Ronald Montez was long praised by politicians and law enforcement after he transformed from a gang member with a lengthy rap sheet to a successful youth counselor.
Now Montez stands accused of murdering a vulnerable 60-year-old man entrusted to his care.
Montez, 53, was arraigned two weeks ago on a charge of killing Arthur Rodriguez. On Feb. 12, police said they were questioning Montez at a hospital about his stab wounds when he mentioned an assault victim at his south Sacramento home. Police found Rodriguez dead under a tarp in the home’s driveway, along with evidence of a physical struggle inside.
“This is an awful situation, particularly for someone who had seen the need to change his direction and make something of his life,” said former Assemblyman Roger Dickinson, who worked with Montez on an anti-gang initiative when Dickinson was a county supervisor.
Rodriguez lived with Montez in a modest white home behind a wrought-iron fence near the intersection of Emerson and Fruitridge roads in south Sacramento. A memorial of candles and a white cross recently stood near the driveway in his remembrance.
Rodriguez relied on disability income, but the nature of his impairment is not publicly known.
Montez served as Rodriguez’s caretaker, according to the victim’s daughter, neighbors and Angela Mency-Allen, who had been managing Rodriguez’s money through a professional payee service. Within the last year, Montez took control of Rodriguez’s Social Security income, Mency-Allen said.
What transpired between caretaker and boarder the day Rodriguez died remains unclear. Police have offered no motive for the crime, and Montez’s attorney, public defender John Buchholz, declined to comment on the case.
In recent years, Montez had been widely known for his work with troubled youths, using his criminal past as a cautionary tale.
Sacramento Superior Court records show that Montez was convicted of nine charges during the 1980s and 1990s, mostly for drugs and misdemeanor violent offenses.
In court records, Montez said his childhood ended when he was 12 and attacked by a gang, starting a “feud which expanded over a course of 15 years and included injuries by gunshot and multiple stabbings.” Relatives said he grew up in a large family raised by a single mother on welfare. A youth counselor told the court that Montez saw his brother kill his best friend.
Montez went almost 20 years without a conviction and sought to clear his criminal record through a “Certificate of Rehabilitation” in Superior Court. He became executive director of California Gang Violence Prevention Services, which had an office in Elk Grove, and provided mentorship programs at local schools under contract.
Montez received support letters from almost a dozen friends and associates, all of whom spoke of a man who had learned the error of his ways and wanted to steer young people from that path. Officials from the city of Elk Grove, Sacramento City Unified School District, city of Sacramento and organizations that work with youths were among those supporting him.
Montez assisted a public defender in juvenile court, working with young people at risk of gang violence. He was a “mentor role model,” Assistant Public Defender Niti Gupta wrote a judge in 2011. “Mr. Montez has effectively used his background as an example of what not to do for these youth entangled in the juvenile justice system.”
Montez had given presentations to social work students at California State University, Sacramento, and county social workers, wrote Elizabeth Contreras of the county’s alcohol and drug services division. Montez is “living proof that people can change to better their lives,” she wrote. “Many social workers need to be reminded of such change!”
Montez testified at City Council meetings in Elk Grove and Folsom on behalf of a proposed tax to fund gang reduction efforts, supporting an effort led by Dickinson. Montez was twice nominated for the county’s “Heroes of Human Services” awards for “individuals who have touched the lives of others through advocacy, service and support.”
His effort to overcome his past came to a sudden halt on New Year’s Day 2014.
He waved a loaded gun in front of another man “in a rude, angry and threatening matter,” court records state. He was also accused of having drug paraphernalia, although that charge was dropped. Montez pleaded no contest to the weapons charge and was sentenced to 90 days in jail and three years of probation.
The conviction effectively ended his bid for a rehabilitation certificate, said Karen Flynn of the Public Defender’s Office, who had been handling his request. Documents filed by Flynn say he needed the certificate to continue his work in schools.
Around the same time, Mency-Allen, who was professionally managing Rodriguez’s Social Security income, said Montez grew increasingly hostile.
Like other adults who struggle to manage their finances, Rodriguez relied on a “payee service” to receive his Social Security income and pay for his care. In 2010, Rodriguez was referred to Mency-Allen’s employer, C&J Payee Service, by Sacramento County Adult Protective Services following allegations that someone else was financially abusing him, she said.
She said Rodriguez was an alcoholic and would sit in her office and cry, saddened by what his life had become.
Mency-Allen wrote checks to Montez to pay Rodriguez’s rent. She said she started having problems with the caretaker, who accompanied Rodriguez during visits to C&J’s Franklin Boulevard office. She said Montez was verbally abusive toward her and her colleagues, leading them to ban him from the office.
She alleged that he also abused Rodriguez. In private, she said, Rodriguez admitted that Montez had given him black eyes and other bruises, but the boarder would deny it when Montez was in the room.
She learned late last year that Rodriguez had made Montez payee for his Supplemental Security Income, which is distributed by the Social Security Administration.
As an agency that provides services to vulnerable adults, C&J Payee Service employees are mandated by state law to report suspected abuse to Adult Protective Services. Mency-Allen said she did so in November 2014, and followed up twice with the agency last year to find out what had happened to Rodriguez.
“APS said they could not find him,” she said. “ ‘God forbid he’s dead,’ I said to them.”
Sacramento County spokeswoman Laura McCasland said privacy laws prevent the county from commenting on Mency-Allen’s allegations. Generally speaking, APS social workers sometimes have difficulty locating alleged victims and when they do, the person has the right to refuse services or may not cooperate, McCasland said.
Sacramento County Supervisor Phil Serna, whose district includes Montez’s home, said he is troubled by Rodriguez’s death.
“If we have elderly adults being financially or physically abused,” said Serna, “and it is partly the result of a lack of intervention, I’m very concerned.”
Sacramento police said they are investigating the possibility that Montez was running a boardinghouse in his three-bedroom, one-bath residence. Mency-Allen believes other people reliant on Social Security income lived at Montez’s home, based on conversations she had with him.
Two neighbors also said Montez had additional people living with him, but not recently. They said they did not want to be named because they were concerned for their safety.
Rodriguez’s daughter, Regina Rodriguez, said she worried about her father’s well-being not long after she learned he was living with Montez. She said she went to visit him at Montez’s house, and a woman living there said Montez was mean to her father.
She said she reviewed her father’s papers and found Montez’s name on his Social Security documents.
Regina Rodriguez was one of about 100 people who mourned the death of her father during a rosary service last week. They remembered him as someone who loved music, especially the guitar he always had nearby, and his daughter and his late son.
Regina Rodriguez could not hold back the tears as she lashed out at Montez in the funeral home.
“My dad never hurt anyone,” she said. “My dad didn’t deserve what he did to him. He took my dad away.”