McALLEN, Texas (AP) — Former South Texas police officers, who were sons of an ex-sheriff and a current police chief, were sentenced to lengthy prison terms on Wednesday for their roles in a drug trafficking conspiracy.
U.S. District Judge Randy Crane sentenced longtime friends and former Mission police officers Alexis Espinoza and Jonathan Trevino on Wednesday to 14 years and 17 years in prison, respectively. Espinoza is the son of the Hidalgo police chief and Trevino is the son of former Hidalgo County Sheriff Lupe Trevino.
In total, nine former sheriff's deputies and police officers were sentenced over two days for participating in a variety of schemes, in which they used their badges to steal drugs for resale and to protect drug loads. Seven of those sentenced were former sheriff's deputies.
The elder Trevino resigned and pleaded guilty earlier this month to money laundering in a separate case for taking campaign contributions from a drug trafficker.
But it was a drug investigation in early 2011 that eventually led federal authorities to the rogue local drug task force at the center of Wednesday's case. The members of the so-called "Panama Unit" were stealing money and drugs. Jonathan Trevino was a member of the unit, which was a joint effort between the Mission police and the sheriff's office.
In giving Jonathan Trevino the longest sentence, Crane said his co-defendants had recounted that "Trevino was their security blanket, that he's the one who had the connection to his father (Lupe Trevino) who would protect them if things went bad."
Minutes before receiving his sentence, Jonathan Trevino told Crane that his father, who was not present, had no idea what he was up to and never would have approved.
"My dad would never let me do what I did," Trevino said.
In handing down each sentence, Crane recognized that the information shared by those officers after their arrest contributed to convictions at the highest levels of the sheriff's office.
Jonathan Trevino thanked federal agents for stopping the group's activities in time.
"Thank you for arresting us now before somebody got hurt or killed," he said.