endangerment, booking records show. She posted bail Sunday and is scheduled for arraignment April 1, authorities said.
Garcia was booked on suspicion of criminal street gang participation; being a felon in possession of firearms, ammunition and body armor; child endangerment; and possession of stolen property. He was still in custody Wednesday in lieu of more than $220,000.
Their three children, a 1-year-old boy and two girls, ages 16 and 9, were turned over to child protective services. Gonzales said she plans to get her children back and to fight the criminal charges in court.
How could I know the gun was stolen when I didnt even know it was there? Gonzales said.
She said she would do whatever it takes to get her children back.
Ive already told my husband that if he bails out, he cant come home, she said. My kids are everything to me, and if getting them back means I cant be with him, so be it.
Gonzales said she and Garcia were separated for several years, but they got back together in 2009 and she believed he left the gang life behind.
She said shes worked for Merced County for about 15 years and hopes she wont have any problems at work because of the arrest. Maybe because its a felony, but Im not guilty, she said.
Gonzales said she returned to work Tuesday.
North said a criminal background check was not completed for Gonzales at the time of her hiring because of the classification of her position. Officials said there are several criteria that prompt background checks for county employees, but her position did not meet those criteria.
Gonzales salary ranges from $42,390.40 to $51,563.20 a year, according to her job description. As of Wednesday, Gonzales was still employed by Merced County, North said.
As a family services representative, Gonzales screened eligibility and handled enrollments for all public assistance programs, such as health insurance, medical benefits and food stamps. In addition to handling intakes, Gonzales is responsible for monitoring client cases and ongoing case management.
Human Services Director Ana Pagan declined to comment Wednesday, saying that the matter is a personnel issue.
District 5 Supervisor and Board Chairman Jerry OBanion said he doesnt believe Gonzales arrest reflects poorly on Merced County because employees make mistakes in their personal lives.
I dont think its a black eye for the county, OBanion said. When you have as many employees as we have, you have some people that make mistakes. I dont go along with the conspiracy theory that all we have is bad employees because we dont.
OBanion said he trusts that the Human Services Agency, along with Human Resources, will take appropriate action if the criminal charges conflict with Gonzales continued employment.
District 4 Supervisor Deidre Kelsey called the situation very unusual, saying shes never seen a county employee with potential gang ties in her 18 years with Merced County.
I dont think it really reflects on the county at all if shes been doing her job properly for 15 years and had no outward signs of inappropriate behavior, Kelsey said. There would be no reason to question her personal life. As long as she was performing her duties and not acting strange, I think the county has done all that they can to make sure she was a performing employee.
To a certain degree, what goes on in peoples personal lives is not pertinent to jobs, Kelsey said.
Gonzales said she hopes shes given a chance to clear her name.
I work hard, take care of my kids and own my home, she said. I want people to know Im a good person in a bad situation.
Sun-Star staff writer Ramona Giwargis can be reached at (209) 385-2477 or firstname.lastname@example.org. Sun-Star staff writer Rob Parsons can be reached at (209) 385-2482 or email@example.com.