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'Frequent flier' pleads guilty

WORTHINGTON -- She is on probation until 2015, and has been charged with at least 30 moving violations and crimes since 2002 -- most of them in Nobles County. She pleaded guilty Monday to another, but because Minnesota law considers the sentence fulfilled, the consequences of her actions are small.

Esther Mendez, who turns 27 years old this week, has been a frequent flyer in the Nobles County District Court system in the past few years, and she pleaded guilty Monday to a misdemeanor theft charge for shoplifting.

"What were you boosting?" asked Judge Jeffrey Flynn.

"A pair of sandals," Mendez replied.

Dressed in the bright orange jumpsuit of the Nobles County Jail, Mendez made a court appearance to plead to the most recent charge. She was brought to court from the jail, having been sentenced to 180 days on a probation violation this summer.

The majority of Mendez's past charges have been misdemeanors, including numerous counts of driving after cancellation, driving after revocation, violating an instructional permit and driving without a Minnesota driver's license. In fact, Mendez was never issued a Minnesota license, having violated her instructional permit so many times she never received her license.

On Monday, Judge Flynn faced Mendez with irritation apparent in every sentence he spoke.

"You're another one who seems to have trouble finding her way to the courthouse, aren't you?" he asked, having just finished lecturing another inmate on his inability to show up to court.

Up until 2004, Mendez's charges were limited to driving issues, but in March 2004 she was charged with second-degree controlled substance after more than 15 grams of methamphetamine were found in her hotel room.

The complaint states authorities investigating a report of drugs in a Worthington motel located burnt foil, tubes, a bottle with a cloudy liquid, the meth and more. Others in the room had meth, a scale and a large amount of cash.

Mendez, who was 21 at the time, claimed she had left the room earlier, and when she came back it was a mess and the other people wouldn't leave.

She later pleaded guilty to third-degree possession of meth and was sentenced to 180 days in jail and 10 years probation. After being charged -- but before the plea hearing in 2005 -- she had already managed to rack up two more driving after suspension charges, a driving after cancellation charge, had warrants issued and quashed and been sent six delinquent payment notices on those fines.

In 2006, Mendez was charged with giving a peace officer a false name in Jackson County, for which she was later put on probation for two years and ordered to serve six days of a 180-day sentence.

In 2007 she was charged with driving after suspension in July, theft in August and driving after suspension in September. Each time she pleaded guilty. Two out of three cases ended in a stayed sentence. Each time she was put on probation. In March 2008, she was charged with theft and pleaded guilty six months later. In August she was charged with driving after suspension, and she pleaded guilty a month later, just days after being charged again with driving after suspension.

The theft charge from the shoplifting of the sandals came in June of this year, and the 180-day probation violation sentence was handed down in July.

Throughout the various court cases have been a variety of warrants issued due to Mendez's failure to appear for court, and after a warrant was issued in early July, Mendez remained in jail until her July 29 hearing. Mendez's probation violation sentence will keep her in jail until Nov. 5.

"I decided to execute the sentence of 180 days," Mendez told Flynn.

Public defender Christina Wietzema told Flynn the recommendation from probation was for 60 days of jail with credit for time served on the latest theft charge. Since Mendez has been in jail since July, the sentence will be considered fulfilled by Minnesota law and no extra time will be required. Nobles County Assistant Attorney Kimberly Pehrson added there was a request for $14.99 in restitution.

According to court documents filed on MNCIS, the state document filing system, more than $1,700 in fines have gone unpaid by Mendez in the past several years.