HIDALGO COUNTY, TX (Texas Tribune) - For a region trying to salvage its reputation after being labeled a hotbed of public corruption, the news in Hidalgo County this week wasn’t good.
Former Hidalgo County Sheriff Guadalupe “Lupe” Treviño, a nine-year veteran of the office and fixture of the region’s Democratic Party, pleaded guilty to federal charges of money laundering on Monday. The U.S. Attorney’s office for the Southern District of Texas said the former lawman “received cash contributions for his election campaign from alleged drug trafficker, Tomas “El Gallo” Gonzalez.”
The plea came just two months after border Democrats very publicly admonished Republican attorney general and gubernatorial candidate Greg Abbott after comments he likened corruption on the border to “third world” conditions. During a subsequent stop in El Paso he expanded on the comments, adding that corruption occurs everywhere in Texas.
On Monday he was quick to tweet the news about Treviño’s downfall: “Election Fraud on Border: Trail of money given to Hidalgo Co. Sheriff's campaign by alleged drug trafficker http://shar.es/T2S8z."
He also tweeted about last week’s conviction of Maria P. Medina, Treviño’s former chief of staff and campaign manager, who admitted to authorities she falsified records to conceal the money trail. Abbott’s plan to secure the border, he tweeted, would end the lure of corruption for public officials.
When asked specifically if this week’s conviction proves that corruption is more prevalent on the border, an Abbott spokesman referred to an opinion piece the attorney general had published in the McAllen Monitor.
Javier Villalobos, the Hidalgo County Republican Party Chairman, said he thought Abbott’s comments were taken out of context for political purposes. He added however, that an argument could be made that the border is more vulnerable to illegal activity.
Villalobos said he would meet with the county party to discuss the possibility of fielding a candidate “that at least has a chance” in the Democratic stronghold. But he said that despite Treviño’s affiliation with the opposing side, he doubted it would give a local Republican an edge.
Hidalgo County Democratic Party Chairwoman Kelly Salazar conceded the news was a stain on the region, but added that when corruption takes place on the border, it’s unfairly grabs more attention than similar activities elsewhere.
The county has installed J.E. “Eddie” Guerra as interim sheriff until an election later this year. Salazar said that applications for potential candidates would be available next month and that in June, precinct chairs would begin naming their nominees.
Citing testimony offered in court, The Monitor reported that Treviño may have laundered between $70,000 and $120,000. His plea came after a grand jury in 2013 indicted several members of the department’s Panama Unit, a task force that included the sheriff’s son, Jonathan Treviño. The indictments included allegations that the drug-interdiction task force was allegedly distributing marijuana, cocaine and methamphetamines, the Monitor reported.
This article originally appeared in The Texas Tribune at http://www.texastribune.org/2014/04/17/corruption-border-back-focus-after-guilty-plea/.