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U.S. authorities are bribed by Mexican cartels

José Luis Pardo and Alejandra S. Inzunza| El Universal
12:11Tuesday 07 October 2014

An investigation conducted by this newspaper shows that Texas authorities have been bribed by organized crime. (Photo: LUIS CORTÉS / EL UNIVERSAL )

An investigation conducted by EL UNIVERSAL shows that bribes from drug lords have reached sheriffs, border patrol officers and customs agents in Texas.

When José Pérez returned home the evening of July 26, 2012, six police officers burst into his house screaming "Where are the wetbacks?." The officers, members of the Panama Unit, a group created to fight drug trafficking in Hidalgo County in South Texas, began to inspect the house looking for immigrants. Finding none, they began shouting desperately: "Where is the money?." They took 4,000 dollars, as well as jewelry and perfumes of Pérez'  wife.

But it was not enough. The officers were angry again: "Where are the drugs?". According to the story of Pérez, after another fruitless search, they threatened him: "Call someone who sells drugs. If you don't, you are coming with us and you know what it means."

Pérez called a contact. "This is the border, everyone here knows someone who sells drugs" he said in the garden of his home in Pharr, a small town of 70,000 inhabitants, near McAllen. A few minutes later of the call, the dealer parked his car outside a store. He just opened the trunk, the police arrested him: he carried two kilos (4.5 pounds) of cocaine and 50,000 dollars. According to the complaint that Pérez filed with the Federal Court, the Panama Unit only stated that they seized a few baggies of coke.

The civil complaint of Pérez was dismissed, but marked the beginning of the fall of the anti-narcotics unit. In December 2012, FBI arrested most of its members and in April this year, nine officers were convicted of conspiracy to drug trafficking, and three traffickers who worked with the police.

The statement said that the Panama Unit was stealing drugs from migrant shelters on the border, working for trafficking groups and guarding shipments in trailers traveling north. On one occasion, FBI informants followed Jonathan Treviño, leader of the unit, while protecting a trailer that was supposed to carry seven kilos (15.5 pounds) of cocaine. They were paid 6,000 dollars for escorting the truck.

But the case of the Panama Unit is not isolated. An investigation conducted by EL UNIVERSAL shows that U.S. authorities, including 'sheriffs', border patrol and customs agents working in southern Texas, have been bribed by organized crime gangs. According to the authorities and local statistics, seven drug cartels reignon the border of the United States: the Gulf, Sinaloa and Los Zetas, among others.

The Panama Unit worked especially for Tomás "El Gallo" González, a man who had a double life: as the owner of a transport company and as one of the drug lords in the area, with ties to the Gulf Cartel. González was also arrested and convicted. They made ​​many trips carrying from 360 to 3,000 kilos (795 pounds to 3 tons) of marijuana and several hundred kilos of cocaine.

A report of the  Department of Homeland Security (DHS), released mid this year, said that about 2,000 officers, agents and employees are under investigation for their links with organized crime. The DHS tracks public workers who have received bribes to protect criminals, facilitate drug trafficking and escort shipments of Mexican drug cartels.

The last report of the Government Audit Office (GAO) indicates that 144 Border Patrol agents were arrested between 2005 and 2012 for corruption in many drug-related cases. 48 of them worked in Texas. 

Corruption scandals have emerged in most of the 14 border counties, from Brownsville to El Paso. Border Patrol agents, local police, judges and politicians have accepted drug money. In Cameron, former Sheriff Conrado Cantú is serving a 24-year sentence for leading a gang involved in drug trafficking, money laundering and extortion. In Starr, former sheriff Reymundo Rey facilitated the flow of drugs from Tamaulipas and had ties to drug lord José Carlos Hinojosa and members of the Gulf Cartel.

Previously, Eugenio Gene Falcon Jr. was jailed for taking bribes as sheriff of that county. In Maverick, commissioner Rodolfo Bainet Heredia was associated with a band dedicated to sex tourism, and according to the FBI investigation, sold a truck to Los Zetas leader, Miguel Ángel Treviño. Last week, Robert Maldonado, a former agent of the office of sheriff in Hidalgo, was sentenced to 12 years in prison for laundering 40 million dollars for the Gulf Cartel. The last sheriff of the area to fall was Guadalupe Treviño, a police officer  in Hidalgo County, father of Jonathan Treviño, former head of the Panama Unit.