Reporting on the Mexican Cartel Drug War

Border Lawmen Lured to Dark Side by Cartels

Saturday, August 20, 2011 |

By Dane Schiller
Houston Chronicle

Nine South Texas lawmen have been charged or sent to prison in the past 16 months for using their badges to sneak drugs or guns through the U.S.-Mexico border region from Laredo to Brownsville.

Two are brothers. Another recruited an officer he has known since fifth grade.

And a former McAllen policeman was finally sent to a federal penitentiary in December after escaping five years ago from the East Hidalgo Detention Center.

The lawmen's downfalls, an indication of growing corruption prosecutions, are all linked to Mexico's lucrative drug cartels, which long have sought to infiltrate not only federal border guards but local officers patrolling U.S. towns along the Rio Grande.

"I thought we knew these people like the back of our hand," said Laredo police investigator Joe Baeza. "But then again, if you look at the back of your hand every five years, it changes."

Laredo officer Orlando Hale hyperventilated when federal agents showed him photographs of him meeting with a supposed cocaine trafficker he aided by escorting loads through the city, court records show.

So began a nightmare for Hale, whose parents are law-enforcement veterans.

He was convicted by a jury and got 24 years.

Others who got busted include police officers, deputies and constables, as well as one high-ranking official, Sullivan City's police chief.

None of the corruption cases appears to involve the classic cartel threat of offering "silver or lead," the practice of demanding the target "take our money and live, or turn us down and die." The tactic has devoured police departments in Mexico.

Instead, interviews and court records and testimony show the South Texas cases often involve one officer at a time pulled to the dark side by friends, family or associates offering quick cash.

"If you are a local person, you are going to have friends and relatives in the community and know people on both sides of the border," said Steve McCraw, head of the Texas Department of Public Safety. "They are going to know someone, who knows someone, and take a shot."

"Once they have crossed that line, there is no sympathy," said McCraw, an El Paso native.

Hale testified that agents lured him to a Laredo hotel with a bogus burglary call, then said they knew what he'd done.

"They kept on telling me multiple times that I wasn't going to see my kids or my wife for life," Hale said, according to a transcript.

Stings keep working
Hale, 28, is to be released from prison in 2032.

He claims he was set up by fellow officer Pedro Martinez III, whom he knew since childhood. Martinez testified against Hale as part of a plea deal and got six years.

Martinez's father, who died in a suspicious suicide, was apparently a drug dealer who lured his son into the business.

Martinez drove his squad car to escort what he thought was 44 pounds of cocaine. The drugs were a sham. The dealers were federal agents and government informants running a sting.

Such tricks have worked repeatedly.

Pharr police officer Jaime Beas was busted for using his vehicle to escort a load of cocaine and for his involvement in a scheme to ship a grenade, semiautomatic rifles and body armor to Mexico.

Authorities went after Beas when he was turned in by an uncle in the military who said he repeatedly was approached about equipment.

Most recently, Webb County deputy constable Eduardo Garcia was indicted for allegedly taking bribes to help traffickers.

'Throwing around money'

Garcia is accused of protecting loads and using a police database to check the license plate numbers of suspicious vehicles to determine whether they belonged to law enforcement agencies spying on the traffickers.

Like most officers charged, Garcia is not accused of pocketing a fortune. If anything, he sold his badge cheaply.

He supposedly checked a license plate for $200 and transported cocaine for $500.

Garcia's lawyer could not be reached for comment.

Tim Braaten, head of the Texas Commission on Law Enforcement Officers Standards, said bribe-takers ultimately expose themselves.

"It is usually women, cars, booze, gold and clothes. You'll see it," Braaten said. "You see them throwing around money they didn't previously have."

Francisco Meza Rojas, who escaped from the Hidalgo jail, was accused of drug trafficking but fled to Mexico after he and five other inmates broke out with the help of a corrupt corrections officer, as well as using a homemade knife to overpower a guard. In December, Meza was sentenced to 27 years in prison without the possibility of parole.

Teresa Hultz, head of the public corruption squad for the FBI's Houston Division, said going after law officers suspected of corruption is often more challenging than catching more traditional criminals.

Corrupt officers are familiar with the techniques used to catch them, and there are plenty of supposed informants who come up with bogus information trying to smear reputations.

"We don't take the allegations lightly, and we are very, very careful in how we handle them," Hultz said. "You get a drop in your stomach when you know it is true."

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17 Borderland Beat Comments:

Anonymous said...

There's nothing like a public hanging to deture others,
He threw away his freedom for a few hundred dollars,
I rarely see a happy ending when one starts down that road of corruption , although you may have fun with the money and some addrenalen to go with it, everyone is on the lookout big time right now, not only the Feds but IRS agents are out in the field, after all that money will be the Feds one way or another.

Anonymous said...

Texcoco Mex said

I have been saying it, police corruption is on the rise in the U.S.

Anonymous said...

I guess they think because their bosses are corrupt, they can be too.

Anonymous said...

I want to hear from all those guys that slam the Mexican cops for being corrupt. At least they have o plato o plomo to give as their excuse which is very real. But even in the 80s, border sheriffs offices assisted small aircrafts with landing and unloading along the border. Just a little help from your neighbors and a million or 2 a year in appreciation. They busted 4 deputies, a Texas Ranger, and the Sheriff was fired in a town of 25,000 people here in Texas about 230 miles from the border last year for protecting amphetamine loads and assisting with distribution. This is nothing new and when this economy continues to worsen, so will the problem.

Hey, lets legalize it, regulate it, and tax it. Lets balance the budget next year instead of falling into a depression. Oh, never mind, that's too much work. Lets go broke.

Anonymous said...

Don't even think these officers are going to get off light. I did time twice 29 and 25 years ago for drugs in New Mexico. The officers that got time for these crimes got very little respect. Inmates hate cops and it doesn't matter that they were in the game, they caught hell. Not to the degree a child molester did as many of them die but they got more than their share of taunting, put in the middle of things, were sabotaged, and they had to fight pretty often. They do hard time and don't usually get protection from the guards. I felt bad for one guy because all he did was smuggle some cigarettes in and he got railroaded by a chicken shit major and bad judge for a felony smuggling contraband conviction. The judge thought he let him off light with an 18 month sentence. The inmates knew this though and most of them looked out for him because he got fucked by an asshole judge. But think about it, every inmate in prison has gotten some kind of wrong or bad treatment from a cop somewhere along the road. I guess it would be kind of like being from the Sinaloa Cartel and getting busted in Monterey, Zeta territory. Everyday could be life threatening.

Anonymous said...

Most of the crooked ones have been doing it for years before they are caught...

Anonymous said...

Yes Texcoco you have been saying it with a lot of glee. You love to look up incidents of corruption in the US to lessen the responsibility on the Mexican side. You love to call them facts and they make you feel a lot better.

The fact is that corruption and impunity have never been as deep or as widespread in the US as they have in Mexico.The US has some corrupt police. Mexico has corruption at all levels of it's police institutions. Most, not all, but most of the corruption along the border is connected to Mexican families with members on both sides.

Anonymous said...

Texcoco Mex said

@August 21, 2011 8:25 AM How you think Mex started with corruption ? People always look at Mex police as corrupted but what do you do when you are stop by the police in Mex, instead of paying a ticket you bribe a cop. I know Mex corruption is way up in the chain of command. If you people don't pay attention things will get bad real fast. I have seen FBI, DEA, a town Mayor, U.S Marshals, police captain, police sergeants, chief of police, a lot of regular police a few politicians and in 18 months 169 border patrol agents got arrested, this are no longer a few incidents. You said most, not all, but most of the corruption along the border is connected to Mexican families with members on both sides. Yes I agree but 65 % of the corruption is not along the border. I like the U.S and I don't want the U.S police to sell out.

Anonymous said...

I still bet they're only getting the low-hanging fruit.

The supply and demand curve always meet at a price, so don't tell me that they're aren't intelligent police, DAs, judges and who knows who else they're not catching. Dangle enough money in front of someone intelligent enough to not sell themselves cheaply and not show off or talk and I am convinced they'll bite almost always.

Thank God for that one military uncle who turned in his LEO nephew. That was righteous and tough. Full respect.

Anonymous said...

Anonymous said...
Yes Texcoco you have been saying it with a lot of glee. You love to look up incidents of corruption in the US to lessen the responsibility on the Mexican side. You love to call them facts and they make you feel a lot better.

The fact is that corruption and impunity have never been as deep or as widespread in the US as they have in Mexico.The US has some corrupt police. Mexico has corruption at all levels of it's police institutions. Most, not all, but most of the corruption along the border is connected to Mexican families with members on both sides.

August 21, 2011 8:25 AM

No offense but I agree with Tex, Police corruption in the USA is the worst it has ever been, in fact I would feel safer around a serial murderer than most Police these days.
I would be almost willing to say that it may be as bad as it is in Mexico, the only difference is we hide it more in the USA than they do in Mexico and this is one of the major reasons I go no were unless I'm armed.

Anonymous said...

The USA benefits from a corruption maintenance regimen that has been kept up with for years and decades.

Dealing with and preventing corruption is like dealing with rats and roaches. ...its not that there isn't corruption in the USA; its that the ORKIN Man has been coming around and spraying the cupboards and under the kitchen sink more consistently and more widely than in Mexico.

Not to worry tho; The Mexicans will eventually be getting their act together...or at least moving towards getting it together. Its gonna take some time; but there's no questioning which direction history's momentum is on (even if it doesn't seem like it sometimes).

In the meantime, isn't it fun to come on the BB and see all the vermin (and some good guys, too, I'm sure [unfortunately]) getting their just-deserts?

Aleric said...

Comparing American law enforcement to mexico is a joke in more ways than one. How many bodies are showing up hanging form American over passes. How many dismembered corpses are littering the highways and streets of major American cities? The answer is none, we are catching the corrupt cops, the same cant be said south of the border.

Anonymous said...

@ Aleric Well I don't see gangster or drug dealers getting arrested every day in the news, and the U.S is still the number one consumer of drug prescription and none prescription. I mean some one is selling those drugs right? One more thing have you seen how many bank robberies are happening every week, identity theft, fraud, car theft, metal theft and don't tell me you don't remember the drive by shooting era because I do, I will heard a bang bang every night. I took the police 20 years to lower the murder from 25000 to 15000 a year and the gang members were not as powerful as the cartels.

Anonymous said...

@Aleric

You dumb F**k your missing the bigger picture. That corruption in the US is on the rise. We once were also naive to think that what happen in Colombia could never happen in Monterrey. Guess what happen it did. So keep thinking that"bodies [will never] showing up hanging form American over passes. Dismembered corpses are littering the highways and streets of major American cities? Until its too late. Your catching but only a small portion of corrupt cops. Word of advice better act now before its too late. And don't give me that bullshit that this could never happen in the US because so and so because it can and it will if you don't take steps in the right direction.

Anonymous said...

Texcoco Mex said

@Aleric
Comparing American law enforcement to mexico is a joke in more ways than one. Well I don't know about that but I can tell you now the U.S police is getting involved in drug trafficking they are selling information and the are smuggling weapons out of U.S. Also a lot of police officers are getting arrested for stealing money, drugs and items from the evidence room.

How many dismembered corpses are littering the highways and streets of major American cities you ask?

A US coroner has said that two women and an 11-year-old boy were stabbed to death before they were dismembered. Kody Maynard, 11, was one of three people whose dismembered bodies were found in a tree in Ohio.

Linden police have identified the dismembered remains of a man and a woman found on a residential street Monday. Union County Prosecutor Theodore J. Romankow has not released the identity of the victims.

Don't think this are the only ones because there not.

Anonymous said...

@AlericAugust 21, 2011 1:24 PM Thank God for that one military uncle who turned in his LEO nephew. That was righteous and tough. Full respect.

Was that nephew the one who has two maternal uncles who are back stabbers and the righteous thing they will do was credit card fraud identity theft back stabbing and get people who will not work with them arrested.

Anonymous said...

That was righteous and tough. Full respect.

Sometimes people have the mentality of thinking hey is O.K. for me to do things to you but it is not O.K. for people to do things to me. I can only say if any one is fucking with me I will do what ever I can to get them of my back.

When you allow criminals to do things they get cocky and more daring to do things to people just because.

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