This week, the announcement came down from the Hidalgo County Sheriff’s Office: its scandal-ridden “Panama Unit” will be shut down permanently at the orders of Hidalgo County Sheriff Lupe Treviño.
Hidalgo County is an Important County in Texas – With a History of Police Corruption
You know the place: Hidalgo County sets right on the Texas-Mexico border, home to the city of Edinburg, and it’s far from a tiny backwater community: Hidalgo is the 8th most populated county in the State of Texas and it’s also considered to be one of the fastest-growing counties in the country.
It’s the same place where we posted about the Hidalgo County constable being convicted of felony theft for taking a seized, stolen truck for his personal use and where another FBI sting resulted in Edinburg police officer Robert Alvarez being indicted and charged for some very serious crimes which included having sexual relations with a female robbery suspect in the jail and submitting inflated time sheets to get higher overtime pay.
Hidalgo’s Panama Unit is Shut Down After Making National Headlines for Corruption
This shutdown of the special police drug unit isn’t a big surprise considering the national headlines the Panama Unit has been making over the past few weeks after Sheriff Trevino’s son as well as the son of the Chief of Police for Hidalgo, Texas, were both arrested by federal agents along with other members of the infamous “Panama Unit.”
In one more federally-coordinated sting operation, the Department of Immigration and Customs Enforcement (ICE) worked with the Federal Bureau of Investigation as well as the Drug Enforcement Administration (DEA), the Department of Justice’s Office of the Inspector General, and the Texas Rangers to bring down a group of law enforcement officers down in South Texas who were making money on the side by playing both sides of the law.
What were the Texas cops who were arrested in the FBI Sting doing?
The investigation revealed that the son of the Police Chief and the son of the Deputy Sheriff (as well as another two men employed as Deputies by the Hidalgo Sheriff’s Department), were not only on the official government payroll to serve and protect as Hidalgo police officers, they were also being paid by drug dealers to protect their shipments of cocaine coming through Texas.
The sting resulted in the arrest of these four officers and the rest of the Panama Unit quit their jobs. The man assigned to oversee the Panama Unit, Hidalgo Police Department Sgt. Roy Mendez, remains on the force – he’s now on the streets, back on patrol.
The actual FBI arrests of Alexis Espinoza, 29, son of Hidalgo Police Chief Rudy Espinoza, and Jonathan Treviño, 28, the son of Hidalgo County Sheriff Lupe Treviño, happened shortly before Christmas.
Federal Complaints Describe Cops on Drug Cartel Payroll to Protect Cocaine Trade Along Texas Roadways and Thru Checkpoints
From the complaints (Espinoza; Trevino) and other documentation filed in the federal court records, it is known that the sting began after ICE got a tip that there were some South Texas police officers on the take, making money on drugs. Soon, federal authorities were acting on the tip by faking a drug deal where a car carrying cocaine was driven from McAllen to Weslaco and a deal was made for Hidalgo Police Officer Alexis Espinoza to escort and protect that cocaine-filled car on its route. He was paid $1500 down and several thousand dollars more when the car successfully made its trip. The federal agents did this again: once more, Officer Espinoza together with another officer protected a vehicle as it transported cocaine from one location to another on Texas roads in exchange for several thousand dollars payment (around $3500 – $4000).
Soon, the feds learned that the Panama Unit was corrupted — and that the Hidaldo Sheriff’s Department unit assigned to fight drug crimes was instead working with drug dealers to move narcotics along Texas roads. Officers Trevino, Espinoza, and Rodriguez of the Panama Unit were paid by a federal informant to protect the move of 7 kilos of cocaine from McAllen to Edinburg for payment of $6000.00. Federal authorities upped the ante after this round: according to the federal complaint, Panama Unit member Duran and an unknown cohort agreed to protect a vehicle that was moving 20 kilos of cocaine from McAllen through the Falfurrias checkpoint. Shortly after this fake drug deal, the arrests were made.
Now, we can all monitor how these two sons of the men in charge of insuring Texas law is respected in Hidalgo County proceed through the federal courts and the federal system of justice. Good thing that this all came down after Hidalgo Sheriff Lupe Trevino was reelected for a third term in November, right?