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Photo from Sheriff Trevino’s Facebook page.
Hidalgo County Sheriff Lupe Treviño and his sons Juan Carlos (left) and Jonathan.

In Hidalgo County, when it comes to law enforcement corruption,  the feds like to make their arrests right before the holidays.

On Christmas Eve, Commander Jose “Joe” Padilla, right-hand man to Sheriff Guadalupe “Lupe” Treviño was arrested on a seven-count indictment for drug trafficking and money laundering. Padilla’s arrest makes it increasingly difficult for Treviño—the county’s top lawman—to continue to deny any knowledge of wrongdoing by his deputies, his own son and now a top commander who many say worked as his chief enforcer within the border’s second largest law enforcement agency.

For months, rumors had swirled about Padilla’s imminent arrest. It was December 2012 when federal agents from ICE’s Homeland Security Investigations and the FBI arrested the sheriff’s son Jonathan Treviño, Alexis Espinoza, son of the City of Hidalgo police chief, and two other deputies who were part of the now defunct Panama Unit narcotics task force. The remaining three members were indicted in March of 2012.

Jonathan Treviño was assigned as leader of the task force at age 23 and he staffed the Panama Unit with his close friends. Multiple law enforcement sources say the Panama Unit brazenly ripped off local drug dealers for at least six years until their arrests in December 2012. The news that the sheriff’s son had run a corrupt task force shocked Hidalgo County, but more arrests were announced and it appeared that the corruption in the department ran even deeper. Shortly after the Panama Unit bust, James Phil “JP” Flores, who ran the sheriff’s crime stoppers program, and 47-year-old warrants deputy Jorge Garza were also indicted along with Aida Palacios, an investigator with the district attorney’s office. According to federal indictments, the drug conspiracy centered on local drug dealers Fernando Guerra Sr. and his son Fernando Jr.—also indicted—who helped set up fake drug stings with the corrupt cops to rip off other local dealers and then sell their drugs.

One by one they pleaded guilty and avoided trial—all except Jorge Garza. Instead of taking a plea agreement and risking 10 years to life in prison, the former Hidalgo County deputy wanted his day in federal court. He got his wish, over several days in August, and South Texas followed every minute of the trial over social media as the web of corruption in the Hidalgo County Sheriff’s Department slowly unraveled.

At the center of the damning testimony was Padilla, painted as the sheriff’s top enforcer who struck fear into deputies underneath him. On the witness stand, indicted Panama Unit member Fabian Rodriguez described Padilla’s role within the sheriff’s department. “Padilla has free rein and he puts the fear in people. I feared him even though I was part of his inner circle,” Rodriguez told the jury. “I’m afraid as I’m testifying right now.”

Rodriguez also testified that Padilla would send deputies to shine his shoes, pick up his dry cleaning and pay his taxes while on county time. Padilla would also tell deputies to alter their time sheets to say they had worked overtime. Then they would use the comp time to work for the sheriff’s campaign. “Padilla wouldn’t put his name on it [the time sheet] because he didn’t want it coming back to him. He would tell someone else to do it,” Rodriguez told the jury.

When Garza’s attorney subpoenaed Padilla, it was the talk of the town. Padilla strode into the courtroom in uniform, then promptly asserted his Fifth Amendment rights rather than answer any questions before a judge and jury. U.S. District Judge Randy Crane informed the jury that Padilla was being investigated by the U.S. Attorney’s Office. Despite the revelation, Sheriff Treviño said he would keep Padilla on staff.

Months passed until this week’s announcement of Padilla’s arrest. The unsealed indictment links Padilla with suspected drug dealer Tomas Reyes Gonzalez, known as El Gallo (the Rooster). The indictment alleges that Padilla provided protection for El Gallo and his associates. During the trial in August, witnesses testified that the alleged drug dealer was also a political donor to Sheriff Treviño.

The most fascinating piece of the case is the sheriff. With nine indicted lawmen—including seven sheriff’s deputies and his own son—Treviño has maintained on the witness stand and in the media that he had no idea his deputies were colluding with drug dealers. When contacted by The Monitor after Commander Padilla’s arrest on Tuesday, he told the newspaper, “Unequivocally, there’s absolutely no way I had any knowledge whatsoever about the allegations, if they are true, any more than I did about the Panama Unit.”

But clearly, federal investigators aren’t done yet with Treviño. Neither are former employees—who say the sheriff retaliated against them for failing to work his campaign re-election in 2012—and residents who say they were victimized by his son’s drug task force. Both parties have filed civil lawsuits against the sheriff. More damning evidence and testimony will undoubtedly come to light—and at this rate, it wouldn’t be surprising if the feds delivered another unsettling Christmas present next year.

Former Tamaulipas Gov. Tomas Yarrington Ruvacalba
Courtesy of Immigration and Customs Enforcement
Former Tamaulipas Gov. Tomas Yarrington Ruvacalba

Former Tamaulipas Gov. Tomas Yarrington Ruvacalba was once considered presidential material, but now both Mexico and the United States have issued warrants for his arrest.

In early December, the United States indicted Yarrington on 11 counts of drug trafficking, money laundering and racketeering. Most Mexican politicians under indictment typically keep a low profile, but Yarrington—a fugitive in two countries—has taken to social media to build his case of innocence.

Yarrington served as mayor of Matamoros from 1993 to 1995 and governor of Tamaulipas from 1999 to 2005. In 1999 he was honored with a Texas Senate proclamation. On his website, which features the 56-year-old hooking a prized game fish, Yarrington says his troubles in Mexico stem from “political persecution from the past administration,” referring to the presidency of Felipe Calderon, which ended in December 2012. Calderon is from the National Action Party, which ousted Yarrington’s Institutional Revolutionary Party from the presidential palace in 2000. On Twitter the politician said the accusations against him were coerced and false. “…I’m going to reveal the inconsistencies and contradictions of the protected witnesses who have accused me falsely,” he tweeted.

Allegations in the U.S. against Yarrington first surfaced in February 2012 after authorities arrested wealthy Mexican businessman Antonio Peña Arguelles at his home in an upscale neighborhood in San Antonio. An affidavit filed by the DEA alleged that Peña Arguelles had funneled millions of dollars from the Zetas cartel to Yarrington and other elected officials. In May of 2012, another wealthy businessman, Fernando Alejandro Cano Martinez, was indicted in absentia on money laundering charges. Agents allege that Cano funneled millions from the Gulf Cartel and Zetas to Yarrington and helped him launder money through land and property purchases in South Texas and San Antonio.

After the indictment announcement in December, Yarrington hastily called a press conference in Mexico City where his Mexican and U.S. lawyers presented his defense. The legal team told reporters they had no idea where Yarrington might be hiding. U.S. authorities revoked his visa in February 2012 and asked him to leave the country, said his U.S. attorney Joel Androphy. “I fully expect Governor Yarrington to be acquitted. He’s done nothing wrong,” Androphy said. “We have a saying, ‘In the United States you can indict a ham sandwich,’” he told the room of Mexican reporters. “But in our country you are also innocent until proven guilty.”

But first Uncle Sam will have to find Yarrington, who wisely turned off the geo-locator on his Twitter account. If he is detained or turns himself in, his trial will likely take place in federal court in Brownsville.

Yarrington isn’t the only disgraced Mexican politician on the lam and hiding from U.S. authorities. Texas plays a crucial role as both a place of refuge (world-class gated communities!) and a place to funnel the hundreds of millions gathered through dubious means while serving in public office.

In November, U.S. attorneys indicted Hector Javier Villarreal Hernandez, 42, former Secretary of Finance of the State of Coahuila, and Jorge Juan Torres Lopez, 59, former Interim Governor of Coahuila. The two men are charged with money laundering and bank fraud.

Last year police in Tyler pulled over Villarreal, his wife and kids as they were passing through town in a Mercedes SUV. A deputy found a rifle and more than $67,000. Villarreal and his wife were detained. But the Department of Homeland Security let the couple go because they had legal visas to be in the country, according to KLTV News. Texas Congressman Louie Gohmert opined that the two probably left Texas immediately. “I’m going to talk to someone in Washington … because they are giving awfully bad directions to law enforcement who actually knows what they’re doing.”

To date, neither man has been found—either in Texas or on Twitter.


Employees at the U.S. Department of Homeland Security have been bilking taxpayers for millions in overtime pay for years, according to the U.S. Office of Special Counsel, which investigates cases of government waste and ethical violations. Overtime abuse has become so endemic that agency employees refer to overtime as “the candy bowl.”  On Nov. 1, the office’s Special Counsel Carolyn Lerner sent a letter to President Obama expressing deep concerns about the “long-standing abuse of overtime payments by the Department of Homeland Security.”

In her letter, Lerner said the problem is the misuse of Administratively Uncontrollable Overtime, or AUO, which agents can earn when tackling urgent work like a breaking law enforcement case. Among the allegations made by agency whistleblowers were that employees routinely reported working overtime when in fact they were “relaxing, joking, surfing the Internet and taking care of personal matters.”

The news was a blow to border business leaders and elected officials who were recently granted a five-year pilot program by Congress to allow them to form public-private partnerships to pay for additional agents or pay overtime during peak traffic times at international bridges.

For years border officials have begged the feds to hire more customs agents to relieve congestion at the international bridges. The long lines result in export and import delays causing produce to rot in transit, and pollution from idling trucks and cars. After nearly a decade of frustration for business leaders, Congress approved the public-private partnerships to help fund more agents in U.S. Customs and Border Protection, an agency within DHS.

“I’d be very supportive of CBP correcting this inappropriate behavior,” said Sam Vale, president of the Starr-Camargo Bridge Company. Vale’s company is part of the South Texas Assets Consortium, which includes Cameron County and the cities of McAllen, Pharr and Laredo. The group is one of five public-private partnerships recently approved by Congress for the pilot program that begins in January.

Vale said he is concerned about the report’s findings of rampant abuse of overtime pay. He emphasized that the consortium wouldn’t pay overtime until U.S. Customs had exhausted its overtime coffers first. “If a truck stays one day longer waiting at the port of entry, the value of produce is reduced by 10 percent. The importer and exporter have to eat the difference in cost,” he said. “It’s a business decision—do you pay the overtime and allow the truck to be cleared faster or not?” he said. “Most would pay the overtime.”

Lerner’s agency investigated six Homeland Security offices nationwide including the U.S. Citizenship and Immigration Services headquarters in Washington, D.C., where a  “whistleblower alleged that employees claimed 10 hours of overtime every week,” an Immigration and Customs Enforcement facility in Houston, and a Border Patrol station in Laredo where employees charged overtime to conduct routine administrative tasks.

The overtime charges at the six offices alone cost taxpayers at least $8.7 million annually. Lerner said the misuse of funds was an agency-wide problem and probably “would be in the tens of millions per year.”

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Photo by Marissa Barnett
A protest last June in front of the Polk detention facility

Back in 2009, the Obama administration promised reform of the massive, mostly for-profit U.S. immigrant detention system. Immigrant advocates are still waiting.

The number of deportees hasn’t diminished and private detention facilities continue to expand. Every year more than 400,000 people waiting for hearings with an immigration judge are housed in far-flung jails and grim detention centers across the nation. Many of the people in detention—sometimes for years—are legal permanent residents, asylum seekers or survivors of domestic violence or human trafficking. The detentions are costly for taxpayers and economically and emotionally ruinous for immigrant families. While languishing in lockup, detainees are sometimes subjected to physical abuse, substandard medical care and inhumane living conditions.

Last year, the nonprofit watchdog group Detention Watch Network issued a report on 10 of the most inhumane lockups in the nation, saying they should be closed immediately because of myriad human rights abuses. The group sent a letter and a copy of the report to President Obama outlining their concerns and calling for the closures. Two of the facilities are in Texas: the Houston Processing Center, a private facility owned and operated by Corrections Corporation of America, and the Polk County Detention Facility in Livingston operated by New Jersey-based private prison company Community Education Centers.

The 10 facilities were identified as the worst in the nation by a coalition of more than 320 immigrant advocate groups, community organizers, legal service providers and faith organizations. Bob Libal, executive director of the nonprofit Grassroots Leadership, toured both detention facilities in 2012 and found detainees in crowded unsanitary cells without adequate medical care or edible food. Some detainees had been placed in solitary confinement for minor infractions.

A year has now passed and not one of the facilities has been closed. “The conditions haven’t improved at all,” Libal said. “They’ve actually gotten worse.”

The isolated Polk detention center now houses up to 400 to 500 asylum seekers from Latin America, said Libal. There are no legal services, no outside recreation. “People have to eat, sleep and use the restrooms in one enclosed area,” he said.

During the fractious debate over immigration reform in Congress, advocates like Libal feel that the crisis of mass detention of immigrants has largely been ignored. “People shouldn’t be locked up during immigration proceedings,” he said. Some alternatives to incarceration include supervised probation for immigrants waiting for their hearing dates.

To bring the problem back into the spotlight, Grassroots Leadership and the nonprofit Texans United for Families will hold a press conference Wednesday at 10 a.m. across the street from the Federal Plaza in Austin to call for the closure of the Polk County detention facility. “We want to continue to focus attention on a facility that is one of the most troubling detention centers in a very troubling immigrant detention system,” Libal said. ‘We shouldn’t have tens of thousands of people locked up every day across America.”

Courtesy of Southern Border Communities Coalition

In April 2012, PBS aired footage of as many as 20 border agents beating an unarmed man, Anastasio Hernandez Rojas, to death. After viewing the shocking footage, congressional leaders demanded a review of the U.S. Customs and Border Protection agency, which some border residents say should be held to the same standards as law enforcement.

This week, the Southern Border Communities Coalition, which is a consortium of nonprofits and immigrant rights advocates, is in Washington D.C. to meet with congressional members and White House staff about the U.S. Border Patrol’s lethal force practices, and to let them know that local communities need more input on border enforcement.

“We want Congress to begin investing in the border region by supporting jobs, roads and schools not more guns, drones and walls,” said Andrea Guerrero, co-chair of the Southern Border Communities Coalition.

To get Congress’ attention, the coalition has formed a campaign called “Revitalize Not Militarize.” The group brought hundreds of quilt panels created by border residents to the National Mall in Washington, to highlight the damage that border militarization has done to local communities. The idea was inspired by AIDS quilts created in the ‘80s.

“It was a very effective way of getting the message across,” said Ricardo Favela, spokesperson for the coalition. “We want people to pay attention to the border region.”

Favela said that U.S. Customs and Border Protection’s lethal force policies are one of the biggest problems along the border right now. “At least 20 people have been killed by Border Patrol agents since 2010,” he said. “The Border Patrol is out of control. They lack accountability and oversight.”

Family members of some of the victims—Anastasio Hernandez Rojas, Valeria Munique Tachiquin (a U.S. citizen fatally shot by a border agent), and Jose Gutierrez (beaten into a coma by customs agents)—spoke Wednesday during a press conference at the National Mall about the need for better training and oversight of the Border Patrol.

“We’re just asking that Border Patrol abide by the same best police practices that police departments follow across the nation,” Guerrero said.

Many people killed by border agents were accused of throwing rocks. At least six of the 20 victims were also fatally shot in Mexican territory. In September, the Department of Homeland Security Office of Inspector General released a report on the spate of fatal shootings and beatings by Border Patrol agents and found that “many agents and officers do not understand use of force and the extent to which they may or may not use force.”

A government-commissioned analysis by the Police Executive Research Forum recommended that the agency stop using lethal force against rock throwers. But in early November, Border Patrol Chief Mike Fisher told the Associated Press that his agency would not implement the recommendation. “Just to say that you shouldn’t shoot at rock-throwers or vehicles for us, in our environment, was very problematic and could potentially put Border Patrol agents in danger,” Fisher said.

But Guerrero said something needs to change, because poorly crafted border enforcement policy and growing militarization is harming border communities. “Valeria Tachiquin was gunned down just blocks from my house by a Border Patrol agent who was fired by the sheriff’s office for misconduct,” she said. “We don’t need any more guns, drones or walls.”

A Facebook page started to alert residents about checkpoints


The Texas Department of Public Safety was warned during a legislative hearing in 2011 that they would “run afoul of the courts” if driver’s license and insurance checkpoints were used to determine citizenship status. Now checkpoints in the Rio Grande Valley are generating fears that DPS is working with the U.S. Border Patrol to deport undocumented residents.

DPS set up temporary checkpoints around Hidalgo County last week. Immigrant families reacted almost immediately with confusion and panic, says Juanita Valdez-Cox, director of the nonprofit community organization La Unión del Pueblo Entero. “The checkpoints are supposedly to check for driver’s licenses and insurance,” she says. “But our members say they’ve seen border patrol working alongside DPS.”

Valdez-Cox said her organization received a call from a woman who was questioned by DPS at a checkpoint about how long she had been living in the United States after she was unable to produce a valid driver’s license. That woman received a citation but was not deported. DPS already regularly calls border patrol after routine traffic stops if a driver is undocumented. Valdez-Cox says her organization is still trying to verify and document whether people are being deported after being stopped at the DPS checkpoints.

One thing for certain is that the checkpoints are creating havoc in Hidalgo County. State Rep. Terry Canales (D-Edinburg) told the Monitor that his office had received more than 100 calls related to the checkpoints. A Head Start instructor told Canales that there had been an estimated 35 percent drop in attendance since the checkpoints began in the county. People have stopped going out, says Valdez-Cox. Sales at grocery stores have declined. A therapist for autistic children told Valdez-Cox that parents aren’t bringing in their children for their therapy appointments. “People are too afraid to go out,” Valdez-Cox says. “Many families here have mixed citizenship. The parents may not have documents but their children are U.S. citizens.”

To avoid the checkpoints, Valley residents are using Facebook and the app Zello, which operates like a walkie talkie on a cell phone, to report checkpoint locations. These are some of the same social media platforms used to report checkpoints and gun battles in Mexico. One Facebook page called Alertes de Retenes 956, or Checkpoint Alert 956 in English, had more than 50,000 likes in little more than a week.

In a written statement published in the Monitor, DPS Director Steve McCraw emphasized that the checkpoints are solely for the purpose of checking for driver’s licenses and insurance.

“It is important for everyone to know that these regulatory checkpoints have not and will not be used to ascertain immigration status. Moreover, reports that Border Patrol agents are present at these checkpoints are blatantly false. Such false allegations do a disservice to the public by spreading inaccurate information to their communities and unnecessarily alarming the public,” said McCraw.

Plans to conduct the DPS checkpoints along the border have been in the works since at least 2011. During the 2011 legislative session, checkpoint legislation was part of a massive homeland security bill, S.B. 9, authored by Sen. Tommy Williams (R-The Woodlands) along with other controversial provisions like allowing the agency to use GPS tracking devices without a court order and installing license plate readers in police vehicles.

McCraw and lawmakers discussed the legality of setting up the checkpoints during a March 30, 2011, hearing on S.B. 9 in the Senate Homeland Security and Transportation committee. During the hearing Sen. Jose Rodriguez (D-El Paso) asked whether it would be legal for DPS troopers to ask citizenship questions at the checkpoints.

As the former El Paso County Attorney, Rodriguez was well acquainted with the controversial checkpoints. In 2006, El Paso’s former sheriff, Leo Samaniego, faced a slew of lawsuits accusing the agency of racial profiling and civil rights violations after his department set up driver’s license and insurance checkpoints around the county. Residents said that people were being picked up by border patrol and deported after being stopped at the checkpoints.

Rob Kepple, executive director of the Texas District and County Attorneys Association, who was testifying on the legislation and sitting next to McCraw at the time, said officers asking citizenship questions would be against the law. Sen. Williams asked Kepple to elaborate.

Williams: “…so someone is pulled over and unable to produce ID or insurance and the officer says, ‘are you in the country legally?’ Is that problematic for that to happen?”

Kepple: “I think it is. I’m not sure how one question follows the other. There are a lot of other questions that could be asked to establish someone’s identity.”

At this point, El Paso District Attorney Jaime Esparza, also testifying on SB 9 and the checkpoints, jumped into the discussion.

Esparza said that there was enough case law on the books to show that DPS could legally conduct driver’s license and insurance checkpoints. But anything beyond that would be a problem, he said.

“What Mr. Kepple is saying is really important…if you’re going to ask questions to find out whether someone is in the country legally you’re going to run afoul of the authority granted to law enforcement,” Esparza said.

During the hearing, McCraw said he felt that a Supreme Court ruling had given his agency enough authority to go ahead with the checkpoints and that he didn’t really need the legislation. Ultimately, S.B. 9 didn’t pass in 2011. Ironically, the only part of the bill that did pass was legislation making it illegal for undocumented people to get a valid driver’s license.

McCraw shouldn’t be surprised by the reaction in the Rio Grande Valley. It’s already well known in the valley that if DPS troopers pull over an undocumented immigrant for even a minor traffic infraction, often it’s only a matter of time before border patrol arrives on the scene. Immigrants can’t be blamed for expecting the same at a DPS checkpoint.

“It Took Twenty Lives To Get Us To This Place.”

Says Border Civil Rights Advocate About CBP Announcement On Use of Force Policies
Anastasio Hernandez Rojas surrounded by agents

In the wake of a federal report released last week, U.S. Customs and Border Protection announced Wednesday new measures to address a trend of lethal beatings and shootings by Border Patrol agents in the last three years. Civil rights advocates were encouraged by the announcement but said the agency still has a long way to go to institute real change.

U.S. CBP said it will give agents more non-lethal weapons options, better training in use of force tactics and conduct better tracking of excessive force complaints. The agency also said it will begin a pilot program to install mounted video cameras in patrol cars and provide lapel cameras for agents.

Since 2010, at least 20 people have been killed by U.S. Border Patrol agents, which spurred Congressional leaders to request a review last year of the agency’s use of force policies. Besides a report released last week by the Department of Homeland Security Office of Inspector General, U.S. Customs and Border Protection also underwent an internal review as well as an independent external review by the nonprofit Police Executive Research Forum.

In the DHS OIG report, reviewers noted that many agents and officers in the field “do not understand use of force and the extent to which they may or may not use force.”

In a press statement Wednesday, U.S. Customs and Border Protection clarified its use of force policy. “CBP agents and officers may use deadly force only when the agent or officer has a reasonable belief that the subject of such force poses an imminent danger of death or serious physical injury to the agent, officer or to another person.”

Congressional leaders requested an investigation of U.S. CBP after viewing footage aired in April 2012, during the PBS show “Need to Know “ of an unarmed and subdued man being beaten by border agents. The video shot at night on the San Diego-Tijuana border shows Anastasio Hernandez Rojas, a Mexican migrant, being tased and kicked by a group of as many as 20 U.S. Border Patrol agents on the U.S. side of the border fence. Hernandez died from his injuries.

Christian Ramirez, director of the nonprofit Southern Border Communities Coalition, said the agency’s acknowledgment that it has a problem is a good first step but that a lot more needs to be done. “It took 20 lives to get us to this place,” he said. “The agency has taken a bold first step but a whole lot of work still needs to be done not just by CBP but also by Congress to ensure that someone is at the helm of the agency to make sure these changes trickle down to the agents in the field.”

In the last five years, the agency has had four commissioners, Ramirez said, and suffered a number of corruption scandals, as well as numerous allegations of using deadly force on unarmed migrants. “We have a very serious problem when Congress continues to focus on border enforcement but there are no steps taken to make sure we have good strong leadership at CBP to change the culture of an agency that has become accustomed to abuse and a lack of transparency.”

On Wednesday, Ramirez and his organization met with the interim director of U.S. CBP, Thomas Winkowski, and White House staff to express their concerns. Ramirez said the meeting went well. “The White House is taking reform at the agency seriously and CBP is finally acknowledging that it has a problem,” he said. “We’re getting there, but it’s going to take some time. The agency needs strong, consistent leadership from the top to make real change happen.”

Screen shot from Need to Know
Anastasio Hernandez Rojas surrounded by agents

The Department of Homeland Security has released a much-awaited report after a spate of fatal shootings and beatings by Border Patrol agents.

Unfortunately, the report generated by the Department of Homeland Security’s Office of Inspector General is as opaque as the agency it’s supposed to critique. The report focuses mostly on streamlining and better categorization of excessive force incidents by U.S. Customs and Border Protection. The report also points out that the agency, after “several deadly force incidents,” conducted field audits in 2012 and found that “many agents and officers do not understand use of force and the extent to which they may or may not use force.”

This is more than obvious. Congressional leaders requested the report after viewing shocking footage of a man being beaten to death by border agents that aired in April 2012, during the PBS show “Need to Know.” The footage shot at night on the San Diego-Tijuana border shows Anastasio Hernandez Rojas, a Mexican migrant, being tased and beaten by a group of as many as 20 U.S. Border Patrol agents on the U.S. side of the border fence. Hernandez is lying face down on the ground, his hands tied behind his back, screaming in Spanish, “Help me, please, help me.”

“I think I witnessed someone being murdered,” Ashley Young, the woman who shot the video said during the “Need to Know” episode “Crossing the Line at the Border.” In May 2010, Young had been crossing back into San Diego after sightseeing in Tijuana when she heard Hernandez screaming. When the agents didn’t stop beating him, Young took out her camera and began videotaping the assault.

Hernandez died a few hours later. The San Diego medical examiner called his death a homicide. The coroner’s report said Hernandez suffered a heart attack, had five broken ribs, a damaged spine and bruising all over his body.

The Border Patrol said Hernandez had “become combative” and that batons and a stun gun were used to “subdue the individual and maintain officer safety.”

None of the agents were charged for his assault or homicide, and the furor over his death largely subsided until John Carlos Frey, a documentary filmmaker from California, was able to locate Ashley Young and convince her to come forward with the footage for the April 2012 documentary.

The footage of Hernandez’s brutal beating could not be ignored. Congressional leaders wanted answers.

“I believe that CBP policies need a full review, followed by appropriate reforms. Any ambiguity or lack of accountability that could lead to violence must be eliminated,” said New York Congressman José E. Serrano in a press statement, after demanding a review of the agency along with 15 other congressional members.

We still don’t have those answers. The best that can be said for the report is that it shines a light on an agency that is notoriously averse to any type of scrutiny. It does maddeningly little to explain the disconnect between the agency’s written policies and practice by border agents in the field.

For instance, the report states that since October 2010, U.S. Customs and Border Protection has made a concerted effort to train its agents in using “less-lethal devices” (their words) such as pepper spray. The agency also requires that agents get certified every year in using Tasers. Since 2010, the agency has also had a unified use-of-force policy for its agents in the field.

Yet since these changes were instituted in October 2010, eleven people have been fatally shot by agents—six of them on Mexican territory. If you count 2010, the tally is twenty.

And this is during a time when assaults against agents are on the decline. Both Customs and Border Protection and the report’s authors note that since 2010, assaults against agents have decreased. Still, on average at least five people are killed every year by agents in the field. What we want to know—and what this report doesn’t tell us—is why.

Screenshot of the USA Now website
Screenshot of the USA Now website.

In the midst of a growing security crisis in Mexico, the McAllen-based USA Now Regional Center offered Mexican families with money an escape: Invest $500,000 in South Texas and get a legal permanent resident card in the United States. But the offer may have been too good to be true.

In mid-July, agents with the FBI raided USA Now and confiscated luxury cars it says were purchased with investors’ cash. A warrant filed in federal court alleges that Marco Ramirez and his wife, Bebe Ramirez, the owners of USA Now, were running a Ponzi scheme, defrauding foreign investors of millions of dollars.

USA Now opened for business in McAllen in April 2011 and was designated by U.S. Citizenship and Immigration Services as an EB-5 investor program. Congress created the EB-5 program in 1990, providing U.S. residency visas as an incentive to foreign entrepreneurs willing to invest $1 million in a business that created 10 or more jobs, or $500,000 for an economically distressed or rural area.

For years the program has been underutilized because of onerous paperwork and confusion about changing immigration requirements. But in 2007, with the economic crisis expanding and credit drying up, U.S. companies began to take a second look at the program and its pool of foreign investors. The security crisis in Mexico provided the willing participants. By 2011, there were more than 300 regional centers like USA Now nationwide, according to the Associated Press, up from 11 in 2007.

In a 2011 interview with the Observer, Marco Ramirez said the company had more than 200 investors and another 100 waiting to invest. “Because of the insecurity crisis in Mexico, they’re no longer coming to visit, they’re coming to migrate,” he said. “And they’re also seeing an economic opportunity because of the economic crisis in our country.”

At the time, Ramirez was heavily advertising a program in Mexico called “Texas for Sale,” emphasizing to wealthy Mexican investors the benefits of buying foreclosed homes in Texas at cut-rate prices. In an FBI affidavit filed in federal court, a McAllen-based lawyer (and U.S. citizen) alleges that Marco Ramirez offered to help him buy back his foreclosed properties. The lawyer gave Ramirez $470,000, but $50,000 was allegedly used to buy Ramirez a 2011 Dodge Ram pickup instead of the foreclosed properties, according to court records.

No charges have been filed in the case, but the FBI investigation is ongoing. The company’s lawyer, Tony Canales, told the local newspaper the Monitor that the investigation is “wrong on the law and wrong on the facts. There’s a lot of things to explain,” he said. “They’re going to want explanations, and we’re going to give them explanations.”

U.S. Attorney Robert Pitman Speaks after the sentencing Thursday
Melissa del Bosque
U.S. Attorney Robert Pitman speaks to the media on Thursday.

(Updated 4:58 p.m.) Francisco Colorado Cessa, Jr. and Ramon Segura Flores appeared before U.S. Magistrate Judge Andrew Austin Friday afternoon in the same clothes they had worn to court the day before. And this time they wore shackles.

The two were arrested in a parking lot near the courthouse Thursday evening on charges of conspiracy to bribe U.S. District Judge Sam Sparks who is presiding over a Zetas money laundering case involving Francisco Colorado Cessa Sr.

The 25-year old university student Colorado Cessa Jr. and 52-year old Ramon Segura, a CPA and founding business partner of ADT Petroleum Services along with Colorado Cessa Sr., will be held without bond for two weeks until their detention hearings, said Judge Andrew Austin Friday afternoon. Both men could face five years in jail if found guilty. Colorado Cessa Sr. who was sentenced to 20 years by Judge Sparks for his role in the Zetas money-laundering scheme Thursday could also face additional jail time for the alleged bribery attempt, according to the criminal complaint filed in court.

(Original Story) The Zetas money laundering trial at a federal courthouse in Austin took another dramatic turn late Thursday with the arrest of Francisco Colorado Cessa’s business partner and his son, for attempting to bribe the judge presiding over the trial.

U.S. District Judge Sam Sparks sentenced Cessa to 20 years in prison for money laundering on Thursday. Later in the day, Colorado Cessa’s business associate Ramon Segura and Francisco Colorado Cessa Jr. were arrested for attempting to bribe Sparks.

Segura had testified in court early Thursday in Colorado Cessa’s defense. But behind the scenes, federal prosecutors say Segura and Colorado Cessa’s son approached someone they believed to be close to the judge and offered more than $1 million in exchange for a lesser sentence for the 52-year-old Colorado Cessa.

In May, Colorado Cessa was found guilty of helping the Zetas launder money by buying racehorses in the United States, a scheme the Observer detailed in August.

U.S. Attorney Robert Pitman said federal agents first learned of the bribery plans in August through jailhouse phone calls between Segura, Colorado Cessa and his son. FBI agents set up a sting, and a confidential informant posed as a confidant of Judge Sparks who could pass the bribe along to the judge.

The two men were arrested in the parking lot outside the federal courthouse Thursday. They will be arraigned today by a federal magistrate judge in the same federal courthouse where co-conspirators in the Zetas money laundering scheme are being sentenced.

Pitman said Friday that Judge Sparks was unaware of the bribery attempts or the federal sting set up to catch Segura and Colorado Cessa’s son. “He had no idea,” Pitman said. “In the United States we respect the rule of law and won’t tolerate corruption and lawlessness.”

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