Former Texas officers face drug conspiracy charges

Were members of the so-called Panama Unit

By Christopher Sherman
Associated Press

MCALLEN, Texas — A federal grand jury indicted three more former South Texas law enforcement officers on drug conspiracy charges Wednesday, bringing to seven the number of members of a now-disbanded drug task force to face charges.

The superseding indictment added three more former Hidalgo County sheriff's deputies who were members of the so-called Panama Unit, a joint task force between that agency and the Mission Police Department targeting street-level drug sales in that South Texas city, according to a statement from the U.S. attorney's office.

Also added to the case were Fernando Guerra Sr. and Fernando Guerra Jr., who had been separately charged last month. According to documents filed in the elder Guerra's original case, he sat atop a drug trafficking ring that employed corrupt police to steal drugs from other traffickers. Guerra Sr. told the confidential informant that whoever was responsible for delivering the cocaine to him at the pre-determined 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 that case. The elder Guerra would then sell the stolen cocaine and give the confidential informant 30 percent of the proceeds.

Wednesday's indictment merges the Guerras' cases with their alleged former police co-conspirators from the Panama Unit. The Guerras' attorneys did not immediately return calls for comment.

The new indictment charges former Hidalgo County sheriff's deputies Salvador Joel Arguello, 34, Claudio Alberto Mata, 34, and Eric Michael Alcantar, 29, with conspiring to possess with intent to distribute cocaine, marijuana and methamphetamine. Two other deputies had been previously charged. It was not immediately known if the newly indicted had retained lawyers.

Hidalgo County Sheriff Lupe Trevino said the new charges were expected. He said that once he heard the other deputies were under investigation, he requested their resignations.

Trevino declined to discuss what his internal investigation of the unit has revealed in terms of how the group went wrong. He has received legal approval to begin a program of periodic polygraph testing of deputies to try to ferret out corruption.

Trevino's son Jonathan Trevino, a former Mission police officer, was also a member of the unit and is among those facing drug conspiracy charges.

Also indicted Wednesday was Alvaro Gilberto DeHoyos, 25, who court documents say installed compartments in truck trailers to hide drugs.

The original case against the four task force members charged in December alleged that all four "utilized their positions as law enforcement personnel to escort and protect loads of narcotics."

Authorities set up a sting after the U.S. Immigration and Customs Enforcement department that conducts internal reviews received a tip in August about two task force members stealing drugs.

Copyright 2013 Associated Press

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