- Associated Press - Monday, May 5, 2014

McALLEN, Texas (AP) - In a story May 4 about corruption in South Texas, The Associated Press reported the wrong date for former Hidalgo County Sheriff Lupe Trevino’s resignation. Trevino resigned March 28, not in April.

A corrected version of the story is below:

South Texas corruption scandals spur reflection

String of high-profile public-corruption cases spurs reflection in South Texas


Associated Press

McALLEN, Texas (AP) - The corruption started small. Seized cash that didn’t make it into evidence. A package of cocaine slipped behind a bulletproof vest and spirited out of a raided house.

It escalated to a local drug unit forcing people to order drugs if the cops didn’t find any in their home, ripping off drug loads for resale and escorting cars ferrying 40-pound cocaine shipments. For the local sheriff’s son, a former police officer, the schemes funded late nights in clubs and trips to Las Vegas while he lived with his parents.

In the end, it earned him 17 years in prison and piled yet another public disgrace onto a region buffeted by them in the past year. Nine former lawmen were sentenced on federal drug charges here last week; the former Hidalgo County sheriff and other members of his inner circle are awaiting theirs in separate cases.

The Rio Grande Valley, a cluster of counties in southernmost Texas along the Mexico border, survives on commerce licit and illicit. By any standard, it has suffered a string of high-profile public corruption cases in the past year that has left officials here with the challenge of winning back the public’s confidence.

“It’s a hard thing to do to get this trust back,” said Eddie Guerra who was appointed as Hidalgo County’s interim sheriff in the scandal’s wake.

In neighboring Cameron County, a state judge, the district attorney and a handful of lawyers, including a former state lawmaker, were taken down in a bribery investigation for selling justice on the cheap. Some blasted Republican gubernatorial candidate and Attorney General Greg Abbott earlier this year when in reference to that scandal, he said, “This creeping corruption resembles third-world country practices that erode the social fabric of our communities.” He later emphasized that the corruption was not unique to South Texas.

In tiny Progreso, a father and his two sons - one the mayor, the other the school board president - pleaded guilty to essentially selling public contracts to whoever agreed to line their pockets.

Each scandal was shocking in its audacity and callousness. And far from one bad apple, the Hidalgo and Cameron county cases were corruption by the dozen. Together they left the demoralizing impression that federal corruption investigations could go as far here as the Justice Department wanted.

In handing down the sentences last week to the nine former police officers and sheriff’s deputies in what became known as the “Panama Unit” case - not all were members of that drug unit - U.S. District Judge Randy Crane emphasized the damage they had done.

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