Questions of Justice
A candidate for Tarrant County Precinct 5 justice of the peace can point to a long list of service organizations he’s volunteered with over the years. MACario Belmontes Jr.’s campaign website lists family values, personal responsibility, and solid work ethic among his guiding principles. Many people in the community speak highly of him.
But don’t expect ex-wife Michelle Felan to be casting a vote for him. She recalls a physically abusive partner during their marriage that ended 10 years ago and describes him today as a deadbeat dad who owes more than $6,000 in child support payments.
“People need to know what kind of person he is,” said Felan, who was married to Belmontes from 2002 to 2004; they have two teenage children together.
Belmontes is challenging incumbent Justice of the Peace Sergio De Leon, who served as a Tarrant County constable for 11 years before being elected to the bench in 2012 in the predominantly Hispanic precinct that includes the North Side. Justices of the peace hear small claims, civil, and misdemeanor cases. The Tarrant County primary election is March 4. Both De Leon and Belmontes are Democrats.
Belmontes denied ever hitting his ex-wife. He said he’s a good father and denied owing back child support.
“I dispute it all,” he said, although he eventually acknowledged owing back child-support payments and going to court over them.
His campaign website lists his work with numerous organizations, such as North Texas Young Latino Leaders and Tejano Democrats of North Texas. His LinkedIn site lists his work background but shows no previous experience working in the judicial system, although he’s been involved in community policing issues.
He lists his current position as chairman of Community Action Partners with Fort Worth’s Parks and Community Services Department. That position, however, is voluntary. According to his online resumé, his last paid employment was as business services coordinator at Workforce Solutions for Tarrant County, a job he left in 2011. Employers are restricted in what they can say about a worker’s record, but his former supervisor described Belmontes as a “nice guy” and “good staff member.”
Contacted by Fort Worth Weekly this week, Belmontes described himself as a small business owner. When pressed for details, he said his father owns a property management business, and Belmontes works in it as needed. His father jump-started Belmontes’ campaign with a $5,000 loan.
Fort Worth school board member Ashley Paz is working on his campaign and described Belmontes as a great candidate who has spent two decades involved in his community. She had not heard about Felan’s allegations.
“I did not know about any of that, and I am very hesitant to believe any of that,” she said. She also noted that Belmontes’ two teenage children have been helping out on his campaign and seem happy to be with their dad.
“The story is not adding up for me,” she said.
Paz said she met Belmontes about a year ago when he volunteered with her campaign. She is returning the favor.
Belmontes last worked at a hotel chain in Dallas before going to work at his father’s business, he said. Records from the state attorney general’s office show that he started falling behind on child support in 2012.
Felan and Belmontes attended a hearing in Tarrant County’s 233rd District Court last Dec. 19, after he’d fallen thousands of dollars behind. Their children, ages 13 and 15, live with their mother. Belmontes was supposed to be paying $752 a month in child support but asked for and received a reduction at the December hearing, saying he’d lost his job at the hotel. He didn’t mention working for his father, Felan said.
The attorney general’s child-support division provided a financial activity report showing that Belmontes, as of Jan. 31, owed $6,794. Belmontes said that figure is based on child-support payments he missed since losing his Dallas job, and he doesn’t feel he owes that much.
“We’re trying to get a resolution on that,” he said.
Belmontes mostly paid his child support over the years, although Felan had to hound him through the attorney general’s office several times.
But the child-support debt isn’t what prompted her to speak out, Felan said. Most importantly, she said, she wanted people to know about the mental and physical abuse Belmontes dished out, the restraining order she filed against him, and his lack of interest in their children.
“What he’s presenting to the community is not who he is,” she said.
Felan was a ninth-grade student at North Side High School in 1994 when she first met Belmontes, who graduated from high school that year. He was working part time as a lifeguard at Marine Park Pool. The two struck up a poolside friendship and began dating after Felan turned 16.
“He was nice at first,” she said. “He was older and would pick me up for lunch [at school]. He would take me out to dinner. He was my first real relationship. I’d never dated anybody.”
Arguments began after she became pregnant at 17. She was six months pregnant the first time he hit her in the face, she said. They lived in Lake Worth, and she called police on several occasions but stopped cooperating with the investigations and refused to press charges, she said. Belmontes promised to change, and she believed him for a while, she said.
Their daughter was born in 1998, and a son followed in 2000. Felan and Belmontes married the next year, but the arguments continued.
“The more involved we became, the more violent he got,” she said.
Panic attacks began unnerving Felan, and she worried that the fighting would affect their toddlers. She filed for divorce in 2002, accusing Belmontes of violence and cruel treatment. A judge ordered Belmontes to leave the Lake Worth house until the case was settled.
Belmontes surprised her by showing up uninvited at the house one night, Felan said.
“He tried to force me to have sex with him,” she said. “He beat me, and he almost killed me. He choked me. He unplugged the telephone and was trying to wrap the cord around my neck and choke me because I wouldn’t give in to having sex with him.”
She said she broke free, grabbed her cell phone, and called her mother just before Belmontes grabbed the phone and broke it. But her mother had heard screams, called police, and raced to the house herself.
“The only reason I’m alive today is my mom rushed over there to help me,” Felan said.
Felan filed for an emergency protective order on Nov. 23, 2003, accusing her husband of violence, stalking, and threats.
Belmontes disputed the account. He said he never struck his wife, was never arrested, and was unaware of any restraining order.
However, the restraining order refers to Belmontes being arrested by Fort Worth police in connection with criminal attempted sexual assault. The Weekly was unable to locate the arrest report before press time. Belmontes received a copy of the restraining order on Nov. 27, 2003, according to the order.
After the divorce, Belmontes was ordered to pay child support, and his visitation schedule was every other weekend and summers. He made little effort to see the children over the years, Felan said.
Belmontes said he spent many weekends and summers with his children and was a good father to them.
In a brief conversation, the couple’s 13-year-old son said Belmontes wasn’t physically abusive toward him or his sister. But he characterized his father as mostly absent and neglectful.
“He wouldn’t even buy my medicine a couple of weeks ago when I had strep throat,” he said. “He doesn’t see us enough. He doesn’t take care of his own kids.”
In October 2011, Felan called police to report that her children had seen Belmontes counting $20,000 in cash. Felan accused him of working for cash to avoid reporting income and paying child support.
Belmontes has remarried and has a young son with his current wife.
When Felan realized Belmontes was running for office, she said, she began to wonder how a guy with child-support debt and little income was paying for a campaign. She called De Leon’s office. A volunteer with that campaign notified the Weekly.
Belmontes’ campaign finance reports from January and February show he received about $30,000 in contributions, with $25,000 of that coming from one source –– David Alameel. The wealthy Dallas dentist and candidate for the U.S. Senate is well known for his political involvement and financial support of various Democrats across the state.
De Leon said he was “floored” when he learned that Alameel was financing Belmontes’ campaign. He tried to call Alameel to discuss the situation but said Alameel didn’t return his call.
De Leon said at least two law enforcement officers contacted him after Belmontes filed as a candidate.
“They were being vague in general but were telling me that they’d handled him before and he has a history, but they wouldn’t elaborate,” he said.
Then he heard from Felan.
“She shared with us the full history that they have had,” he said. “There are a number of instances with domestic violence and, of course, the child support. Any one of those instances is a disqualifier, but in the aggregate, all those combined, that’s a major disqualifier.”
The Lone Star Project is a left-leaning political action committee that provides “fact-based political and issue analysis” to help voters make educated decisions, according to its website. The group endorsed De Leon.
“Sergio is one of the outstanding public officials in Tarrant County and in Texas,” group president Matt Angle said. “He was an excellent constable, and as justice of the peace he immediately started doing things you’d like to see. He brought kids in with mentoring. He’s really got a bright future.”
Belmontes said he challenged De Leon because the court needs changes. For instance, the courtroom closes at 4:15 p.m., which makes it difficult for working people to attend hearings, Belmontes said.
“It should be the people’s court,” he said.
His ex-wife is making up accusations because she wants him to fail, he said.
“She is outraged that her child support was reduced,” he said. “She doesn’t want her two kids’ father to be successful.”
What kind of mother is Felan?
“She’s been a great mother,” he said. “She’s always been a great person.”