Grapevine man went to great lengths to cover up dual marriages

Posted Sunday, Apr. 07, 2013  comments  Print Reprints

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FORT WORTH -- For 21/2 years, Germain Gardea kept his wives in the dark.

The 38-year-old flight instructor spent weekdays in Arlington with his first wife, Jennifer Saldivar, and their young son.

On weekends, he left town for his job as an instructor at a flight school, residing in Grapevine with his second wife, Leslie Gardea, who traveled during the week.

To keep the women from finding out about each other, he created fake divorce documents on the Internet and filed his first wife's taxes, marking her as single without her knowledge.

But the deception came crashing down in May after Leslie Gardea discovered that her husband was paying Saldivar's bills, then called the woman she believed to be his ex-wife.

"He doesn't deny it," said Robert Bush, Germain Gardea's attorney. "He's apologized. He's apologized to everyone, and not just because he got caught. He knew it was going to come to an end. Common sense tells you that can only last so long."

Despite his admissions, Gardea has escaped prosecution for bigamy. He was rescued by the statute of limitations, which expired before prosecutors could present the case to a Tarrant County grand jury.

The only repercussions he is likely to face stem from his divorce from Saldivar, which was granted Thursday on the grounds of adultery and cruel treatment.

In granting the divorce, state District Judge Nancy Berger ordered Gardea to pay $6,000 of his first wife's attorney costs, have child support deducted from his wages and undergo counseling to help his son cope, among other things.

Saldivar has not responded to interview requests. Her attorney, Robert Hoover, did not respond to messages seeking comment.

Bush acknowledged that his client's case is unusual. But the facts, he said, boil down to Gardea cheating on his wife.

"He just formalized it is all he did," Bush said.

Gardea and his second wife remain together in Grapevine. She declined to comment for this report.

With the divorce from Saldivar, Gardea's second marriage is now considered valid.

A second wife

Saldivar was 16 when she began dating Gardea, then 18. The two were married in September 2004 in El Paso. Two years later, Saldivar gave birth to their only child, a boy.

During the divorce hearing last week, Saldivar testified that she was stunned when her husband called her at work in October 2009 and told her "he thought our marriage was over."

Gardea said he had filled out the divorce paperwork online.

She said he left copies in a folder at home that said, "Sign."

The divorce, however, never went forward, Saldivar testified. In fact, the couple didn't even legally separate.

Saldivar said she went to visit relatives the next week and told Gardea to move out while she was gone.

When she returned, only some of his clothing and toiletries were missing.

"He left a note saying we needed to reconcile," Saldivar testified. "He was sure that we could make it work."

But Gardea had already married again, less than three hours after filing a divorce petition on Oct. 16, 2009.

Gardea said he showed the petition to his new wife, Leslie Mullins Gardea, as proof that he was divorced.

Meanwhile, Saldivar testified, her married life went on as normal, with her husband promising to work hard on their relationship.

In April 2010, the couple received notice that the divorce petition had been dismissed after Gardea didn't pursue it.

Secrets revealed

Saldivar had never met Leslie Gardea.

She knew the name "Leslie Mullins," but only as her husband's partner in an aviation company, Aviator Air Centers, based at Grand Prairie Municipal Airport.

On May 3, Saldivar and her husband were at home when the phone rang. Her husband's name was on the caller ID.

The caller was Leslie Gardea.

"Utter devastation," Saldivar testified, describing her reaction. "Utter devastation that the person I trusted and basically promised a life with could defraud me, betray me as deeply as he did."

Saldivar confronted her husband.

"He stated he just got involved too deep," she said.

Within days, Saldivar filed for divorce. She waited until Sept. 28 to report her husband's actions to Fort Worth police, who arrested Gardea on Oct. 11 on a bigamy warrant.

Court records show that police filed the case with the Tarrant County district attorney's office the next day.

Four days later, Gardea celebrated his three-year wedding anniversary with his second wife. That same day, the statute of limitations expired on the bigamy charge.

Under the law, the clock starts ticking when the second marriage occurs, not when the bigamy is discovered.

"When it became clear that there was an issue with the statute of limitations on the bigamy charge, prosecutors worked diligently to find alternate charges to support the allegations," said Melody McDonald, a spokeswoman for the district attorney's office.

"The case was subsequently presented to a grand jury on Dec. 20. The grand jury heard the evidence and the circumstances but ultimately made a decision not to indict."

Bush said prosecutors explored filing charges in connection with a fake final divorce decree that Gardea had created on the Internet and shown his second wife.

Gardea admitted that he had forged Saldivar's signature and that of a "judge," actually a former co-worker.

"One was talking about filing forgery for the judge's signature, but he didn't use a [real] judge's name," Bush said.

Nor, Bush said, could prosecutors charge Gardea with falsifying a government document, since the fake decree was never filed.

Still, Gardea said, his actions came with a cost.

He said he was fired from his job as a flight training specialist with American Airlines and only recently found new employment as a technical writer.

He said he stands to take a financial hit as his wives correct past tax records, including those that erroneously claimed that he was part owner of the Grand Prairie aviation company.

In reality, Leslie Gardea is the sole owner, and he worked as a contract flight instructor, he testified.

When asked why he had signed tax records that indicated otherwise, Gardea said they were prepared by Leslie Gardea's accountant.

And Gardea said he has had limited contact with his son.

Saldivar asked the judge to extend a temporary injunction that prohibits Leslie Gardea from having any contact with the boy. She testified that she believes her son and his father need counseling and that the boy needs professional help to understand the details behind his parents' split.

"I told him basically that Daddy made a decision that was not going to work for our family," she testified.

In her ruling Thursday, the judge extended the injunction for three months, ordering Gardea to complete at least six counseling sessions, with his son and ex-wife if recommended by the counselor, to help the child cope with the divorce and bigamy repercussions.

In the end, it's unclear why Gardea chose this path. He did not give a reason in court, nor did he respond to messages left by the Star-Telegram.

Not even his lawyer can explain.

"There's several things, to be honest with you, that I never asked him, mainly because it's none of my business, and that's one of them," Bush said.

"There's several 'whys' on the horizon."

Deanna Boyd, 817-390-7655

Twitter: @deannaboyd

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