Crime Fighting Unit Revealed International Crime Influence in Operation Falling Starr

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RIO GRANDE CITY – A lesser known crime fighting unit revealed a transnational crime link to 'Operation Falling Starr.'

An approximately five year investigation carried out by FBI, DPS, the 229th Judicial District Attorney's Office, and the Border Prosecution Unit concluded in the indictment of several Starr County Tax Collector's Office employees.

Maria Del Carmen Pena, former Starr County Tax collector was also indicted. 

"With the assistance of the Border Prosecution Unit and the 229th Judicial District Attorney's Office, the investigation continued until prosecutors were confident they had solid cases," Starr County Assistant District Attorney Abel Villarreal Jr.

The Texas Legislature created the Border Prosecution Unit about a decade ago. All border counties are part of the unit.

The legislature designed the unit to fight transnational crimes like drug and human trafficking.

Two main issues were at the heart of "Operation Falling Starr," embezzlement and fictitious vehicle registrations.

Some of the fake vehicle registrations, allegedly provided by some of the former members of the Tax Collector's Office, were used by crime organizations in Mexico to traffic drugs and people alike in the United States.  

"The reason for this was that it is beneficial to these organizations if addresses or names of registered owners are fictitious since it would be impossible for law enforcement to follow-up with the actual owner of said vehicles," said Villarreal. "This makes it easier for these organizations to obtain vehicles and use them to transport contraband if there is no fear for the vehicle to be traced back to them."

Fernando Alvarez, a former employee of the Tax Collector's office, has already pled guilty to bribery and tampering with government documents.

"In fact, some vehicles fraudulently registered by some defendants were seized by authorities and were found to contain large amounts of narcotics," said Villarreal. "The registrations of these vehicles led investigators to names and addresses that did not exist."

Some of the defendants in this case, like Maria Del Carmen Pena, are still awaiting trial.

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