Rio Grande Valley Corruption Update for October 2016

Been a while since I did an update on corruption down in Rio Grande Valley, so let’s do a roundup:

  • A border patrol agent is being tried for murder and aiding drug smugglers:

    The discovery of a headless body floating near the spring break haven of South Padre Island touched off an investigation that prosecutors say revealed a U.S. Border Patrol agent had helped a Mexican cartel move illegal weapons and ammunition south of the border and illicit drugs to the north.

    The prosecutors allege that agent Joel Luna got pulled into the business to help his brothers, including one linked to a cartel, and that their operation unraveled when investigators found a “treasure trove” of evidence in a safe at Luna’s mother-in-law’s home. The material included passwords to Luna’s work computer, almost $90,000 in cash and a kilo of cocaine. The trail of evidence led to Luna facing a raft of charges, including capital murder in the death of a man seen as a possible snitch.

    Snip.

    The case against Luna and his brothers, Eduardo and Fernando, began in March 2015 when boaters found the headless, nude and bloated body of 33-year-old Jose Francisco Rodriguez Palacios Paz. The Honduran immigrant had worked at Fernando Luna’s tire shop in Edinburg, about 20 miles north of the border.

    Investigators said phone records and texts revealed that Palacios Paz’s wife expressed concern to Fernando Luna that he was going to reveal the drug operation. Prosecutors allege that the Luna brothers conspired to kill Palacios Paz and that he was killed at the tire shop.

  • And here’s the story of another law enforcement officer arrested for working with drug smugglers:

    A Rio Grande Valley police officer accused of aiding a drug trafficking organization out of Starr County appeared for his initial hearing on Monday.

    Rio Grande City police officer Ramon “Ramey” De La Cruz Jr. is currently under federal custody. He’s charged with conspiring to possess and distribute marijuana.

    Investigators said he accepted cash and marijuana while providing smugglers with police radios and security.

    A Homeland Security Investigation’s federal complaint shows an extensive list of De La Cruz’s alleged crimes. It details a highway drug bust in Victoria County three years ago that led investigators to members of an alleged drug smuggling family in Starr County.

    The federal complaint shows sources from a string of indictments gave information about how De La Cruz aided the Beltran family.

    The report details how an informant said De La Cruz would give the Beltrans law enforcement documents, intel and would get paid in return with marijuana. Another informant said the police officer provided one of the smugglers with a police radio.

  • La Joya Housing Authority head Juan Jose Garza was indicted on a a bid rigging scheme:

    The 48-year-old executive director of the housing authority in a small Rio Grande Valley town and a construction company owner have been indicted on federal charges related to what prosecutors say was a bid rigging scheme.

    Juan Jose Garza, who runs the La Joya Housing Authority, and 52-year-old Armando Jimenez made initial appearances Monday before a federal magistrate in McAllen. They both were arrested Friday.

    Prosecutors say the men from July 2012 through March 2013 engaged in bid rigging for construction contracts with housing authorities in nearby Alamo and Donna in Hidalgo County.

    According to the indictment, they submitted false bids so Jimenez’s company would be awarded construction projects, then Jimenez falsely submitted invoices for work he claimed as his firm’s but actually was done by subcontractors working for Garza.

    Garza also seems to be a member of the La Joya ISD school board.

  • More on the same story, including the tidbit that “Roberto Jackson, who represents Garza [also] serves as a the [sic] La Joya city attorney.”
  • Misssed this from December of last year: Starr County Tax Assessor Collector Maria Del Carmen Pena arrested on 18 counts:

    Prosecutors have obtained five indictments against Starr County Tax Assessor Collector Maria Del Carmen Pena, charging her with 18 offenses, according to records obtained by CBS 4 News.

    Investigators arrested Pena and 14 other people Wednesday, when they raided the Tax Assessor Collector’s Office.

    According to the indictments, Pena embezzled at least $200,000 from the Tax Office from November 2010 to October 2012. Pena also conspired with clerks to backdate payments from taxpayers and make the transactions appear legitimate.

    Investigators have said they believe approximately $700,000 in taxpayer funds were stolen.

  • Two Hidalgo County employees arrested for stealing from the county. “La Villa Alderman Jose Lupe Contreras, 32, and 26-year-old Derick Palomin were arrested and charged with theft by a public servant, a Class B misdemeanor, and abuse of official capacity, a Class B misdemeanor, according to the news release.” What did they take? “The pair of cousins is accused of using county equipment to steal caliche from Precinct 1.” It takes a certain kind of genius to be arrested for stealing dirt…
  • Increased border enforcement brought by the Texas Department of Public Safety “surge” has meant that smuggling-related crime is down in Starr and Hidalgo counties, but up in Webb and Cameron counties. “The next step is going to be Cameron County, and we’ll keep moving to Zapata and Webb and keep moving west…It’s working exactly as we expected. We don’t just throw this strategy out based upon anything. This strategy was built on evidence and past experiences.”
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