McALLEN, Texas (AP) — A former South Texas sheriff whose office has attracted the attention of federal investigators pleaded guilty Monday to money laundering.
Lupe Trevino, who resigned about two weeks ago as Hidalgo County sheriff, appeared Monday in federal court and faces a 20-year sentence. He was released on a $30,000 unsecured bond Monday.
Trevino, 64, admitted laundering campaign contributions that were tied to a convicted drug trafficker, the Monitor newspaper in McAllen reported (http://bit.ly/1qWKOOV ). Court testimony suggests the amount Trevino laundered could be between $70,000 and $120,000.
It is the latest in a series of arrests and convictions of law enforcement officers in Hidalgo County. In December 2013, Trevino's second in command, Cmdr. Jose Padilla, was arrested on money laundering and drug conspiracy charges. He pleaded not guilty to both charges.
A year earlier, one of Trevino's sons who was a police officer in Mission and two of Trevino's deputies were arrested in a federal drug sting. Those three were part of a Hidalgo County and Mission Police Department joint drug task force, and months after the December 2012 arrests, they pleaded guilty to participating in a conspiracy to steal drug loads and resell them to another trafficker. Nine other lawmen, including Jonathan Trevino, the sheriff's son, have been convicted on drug charges in connection to that task force, known as the Panama Unit.
All throughout the process, Lupe Trevino maintained he had no knowledge of the activities of his son and deputies.
In a statement, the U.S. attorney's office said Lupe Trevino admitted he accepted the money from alleged drug trafficker Tomas "El Gallo" Gonzalez, knowing it was from illegal activities.
He admitted he accepted the funds directly and through others as donations for his 2012 election campaign. Part of the money was subsequently deposited into bank accounts Trevino controlled and was comingled with other funds.
Calls to Lupe Trevino's phone went unanswered Monday, and his attorney Roberto Yzaguirre declined to comment.
Up until now, the former sheriff had maintained he had concerns about Gonzalez's reputation and rumors about his involvement in drug trafficking. "Well, obviously we know what Tomas Gonzalez is," Lupe Trevino said when asked about the allegations he had gotten cash from Gonzalez. "And I was not going to accept any monies from any drug dealers."
He also denied ever meeting or speaking to Gonzalez, who once hung a "Re-Elect Sheriff Lupe Trevino" sign outside his family's home in Weslaco.
Gonzalez was arrested in August 2013 on drug trafficking charges. A criminal complaint says Gonzalez's network smuggled drugs to Georgia, Alabama, Tennessee, Arkansas, Iowa and North Carolina.
Lupe Trevino's plea comes three days after his former chief of staff, Maria Patricia Medina, pleaded guilty to a federal count of failing to report a crime.
Federal investigators say the former sheriff in 2011 and 2012 received cash donations from the trafficker and contend Medina helped Lupe Trevino conceal the donations by filing false campaign finance reports.
In a statement, interim sheriff J.E. "Eddie" Guerra said he and his staff will work to regain the public's trust.
"It is disheartening to know that a man's entire law enforcement career, everything positive that he accomplished, is wiped away with a plea of guilty," Guerra said.
The interim sheriff added the community's trust in the sheriff's office was shaken by "story after story of misleading and criminal acts."
Guerra recently was appointed as sheriff by county commissioners after working with the Precinct 4 Constable's Office.
Lupe Trevino, who began serving as sheriff in 2005, started his career as a police officer in the 1970s. He spent 14 years as an officer in the Austin Police Department before returning to South Texas to work as an investigator in the district attorney's office.
Information from: The Monitor, http://www.themonitor.com