A former South Texas sheriff whose office has attracted the attention of federal investigators pleaded guilty Monday to money laundering.
Lupe Trevino, who resigned about two weeks ago as Hidalgo County sheriff, appeared in federal court and faces a 20-year sentence. He was released on a $30,000 unsecured bond Monday.
Trevino admitted Monday to laundering campaign contributions that were tied to a convicted drug trafficker, the Monitor newspaper in McAllen reported. Court testimony suggests the amount Trevino laundered could be between $70,000 and $120,000.
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It is the latest in a series of arrests and convictions of law enforcement officers in Hidalgo County. In December 2013, Trevino's second in command, Cmdr. Jose Padilla, was arrested on money laundering and drug conspiracy charges. He pleaded not guilty to both charges.
A year earlier, one of Trevino's sons who was a police officer in Mission and two of Trevino's deputies were arrested in a federal drug sting. Those three were part of a joint Hidalgo County and Mission Police Department joint drug task force, and months after the December 2012 arrests, they pleaded guilty to participating in a conspiracy to steal drug loads and resell them to another trafficker.
Nine other lawmen, including Jonathan Trevino, the sheriff's son, have been convicted on drug charges in connection to that task force, known as the Panama Unit.
All throughout the process, Trevino maintained he had no knowledge of the activities of his son and deputies. In a statement, the U.S. Attorney's office said Trevino admitted he accepted the money from alleged drug trafficker Tomas "El Gallo" Gonzalez, knowing it was from illegal activities.
He admitted he accepted the funds directly and through others as donations for his 2012 election campaign. Part of the money was subsequently deposited into bank accounts Trevino controlled and were co-mingled with other funds.
Calls to Trevino's phone went unanswered Monday and his attorney Roberto Yzaguirre declined to comment.Up until now Trevino had maintained he had concerns about Gonzalez's reputation and rumors about his involvement in drug trafficking. "Well, obviously we know what Tomas Gonzalez is," Trevino said when asked about the allegations he had gotten cash from Gonzalez. "And I was not going to accept any monies from any drug dealers."
He also denied ever meeting or speaking to Gonzalez, who went as far as hanging a "Re-Elect Sheriff Lupe Trevino" sign outside his family's home in Weslaco, Texas.
Gonzalez was arrested in August 2013 on drug trafficking charges. A criminal complaint says Gonzalez's network smuggled drugs to Georgia, Alabama, Tennessee, Arkansas, Iowa and North Carolina.
Trevino's plea comes three days after his former chief of staff, Maria Patricia Medina, pleaded guilty to a federal count of failing to report a crime.
Federal investigators say Trevino in 2011 and 2012 received cash donations from the trafficker, and contend Medina helped Trevino conceal the donations by filing false campaign finance reports.
Trevino, who began serving as sheriff in 2005, started his career as a local police officer in the 1970s. He spent 14 years as an officer in the Austin Police Department before returning to South Texas to work as an investigator in the district attorney's office.