By Hillel Aron
By Joseph Tsidulko
By Patrick Range McDonald
By David Futch
By Hillel Aron
By Dennis Romero
By Jill Stewart
By Dennis Romero
Martinez may also have maintained ties to a local street gang, though that again would not disqualify him for the Bridges job -- ex-gang members often take positions in gang-diversion projects. At Martinez‘s trial in 1998, prosecutor Stephen Meister asserted that ”The defendant is known to associate with Temple Street“ -- a Rampart area street gang -- and that ”he interacts frequently with Temple Street members, throws signs.“
Whatever his background, Martinez made a strong impression on the Virgil campus. ”He was a very flamboyant coordinator,“ recalled school principal Gloria Sierra. ”To me he was always impeccable.“ Martinez tended to dress formally, in a dark suit and tie and a white shirt, and ”appeared to know what to say to whatever audience he was speaking to.“
Martinez coordinated 10 separate programs at Virgil, ranging from mental-health counseling to after-school sports. By 1998, when the program had been up and running for close to a year, Sierra said Martinez began ”overstepping his bounds“ of authority as a coordinator. ”In a meeting he would make a comment if things weren’t going fast enough -- ‘I’ll take this to the community.‘“ Sierra said she would have to remind him that ”We are a team here. We can’t ramrod something. If you want to pull a program out of a hat, you have to ask someone.“
In his capacity as a Bridges coordinator, Martinez worked directly with troubled students. He led at least two field trips, one to Catalina Island and one to Washington, D.C. But it was at his home that Martinez engaged in the conduct that finally brought him to the attention of the LAPD.
As early as October of 1997, according to testimony at a preliminary hearing in Superior Court, Martinez occasionally took the children he counseled over to his apartment. Sometimes they would visit after school; in one case, in 1998, a boy‘s parents threatened to have the boy deported to his native Guatemala if he didn’t stay out of trouble. That boy lived with Martinez for more than a week.
At the apartment, Martinez would play pornographic videos and provide beer and speed; the boys themselves sometimes brought marijuana. In one case Martinez returned a boy to campus or to home by late afternoon; in another the party ran till late at night, with the boys nodding off from drink and smoke.
On two occasions to which the boys testified, Martinez made sexual advances; the boy who stayed for a week was sodomized more than once by Martinez, according to testimony.
Martinez‘s conduct came to light when one of the boys was questioned by an LAPD detective in connection with a gang-related homicide. The slain gang member was a friend of one of the boys Martinez had relations with, and also apparently a close associate of Martinez.
Martinez pleaded guilty after a preliminary hearing at which four Bridges youths -- two of whom were molested -- testified to attending parties at his home. An internal memorandum described the two-year sentence as ”reasonable and just“ considering that Martinez had no criminal record, but also given that, ”in taking advantage of these minors in his charge, he betrayed a very important trust.“
Administrators at El Centro notified officials at the CDD promptly after Martinez was arrested, according to the CDD director at the time, Gloria Stevenson-Clark. The agency was not put on probation or otherwise sanctioned because of the incident, Stevenson-Clark said.
”We walked in with an open mind to figure out what had occurred,“ Stevenson-Clark said.
”It appeared to be a single incident and not condoned by the program. El Centro stepped up to the plate to review the situation as opposed to being defensive and not accepting the seriousness of what had occurred,“ added general manager Parker C. Anderson.
Likewise, Lillian Sedlak at the Controller’s Office said she was satisfied with the CDD‘s response to the Virgil school incident. ”The CDD handled it appropriately,“ Sedlak said. ”They maybe should have put more effort into notifying the schools that this had happened, but we felt they handled it. They didn’t ignore it.“
Now, however, the staff at El Centro would rather ignore it than discuss it. After Figueroa-Villa deflected an interview request, a reporter on Monday queried Robert Aguayo, the Bridges director at El Centro, who appeared Monday at a City Council hearing on what course the city gang project should take. Asked for details on how Martinez was hired and whether procedures changed after his arrest, Aguayo gave a curt response. ”For us that‘s a dead issue,“ he said. ”We’re not discussing it.“
At Virgil Middle School, Elba Salmeron was drafted to pick up the pieces Martinez had left behind. ”When I got here nobody wanted to talk about him,“ Salmeron recalled. ”I tried to clean up and deal with some of the issues. There were a lot of upset people. A lot of cleaning up to do.“
By all accounts, Salmeron has succeeded in erasing the bitter memories of the school‘s first experience with Bridges. She’s enrolled more than 100 children and launched parenting classes that many other Bridges programs lacked.