A caseworker in Morgan County’s Department of Human Services pressured a woman into having sex with him by promising to help her regain custody of her daughter if she went along with his demands, the mother alleges in a newly filed federal lawsuit.
The caseworker, Mario Martha, 55, was fired after the allegation came to light in 2019, and he also was arrested on criminal charges. He pleaded guilty in August to misdemeanor official misconduct; a felony sex assault charge was dismissed, court records show.
Sarah Tafoya claims in the lawsuit filed last week in U.S. District Court for the District of Colorado that Martha groped her, visited her home unannounced and repeatedly told her he would help her regain custody of her daughter if she allowed him to perform sex acts on her in the fall of 2019. Martha is the sole defendant in the lawsuit.
“On the flip side, she felt threatened and scared that if she did not do what defendant Martha wanted, he would make it impossible for Ms. Tafoya to regain custody of (her daughter),” the lawsuit reads.
Martha, who could not be reached for comment Monday, was sentenced to two years probation and 48 hours of community service, court records show. Tafoya’s attorney, Denver civil rights attorney David Lane, called Martha’s actions a “horrible abuse of his government position.”
In the lawsuit, Tafoya alleges Martha, who was her caseworker, pulled her aside after she arrived in court for an emergency placement hearing and propositioned her, saying that if she allowed him to perform a sex act on her, he’d “give you your kid back.”
Tafoya told sheriff’s deputies that Martha asked her to show him her thighs — ostensibly to check for bruises — but that when she pulled up her shorts, he began kissing her legs, according to an affidavit filed against Martha.
Tafoya was afraid to report Martha because she didn’t want to upset him while he had influence on the custody decision, according to the lawsuit.
Martha also was accused of showing up unannounced to Tafoya’s home and harassing and groping her there. At one point, he came inside, went to Tafoya’s bedroom and performed oral sex on her. Tafoya recorded the assault on her phone, and then, after that incident, reported Martha to authorities.
Before Tafoya’s allegations came to light, Martha had been disciplined at work for inappropriately touching coworkers, according to the affidavit.
It was not clear Monday whether Martha leveraged his position to extort other women besides Tafoya during his four-year tenure with the human services department in the rural county on Colorado’s Eastern Plains.
Jacque Frenier, director of the Morgan County Department of Human Services, did not answer questions Monday about whether the agency more broadly investigated Martha’s actions with other clients.
“The safety of Morgan County residents is our top priority,” she said in an email.
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