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Border securityViolence and corruption by drug cartels hits homeland

By Robert Lee Maril

Published 24 April 2014

While the American media devotes much time and effort to pinpointing the violence and corruption generated by the drug cartels in Mexico, far less attention is devoted to crimes in this country which are a direct result of these same criminal organizations. The corruption of American law enforcement has become a significant problem along the border. The Mexican drug cartels which control drugs and human smuggling are directly responsible for a spiraling level of violence and crime which instills fear among residents on both sides of the border even as it lowers the quality of life for all who call the U.S.-Mexican borderlands their home.

While the American media devotes much time and effort to pinpointing the violence and corruption generated by the drug cartels in Mexico, far less attention is devoted to crimes in this country which are a direct result of these same criminal organizations. A case in point is the Panama Unit in south Texas.

A street-level task force created by Hidalgo County Sheriff Lupe Trevino in 2009, one unit leader was the son of the police chief of the city of Hidalgo along with Mission police detective Johnathon Trevino, Sheriff Lupe Trevino’s own son. Also included were members of the Mission police department who, along with other members of the Hidalgo County Sheriff’s Crime Stoppers unit, began guarding drug loads for known traffickers. Another member of the Panama Unit was Mission police department’s Alexis Espinoza, the son of Chief Rudy Espinoza who is head of the Hidalgo police department.

For more than three years the Panama Unit provided protection for drug traffickers and, at the same time, stole drugs from these same smugglers as they made a mockery of law enforcement along the Mexican border (Ildefonso Ortiz, “Feds Arrest Hidalgo County Sheriff’s Commander,” The Monitor, 24 December 2013)).

Witnesses said that the son of the Hidalgo County Sheriff and the son of the Hidalgo’s police chief both believed they were invulnerable to arrest for their crimes because of their fathers’ status in local law enforcement.

Charges were finally brought against the Panama Unit when Miguel Flores, in the Hidalgo County Sheriff’s Department wore a wire for the FBI (Melissa del Bosque, “Exclusive: The Man Behind Hidalgo County’s Biggest Law Enforcement Scandal,” Texas Observer, 28 May 2013).

Recently demoted from his position in law enforcement, Flores believes that Sheriff Lupe Trevino is punishing him for providing information which led to the arrest of the Sheriff’s son. Officer Flores has filed a whistleblower’s lawsuit against Sheriff Lupe Trevino.

Also arrested, after nine former members of the Panama Unit pleaded guilty, was Jose Padilla. Padilla is the former Commander of the Hidalgo County Sheriff’s office, Sheriff Trevino’s second in command. He is accused of protecting drug traffickers from rival gangs as they smuggled and distributed illegal drugs throughout Hidalgo County. Commander Padilla is described as, “…a ruthless enforcer who forced (Sheriff) deputies to bring cash to him for political purposes…” in a county which is one of the poorest in the country.