Feds arrest South Texas sheriff's commander

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Associated Press

Posted on December 25, 2013 at 5:02 PM

MCALLEN, Texas (AP) — Federal authorities say they've arrested the second ranking officer of a South Texas sheriff's office who is tied to an embattled drug-fighting unit.

Hidalgo County sheriff's Commander Jose "Joe" Padilla was arrested early Tuesday on federal charges of money laundering and conspiracy to possess with the intent to distribute marijuana, said Immigration and Customs Enforcement spokeswoman Nina Pruneda

Padilla appeared in court hours after his arrest and was ordered held until his detention hearing, which is set for Friday.

The now-defunct Panama Unit is the target of a broad federal investigation in which nine law enforcement officers have been convicted of conspiring with drug traffickers to steal drugs from rival gangs and resell the narcotics.

During the August trial of deputy Jorge Garza, Hidalgo County Sheriff Lupe Trevino testified that he had no knowledge of wrongdoing even as his son was a member of the unit.

The scheme was allegedly organized by Fernando Guerra Sr., the owner of a local trucking company. Prosecutors said the plan was to move the drugs north on Guerra's trucks and have the drugs seized by the sheriff's office so that the owners of the contraband would not believe Guerra and his son were stealing their drugs.

The cargo was later sold and money was split, prosecutors said.

During Garza's trial, it was revealed that Padilla was under federal investigation. One witness, the now convicted former deputy James Phil Flores, said Padilla would pressure deputies to sell $100 raffle tickets to collect funds for the sheriff's political campaign. Padilla successfully invoked his Fifth Amendment right and did not testify in that trial.

Sheriff's office spokesman Sgt. Frank Mora said the department had not been officially notified of Padilla's arrest.

The Panama Unit was created by Trevino as a street-level drug fighting team in Mission, a town of about 70,000 people. His son, Mission police officer Jonathan Trevino, was a member of the unit. The son pleaded guilty to drug conspiracy in May.

The sheriff testified he was not in charge of the day-to-day operations of the unit and that it "was completely rogue."

"They went off on their own," Lupe Trevino said. "They didn't even tell their own supervisor."

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