Former constables make first appearance in federal court - Brownsville Herald: News

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Former constables make first appearance in federal court

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Posted: Saturday, June 1, 2019 10:33 am

Two former CameronCounty constable deputies face federal conspiracy charges alleging they ran license plates and conducted criminal background checks for someone they thought was a drug trafficker in exchange for $50 gift cards to Applebees and Bass Pro Shop.

That person was actually cooperating with the government.

Benito De La Cruz Jr., 45, of San Benito, and Armando Gonzalez Jr., 31, of Weslaco, appeared in front of U.S. Magistrate Judge Ronald Morgan Thursday morning on charges of conspiracy to commit extortion under color of official right, wire fraud and lying to federal officers.

The duo, who apparently are still employed in law enforcement but not with the Precinct 5 Constable’s Office, are being temporarily held without bond pending probable cause and detention hearings scheduled for June 5.

The men are charged in a 12-count indictment that was unsealed after they were arrested on Thursday.

They are accused of engaging in a scheme to access information not available to the public through license plate and criminal history checks for personal gain.

According to the indictment, the alleged criminal activity occurred between Jan. 25, 2015, and May 28, the day a grand jury indicted the men.

Federal prosecutors allege an unnamed cooperating individual would request the checks in exchange for gift cards and cash, though the only cash cited in the indictment is $40.

The cooperating individual told the men that he had been involved with drug trafficking and was actually under court-ordered supervision for drug trafficking, officials said.

This cooperating individual also allegedly told the men that the license plates and criminal background checks would further this person’s drug trafficking activities.

The indictment also states that another individual within the Cameron County Precinct 5 Constable’s Office participated in running license plate checks, but it isn’t clear whether that person was ever charged, who that person is or what role they had within the constable’s office. This person is not identified in the indictment.

The indictment lists several instances where the cooperating individual went to the Cameron County Precinct 5 Constable’s Office in Harlingen to allegedly pay De La Cruz and Gonzalez with a $50 gift card to Applebees or Bass Pro Shop in exchange for each license plate and criminal background check the former deputies conducted on behalf of the cooperating individual.

De La Cruz is also accused of lying to federal agents about the license plate and criminal background check activities by himself, Gonzalez and the other individual within the Precinct 5 Constable’s Office, according to the indictment, which states that Gonzalez initially denied his involvement, but after being confronted with evidence admitted to it.

On Friday, Cameron County Precinct 5 Constable Eddie Solis used a Facebook post to distance himself and his office from the former deputies.

“One of the accused officers worked for precinct 5 under the previous administration and has never been employed under my command,” Solis said in the post. “The other officer accused was employed with the previous administration for precinct 5 and worked for a few months in 2017 until I terminated him.”

Solis said he felt he had a duty to clarify what he called misconceptions because of negative attention his office has received because of media coverage and from the community.

“We have been under much scrutiny because of the actions of officers who have not been employed with my department in years,” Solis said. “I feel it is my duty to clarify some of these misconceptions to protect the honor and integrity of my deputies and staff.”

 

mreagan@brownsvilleherald.com

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