Posted: May 29, 2013 11:27 AM
Updated: May 29, 2013 11:27 AM
MCALLEN, Texas (AP) Five former South Texas law enforcement officers, including the son of a local sheriff, pleaded guilty to drug charges in McAllen on Wednesday.
Four of the men were part of the now-dissolved Panama Unit, a joint task force between the Hidalgo County Sheriff's Office and Mission Police Department that targeted street-level drug trafficking in Mission.
Prosecutors alleged that the unit's members sold seized drugs to another trafficker and escorted drug loads as they moved through the area.
The former Panama Unit members, including former Mission Police Officer Jonathan Trevino, who is the son of Hidalgo County Sheriff Lupe Trevino, pleaded guilty to one count of a drug conspiracy. Gerardo Mendoza Duran, a former sheriff's deputy, pleaded guilty to aiding and abetting cocaine possession charge for escorting drug loads.
They will face sentences between 10 years and life in prison. U.S. District Judge Randy Crane allowed them to remain on bond pending their sentencing, tentatively scheduled for September.
The men were allegedly stealing the drugs for Fernando Guerra Sr., who along with his son is expected to plead guilty, but received a continuance Wednesday.
According to documents filed in Guerra's case, federal agents were told by a confidential source in August 2012 that he heads a drug trafficking organization that was known to steal drugs from other traffickers with the help of corrupt law enforcement officers.
Guerra told the confidential informant that whoever was responsible for delivering the cocaine to him at the predetermined location would be stopped by corrupt police officers and arrested.
"According to Guerra Sr. and Fernando Guerra Jr., the driver would be charged with only a portion of the narcotics and the rest would be given to Guerra Sr. and Guerra Jr. by the corrupt law enforcement officials," according to documents filed in the case. The elder Guerra would then sell the stolen cocaine and give the confidential informant 30 percent of the proceeds.
After watching his son and four of his former deputies plead guilty, Sheriff Lupe Trevino said, "nobody's above the law."
"You must be held accountable for your actions," he said. "You must accept responsibility and he did."
The first indictment came in December and in January, Trevino disbanded the unit. Additional members were later charged.
Noting police scandals over the years in major cities and drug trafficking hot spots such as New York, Miami and Los Angeles, Trevino said his agency was not alone in facing corruption that took down an entire unit.
"It's not unbelievable because I'm not the first one that this happened to," Trevino said. "There's always a lot of temptation and they fell for it."