$20 Million distributed to former Willacy County Detention Center employees

Celsetino Lopez and his cousin Pedro Lopez from Sebastian spent two hours waiting in line at the Willacy County Detention Center Tuesday, but they didn't mind much.

That TMs because it was the final countdown before they got their hands on the money they earned while working at the detention center. After several years, they were finally getting paid.

"It's been a while, Celestino Lopez said. They TMve been saying this for a while now, and finally that (the day) came, we're actually looking forward to it because you know we've been waiting for this money and then Christmas is right around the corner."

Lopez didn't know how much his check would be worth, but he already had big plans on how to spend the cash.

"Probably get out of debt, pay some payments that I got to pay and help out my parents with whatever I can," Lopez said.

It was hard for Willacy County Judge John Gonzales Jr. to hide his excitement.

He said he and county commissioners worked tirelessly in getting the employees the money that's rightfully theirs.

Gonzales adds it was a double-edge sword when the federal government stepped-in, and required detention center operator M-T-C to pay employees federal wages.

Since not everyone passed required credit checks that came with the pay increase, some had to be let go.

"This affected the lives of so many people, Gonzales said. And you're not just talking about one employee; you're talking about their families too, and children."

Gonzales said the day was glorious for the entire Rio Grande Valley, which is sure to reap the economic impact of the nearly $20 million, now in the hands of the former employees.

"You're going to see people going back to work as carpenters, people are going to start remodeling their homes, people are going to go to the malls shopping, the first thing affected is going to be restaurants as they go celebrate that they have this new found money," Gonzales said.

Check distribution continues Wednesday through Friday from 8 a.m. to 5 p.m., and Saturday from 8 a.m. to noon.

Former employees must present a valid identification and social security number.