Tuesday, December 16, 2008

Another serpent slithers out into the light

Letter to Santa leads to Texas molestation charge

This booking mug released by the Hidalgo County Sheriff's Office shows Andres AP – This booking mug released by the Hidalgo County Sheriff's Office shows Andres Enrique Cantu, 55, of Pharr, …

PHARR, Texas – Police in south Texas say a 9-year-old girl's letter to Santa may have finally stopped a nightmare of sexual abuse for her and her 10-year-old sister.

Police allege that for as long as four years, Andres Enrique Cantu sexually abused the girls in their bedrooms while they slept or did their homework. Cantu is a computer lab aide at an alternative high school but has not been accused of crimes against students there.

The white-haired Cantu, 55, shuffled into court in leg irons and handcuffs for the second time in less than a week Tuesday to face a charge of continuous sexual abuse of a young child. He did not have an attorney present.

The 9-year-old's plea to Santa, written as a school assignment, launched the investigation and led to the first charge of continuous sexual abuse last week. On Tuesday, Cantu was accused of abusing the girl's older sister, who was also mentioned in the letter.

Investigators have refused to share the letter to Santa, saying it is evidence in an ongoing investigation. But the charging affidavit described it as "a wish list to Santa" asking that the girl's relative stop touching her and her sister.

Pharr Police spokesman Lt. Guadalupe Salinas said the girls' mother had been unaware of any abuse but that the relative had moved out of the home after an earlier falling out.

The Associated Press is not identifying the relationship of the man to the girls to protect their identities.

The girl submitted the letter to Santa to her teacher at Cesar Chavez Elementary School in Pharr on Thursday as part of a class assignment, said Arianna Hernandez, spokeswoman for the Pharr-Alamo-San Juan Independent School District.

The teacher told a school counselor, who notified police, Hernandez said.

Cantu had worked in the neighboring McAllen Independent School District for 11 years, most recently in the computer lab at Lamar Academy. He was arrested at the school Friday.

Mark May, a spokesman for the McAllen district, said Cantu would have taught students "at times" as a computer lab aide but that there were "no reports, nothing to suggest that anything has occurred at school."

The district's policy is to place employees facing serious charges on administrative leave, May said.

Cantu was being held at the Hidalgo County Detention Center. His bond was set at $100,000 for the first charge and at $250,000 for the second.

Continuous sexual abuse is a first-degree felony that carries a mandatory sentence of at least 25 years and up to 99 years in prison.