Special Reports

Keeping Coaches Honest: Man's arrest raises questions about city's background check protocol

Man claims he coached softball, city has no record

Keeping coaches honest

EL PASO, Texas - The arrest of a man on theft charges has led ABC-7 to question how the city screens people who are heading up sports teams that use City-owned facilities.

Jose Luis Ochoa was arrested on January 5, 2019 - accused of accepting hundreds of dollars from parents to pay for uniforms and equipment, but allegedly not delivering what was promised.

Ochoa maintained his innocence when he reached out to ABC-7 on January 22, 2019 to tell his side of the story. He said the out-of-state uniform vendor he found online stole the money and has since disabled its website.

"I don't know why the (parents) are upset with me," Ochoa said. "I understand, though, because I'm a parent as well. I had a daughter on the team. We lost out on $175.  To me, they just needed somebody to blame and I'm the head coach."

Parents of girls who played on the team -- the Dirt Princess -- told ABC-7 they went to police months after not receiving what they paid for.

Eric Urenda said he shelled out $175 for each of his two daughters, for a total of $350 to pay for registration fees and uniforms.

When asked if he received the equipment, Urenda had a simple answer: "No."

ABC-7 uncovered that Ochoa has previously been accused of, and pleaded guilty to theft.

Court records obtained by ABC-7 show that Ochoa is currently serving six years of probation after pleading guilty to felony theft in 2018. He was ordered by Judge Bonnie Rangel of the 171st District Court to pay restitution of $6,030 dollars to his victims.

Criminal records obtained by ABC-7 also show that Ochoa had six misdemeanor theft charges from 2001 to 2008.

The El Paso District Attorney's office told ABC-7 those charges were disposed after Ochoa returned money to the victims.

When asked why parents should believe Ochoa's story considering his criminal history, Ochoa insists that he did nothing wrong in this case.

"I've been trying to fix my life," Ochoa said. "I am not going to go through that again."

ABC-7 obtained the City's coach screening process through an open records request.

If coaches are convicted, admit guilt, or have pending charges for any felony -- they're disqualified, according to the City.

The city's list of disqualifying factors also lists misdemeanors involving drugs, alcohol, sexual misconduct or violence.

When ABC-7 asked the city how Ochoa passed the background check, the assistant director for El Paso Parks and Recreation told ABC-7 that, simply put, Ochoa wasn't listed as a team coach.

"At least, the (Dirt Princesses) didn't submit him (for a background check) as a coach," said Steven Bingham, adding, "He was a point of contact ... He's the person who paid for the team to register.

"We didn't have him as a coach."

Bingham pointed out that the city does not run the teams; they are organized by coaches and parents. The city is only in charge of checking the backgrounds of people who are submitted to the city as coaching staff, and of the fields that the teams use for games. He said the city does not have oversight over how the teams' money is collected or spent.

"We're going to expect head coaches to maintain control of their teams," Bingham said. "We'll emphasize to the coaches, 'Hey, be aware, you guys are background-checked and cleared ... but if you're asking parents to play roles on the team, you need to be aware and have control of what's going on there.'"

Bingham also urged parents to ask coaches for financial records and to stay on top of how the money is spent.

Days after the interview with Bingham, ABC-7 went back to city officials, asking if they would consider adding misdemeanor theft to the list of disqualifying factors. As of Thursday, they have not provided a response.

Meantime, Ochoa was back in court Thursday morning where he was arrested -- again.

Judge Rangel scheduled a hearing after learning about Ochoa's Jan. 5 arrest through ABC-7. ABC-7 had called the court on Tuesday to see if the arrest was ordered by the judge.

During the hearing, Rangel admonished Ochoa for not just violating his probation by being arrested on new theft charges, but also for failing to pay restitution to his victims and not performing court-ordered community service.

At last check of online jail records, Ochoa remains behind bars. No bond had been posted on the county's website.

Shortly before ABC-7 at 10, the City of El Paso sent a statement that read in part, "the Parks and Recreation Department follows industry best practices  in regards to background checks including prohibiting individuals with felony theft convictions."

The statement added that it is considering expanding the policy to include lesser charges.

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