EDINBURG, Texas (AP) — A South Texas sheriff says he returned two $5,000 campaign contributions that his second-in-command hand delivered in 2011 and 2012 from a man arrested last year for drug trafficking.
The Monitor in McAllen reports (http://bit.ly/19mHdqv ) campaign finance records show Hidalgo County Sheriff Lupe Trevino's campaign wrote checks to return the donations to Tomas "El Gallo" Gonzalez.
Gonzalez, the owner of T&F Produce, was arrested in August on drug trafficking charges. Several truckers affiliated with Gonzales had been stopped with marijuana at a Border Patrol highway checkpoint. A criminal complaint says Gonzalez's network smuggled drugs to Georgia, Alabama, Tennessee, Arkansas, Iowa and North Carolina.
Trevino says he never suspected his commander, Jose Padilla, who brought the bags with cash. Padilla was arrested Dec. 24 on drug trafficking charges. Federal prosecutors have linked him to Gonzalez.
Gonzalez and Padilla have pleaded not guilty to the charges, and their attorneys declined to comment on the matter.
Trevino says he had concerns about Gonzalez's reputation and rumors about his involvement in drug trafficking.
"Well, obviously we know what Tomas Gonzalez is," Trevino said. "And I was not going to accept any monies from any drug dealers."
Trevino was criticized for keeping Padilla by his side after he invoked his Fifth Amendment right to not testify in August during the drug conspiracy trial of former sheriff's Deputy Jorge Garza. Convicted drug traffickers Fernando Guerra Sr. and James Phil Flores — also a former deputy — had mentioned Padilla in connection with the case.
Nine other lawmen have been convicted on drug charges, including Jonathan Trevino, the son of Hidalgo County Sheriff Lupe Trevino.
Trevino denies ever meeting or speaking to Gonzalez, who went as far as hanging a "Re-Elect Sheriff Lupe Trevino" sign outside his family's home in Weslaco, Texas. "They were obsessed with my campaign."
The sheriff says he does not know why Gonzalez would be interested in making those donations. He has theories, though.
He speculates that the alleged trafficker either wanted to make it look like he had influence with the sheriff, to exploit the perceived relationship. That, or Gonzalez was interested in Trevino's re-election not because of the sheriff himself but because of someone on his staff.
"Maybe they wanted to make sure I stayed in office so some people working for me would stay in office," Trevino said.
Information from: The Monitor, http://www.themonitor.com