Feds suspend funding of Starr County HIDTA task force

Funding for the Starr County High Intensity Drug Trafficking Area task force will be suspended effective June 30, according to a letter sent by South Texas HIDTA.

Christopher H. Combs, the South Texas HIDTA executive board chair, sent a letter to Starr County officials notifying them that on June 3, the executive board voted to suspend all South Texas HIDTA funding to the Starr County HIDTA task force from June 30 until Dec. 31.

After that time, the executive board will reassess the suspension.

“As such, any expenditure made after June 30, 2020, that is generally paid with HIDTA funds, will not be reimbursed to your entity,” the letter stated. “This suspension affects funding from grant years 2018, 2019, and 2020.”

Starr County Judge Eloy Vera, who was among those who was issued the letter, said he did not know the reason behind the decision.

“The biggest effect is that the officers that are with HIDTA, their job standing is in limbo because it is a program that was funded by the feds,” Vera said. “Once that grant goes away, the money goes away.”

The task force consists of law enforcement officers from different agencies throughout the county and is run through the 229th District Attorney’s Office.

Current 229th District Attorney Omar Escobar, to whom the letter was also addressed, did not return a request for comment.

The incoming district attorney, Gocha Ramirez, who defeated Escobar in the March Democratic Primary, issued a statement Sunday.

“I have already begun the process of reaching out to local, state, and federal law enforcement agencies, with the hope that funding for HIDTA, under the direction of the 229th Judicial District Attorney’s office, might be restored beginning January 1, 2021,” Ramirez stated.