She was a beautiful young woman, the mother of three young children, and she had a college degree enabling her to make good money as a medical assistant. But now, she stood before a solemn-faced U.S. district judge facing sentencing on federal charges with up to $1.25 million in fines and 52 years in prison . . . she knew this was the result of her own choices, and she also knew that in the next few seconds, her life, for all practical purposes, could be over.
Patricia Vasquez’s childhood in Galt, California, about 25 miles southeast of Sacramento, was far from golden. A middle child of three, she often was made to feel like the “black sheep” of the family. “My father was a drug user and was in and out of jail all the time,” she says. “My mother used to single me out and say that I was going to end up just like him.”
With her father and mother divorcing when Patricia was very young, she rarely saw her father — only knowing that he was often involved in criminal activities and was in, on his way to, or being released from jail. Her mother had little time or patience for children as she was off pursuing other love interests, so Patricia and her two siblings were raised by their maternal grandparents.
“My grandparents were great,” Patricia says. “I was a cheerleader in junior high and early high school, but then, as a sophomore, I got kicked off the squad due to my grades.”
In high school, Patricia started hanging out with her cousins on her father’s side, who were gangbangers. Although she never became a member of a gang, she started partying with them — experimenting with drinking and drugs, with her grades, not surprisingly, suffering.
By age 17, she was pregnant, she dropped out of school, and her grandparents kicked her out of their house.
“I went to live with my boyfriend’s mom and dad,” Patricia says. “But by the time I was 18, we had a place of our own, I had my baby daughter, and I had earned my high school diploma — things were looking better.”
Two more children later, Patricia was now 28, but she had seen her boyfriend doing meth – something she wanted to try. Not long after she and her boyfriend had their third child together, she started experimenting with meth, which led her to going out and partying while leaving the kids home with their father/her boyfriend.
This, of course, led to serious conflict. Realizing what was at stake, Patricia was able to break away from the drugs, and began college to become a medical assistant. But the damage to the relationship had already been done. After a year of her being clean and sober, her boyfriend confessed that he had been seeing another woman, who was now six-months pregnant with his baby.
Traumatized by her boyfriend’s admission, Patricia turned back to drugs to ease the pain. Only this time, there was nothing recreational about her use.
“I moved into my sister’s house and I finished my college courses,” Patricia says. “But I kept sneaking out in the middle of the night, leaving my kids behind, to go get high and party. Finally, my sister asked me to leave, and that’s when the kids’ father took them away to live with him.”
The loss of her children, once a reason to stay clean, no longer mattered. Pursuing meth became her life.
“I lived in hotel rooms and other people’s houses, going from place to place — I spent many days just wandering in parks,” Patricia says. “You see, after a while, not even the people I did drugs with wanted me around their homes.”
Patricia admits she stole from anyone — family, friends, strangers, businesses — in order to get the money she needed for more meth. No ones’ possessions were “off limits” and no one trusted her.
“I did a lot of boosting (shoplifting),” she says. “I would have a big bag, go into a store, and fill it with merchandise to sell on the street. In time, people would give me lists of things to ‘pick up at the store’ for them and then pay me for it — it became my job.”
During this time, Patricia met another guy, ultimately deciding to move in with him, his mom, and his step-father. Still addicted to meth and continuing to boost to pay for her habit, she often found herself fighting with her new boyfriend because she wanted to leave and go get high — and typically did.
“I dealt with a lot of unworthiness and shame,” she says. “I really struggled with not loving myself — I could never look in the mirror because I didn’t like what I saw . . . when you’re on drugs, it sucks the life out of you.”
Yet, unknown to anyone at the time, the Master himself was about to step in and begin working, quietly, patiently.
While Patricia was living with her new boyfriend, his parents periodically invited them to attend church with them at Century Assembly. Curiously enough, they accepted, though Patricia admits she was typically high on meth when she did go.
“Patricia was fully in a life of crime the first time I met her,” recalls Mark Guerrero, pastor of Century Assembly of God in Lodi, California. “She would attend for a while and then disappear. She was addicted to meth at the time and had a very short attention span.”
Guerrero, who had come from an urban ministry background to the relatively rural ministry in Lodi, says at first he and his wife, Gloria, were unsure why God had called them to Lodi in 2011 — the community is 70% white (Guerrero is Mexican-American) and it didn’t seem to have much call for the type of “inner-city” ministry the Guerreros were used to.
However, over the next few years, they noticed that the make-up of the congregation began to become more diverse — more young people, more ethnic backgrounds, a lot more tattoos, and more people who really had no idea of who Jesus is began to show up “organically” at the church . . . and choosing to accept Christ as their Lord and Savior.
“We didn’t have any big campaign — we had no agenda,” Guerrero says. “We just loved people and welcomed them and over time, we developed a rapport.”
Even though the Guerreros knew that there were criminals and drug addicts in their congregation, often high on who knows what, they shared the gospel with them and loved them all the same. Looking back, Patricia now knows that at it was during these times, even though she was high, that the seeds of God’s love were planted in her life — as she had never heard the gospel message prior to that time.
LIVING SOMEONE ELSE’S DREAM
Boosting at stores wasn’t cutting it for Patricia. For as every person caught in meth addiction understands, the more meth a person does, the more meth a person needs. She needed access to more money — identity theft proved to be her answer and her downfall.
Vasquez is not an uncommon Hispanic name. Once the “golden ticket” of opportunity was opened to her and the decision was made, it didn’t take long for her track down another “Patricia Vasquez.”
According to court documents provided in a news release, Patricia obtained another woman’s mail to get documents and information in order to steal her identity. She was able to get a California driver’s license with her own picture, but the other woman’s personal information. She used that false identity to purchase a new car and obtain a significant loan — all under another person’s identity. She also opened bank accounts, where she deposited stolen and altered checks . . . and now she was considered a federal criminal.
“At that time I got a job in Stockton as medical assistant to keep people from wondering where I was getting all the money from,” Patricia says. “But I had to quit that job, as I learned that police were closing in on me.”
It was a sting operation — and a pretty good one. Two weeks after quitting her job, a company emailed her to come in for a job interview for a medical assistant position.
“I had been up for days (due to meth), so I drove over there and before I got out of the car, I got high,” Patricia recalls. “But as soon as I walked into the facility, the police had me in handcuffs. It was a set up, but I was so high that I asked them if they could wait until after the job interview to arrest me.”
For Patricia, this proved to be the worst day, but also the best day of her life. During interrogation, she immediately confessed to her crimes. She also knew she needed help.
“On the third day, I woke up in my cell and all I remember is crying out to God on my knees — ‘God I need you . . . I can’t do this anymore,’” Patricia says. “I had remembered, from the times I went to church, even though I was high, that there is a Savior who would hear me. I started confessing things, even things I don’t remember doing, and suddenly I felt the presence of God in that cell — felt the comfort of Him, like I was crying into His hands . . . I had peace in my heart and hope that everything was going to be okay.”
Aside from turning her life over to Christ, the “hope” she had, others did not. In a phone call to her boyfriend, he informed her that she was looking at years — decades — of prison time.
“I was going to be gone forever — never see my kids again,” Patricia says, “but when God spoke to my heart, I knew it was Him . . . I knew it was God speaking to me.”
“The DA (district attorney) was out to get her — make an example of her,” Guerrero says. “But miraculously, she was given an opportunity to get bail and be on house arrest for the year before her case went to trial.”
The judge, learning that Patricia had never received help for her addiction, directed her to 90 days in a rehab facility in Sacramento as part of her pretrial agreement. During that time, she attended a local church and was baptized. Following graduation from the program, she returned to the Stockton area and began attending Century Assembly on a regular basis.
“She came to the church and sat on the front row, with her ankle monitor on,” Guerrero says. “But she didn’t care — she was there to worship God, it was all about Him, His grace and mercy . . . and the church really got behind her and supported her.”
As the church gathered around Patricia, it wasn’t just her being blessed. Guerrero says that God was also at work in the hearts of the congregation — changing attitudes and helping people to see the person rather than judge his or her problems.
“They poured into me,” Patricia says. “No one passed judgment on me, they just loved me.”
On Jan. 26, 2017, Patricia Vasquez pleaded guilty to bank fraud, mail fraud, and aggravated identity theft. On July 13 she received her sentence.
“Before my sentencing, people would pray for me and ask God’s will to be done,” Patricia says. “I never spoke those words because I didn’t know what His will was. I was afraid — would I be able to trust Him? But the day I got sentenced, during prayer, I finally surrendered the situation and asked for His will to be done.”
Patricia was facing a maximum of 52 years in prison. The judge noted the strong progress she had made since she had first been in court, but her crimes were serious. He then surprised nearly everyone as he sentenced her to 36 months in prison.
“I cried and thanked God — I could have been in there forever,” Patricia says. “I was still scared, knowing that I had to go to prison, but God gave me Jeremiah 29:11 (‘For I know the plans I have for you,’ declares the LORD, ‘plans to prosper you and not to harm you, plans to give you hope and a future.’). He spoke that verse to me every time I thought I couldn’t make it.”
In addition to Scripture, Patricia says after she self-reported to prison in October 2017, she was visited regularly by pastors from Century Assembly, and God brought the right words or the right people into her life, even while in prison, just when she needed them.
And on April 1, 2019, — a full 18 months earlier than expected — Patricia was released from prison!
“I now have all three of my kids back in my life and we have a great relationship,” Patricia says. “I’m also able to go to family members’ homes and not be watched — they trust me — and I’m serving at my church, which is a huge deal for me.”
“The Lord is really using her,” confirms Guerrero. “Her humility is genuine and her willingness to serve is inspiring.”
Patricia, now 41, says that she does a lot of street witnessing, going out to parks and speaking to those ensnared by drugs and telling them about Jesus. “While I was homeless and wandering about in in parks and living in motels, no one came and told me about Jesus — they need someone to go tell them; that’s where my passion is.”
Guerrero says that Patricia is compassionate, intelligent, and a gift to the church. He recently encouraged her to consider getting a formal Bible education. She agreed. “The church will scholarship her whenever she’s ready to begin,” Guerrero says.
Patricia is still on federal probation, but will be off of probation as of July 31. And perhaps an even greater accomplishment is that as of July 7 she will have been clean and sober for five years.
“Without Christ, I failed,” Patricia says. “But now I have a personal relationship with Him — I can lean on Him, seek Him. Without Him I can do nothing; with Him, we can do all things.”
GOD HAS A SENSE OF HUMOR
When Patricia responded to the email for the medical assistant job interview, it was nothing more than a police sting operation.
“Do you want to know where I’m working today?” Patricia asks with a laugh. “The same company that helped set me up, I work for now. The day the enemy thought he had me, God redeemed that day and turned it totally around!”
Lead Photo: Pastor Mark Guerrero, his wife, Gloria, and Patricia Vasquez
Gallery Photo 1: Patricia Vasquez on meth and her now.
Gallery Photo 2: Patricia Vasquez used to be afraid of law enforcement officers, but now she prays with them.