Hamlet and Olesia Garcia – parents who were arrested for sending their daughter to a school in Lower Moreland while living outside the district – were surprised to discover that investigators who attended a press conference given by the parents disguised themselves as reporters. Investigators recorded video and audio of the event where the defendants and their attorneys gathered to tell their side of the story.
State representative Angel Cruz – a Democrat from Philadelphia who hosted the press conference in his office – called the stunt "shameful," telling a reporter from MyFoxPhilly that he hadn't been aware of the incident until the reporter had brought it to his attention.
When the news conference was about to kick off, two male staffers from the District Attorney's office arrived and claimed to be part of the news team from Fox 29, a local affiliate. While Cruz was incensed at what he considered a violation by the DA's office, the lawyer for the couple at the center of the case seemed unconcerned.
Garcia's attorney was unavailable for comment Thursday, but news of this undercover operation did not seem to rattle his co-counsel.
"It's surprising. It is," attorney Michael Kotik told our reporter. "But I don't think it's anything that we're too concerned about. Our client really has nothing to hide, so I don't think it's going to affect their case."
The DA's office commented over the phone that the event was public and there should not have been an issue with staff from the office attending it. As the person who answered the phone in the DA's office put it, "it was entirely appropriate for us to be there."
When told of the response, Cruz wasn't placated. He said his main objection was the subterfuge employed by the office staffers, who chose not to identify themselves honestly. Cruz added that such a ruse wasn't even necessary; as had they identified themselves as members of the DA's office, there would not have been an issue with them attending at all.
So Cruz would have let them in?
"Absolutely!" he said. "We didn't have anything to hide!"
Reached by phone late Thursday, Hamlet Garcia said he has- from the very beginning- asked to explain himself to the Lower Moreland school board and offered to pay whatever out-of-district tuition was owed.
He says both the request and the offer were ignored, and he and his wife were hit with felony charges.
Cruz has already stated that he will push for new legislation that would make it easier for parents to enroll their children in schools outside their own local district.
However, according to the Garcias, such a law would make no difference for them since their daughter was attending the Lower Moreland school legally — at least until the last two months of the school year. During the 2011-2012, the girl was attending school in Lower Moreland because she resided with her grandfather who lived in the district while the Garcias were separated. After they reconciled, they chose not to pull their daughter from the school so close to summer break.