Border Law Enforcement Scandal Grows With Recent Arrest

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familyfoto
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.

Melissa del Bosque joined The Texas Observer staff in 2008. She specializes in reporting on immigration and the U.S.-Mexico border. Her work has been published in national and international publications including TIME magazine and the Mexico City-based Nexos magazine. She has a master’s in public health from Texas A&M University and a master’s in journalism from the University of Texas at Austin.

  • jefsr

    Sadly, the corruption “investigations” along the border are tainted due to the fact that FBI and Texas Ranger officials are at the center of a criminal conspiracy inside San Antonio-Bexar County TX to conceal decades of public/police corruption. Evidence, interviews, investigations, interrogations, etc. are suspect and may not stand up in court.

    “BLUE” TEXAS SENATOR LETICIA VAN DE PUTTE LINKED TO CRIMINAL CONSPIRACY

    Listen to her own words

    State/ Federal investigators and the media are being provided with documents including an audio recording of a July 21, 2010 meeting with Senator Leticia Van De Putte ( TX Lt Governor Candidate) who
    conspires with City of San Antonio TX Mayor Julian Castro ( Obama campaign co-chairman) , city attorney Michael Bernard ( brother of White House Social Secretary Jeremy Bernard), SAPD Chief William McManus and others to conceal long-term public/police corruption , Texas Open Meeting Act violations, Constitutional abuses, grant fraud, bond fraud, theft of public funds and other crimes.

    Background info:

    http://watchdogwire.com/texas/2013/12/16/foddrill-alleges-possible-van-de-putte-link/

    http://watchdogwire.com/texas/2013/12/13/former-sa-city-official-fights-corruption/?fb_action_ids=10152080540137855&fb_action_types=og.likes&fb_source=other_multiline&action_object_map=%5B612414982128505%5D&action_type_map=%5B%22og.likes%22%5D&action_ref_map=%5B%5D

    Raging Elephants Radio’s Doc Green interviews former San Antonio TX Telecommunications Manager John E Foddrill Sr. ( listen to Van De Putte examining proof of the massive RICO-like conspiracy)

    http://soundcloud.com/ragingelephantsradio/rer-doc-greene-fri-dec-20-2013#t=42%3A55

  • Ray Collins

    The big fish is next! It will make for a great Christmas present, although I am sure many in the Valley would not mind opening this present early.

  • malcolmkyle

    “This has been going on for forty years. These corruptions are emerging all over the country. It’s not systemic to a police department, per se, but it is systemic to the War on Drugs in the context that the federal government is basically corrupting local government with their funds and the helter-skelter way of putting these task forces together and diverting local police from their basic public safety duties to the priorities of the federal government in terms of the War on Drugs.”

    —Former Deputy Chief Stephen Downing, a 20-year veteran of the Los Angeles Police Department.

    According to Paul Craig Roberts, a former editor of the Wall Street Journal and former assistant secretary to the treasury under Ronald Reagan, “Police in the US now rival criminals, and exceed terrorists as the greatest threat to the American public.”

    • Humberto Martinez

      I agree whole heartedly with malcomkyle and Stephen Downing. Law enforcement is now more into Federal grants, seizures of money, drugs and vehicles than actually pursuing the arrest and conviction of major cartel movers and shakers.

  • Juan Reynoso

    WOW. I know that for years the Rio Grand valley was corrupt from the core out. Drugs and human trafficking are the main business of the law enforcement including the Immigration and Border Patrols. But not one want to tell the truth. Greed for money and power is evil and the enemy number one of the people of Texas. Huston, San Antonio, El Paso, Austin and most of the Valley have mayor connection with the drug cartels.

  • Tony Trevino

    There has always been corruption in various levels of government down there (just like in other parts of the country), but now it has reached new levels. There is a direct relationship between the amount of drug money AND all the government grants and extra money that goes to police and other law enforcement agencies. They balloon out with personnel and guns and special vehicles and small town politics brings in the relatives and buddies – hey that happens. You wonder why the whole place doesn’t just collapse like Mexico politics. The hope of people down there lies in the fact that there are others in the law enforcement who are willing to procecute even those who wear badges for wrong doing. Those are the heroes who keep things as normal as possible. Beware of the promise of immigration reform which will add thousands more law enforcement down on the border – that would be a disaster.