The Rio Grande Valley has never been spotless. Once known simply for an excessive amount of illegal immigrant activity, law enforcement and border officials have long been stationed in the South Texas Border Region. Now, situated across the Rio Grande River from the city of Matamoros, home to the Gulf Cartel, several counties have experienced overwhelming numbers of corruption cases as a result of dealing with drug smugglers and cartels.
In 2013, 83 officials in positions in governments all over South Texas, were convicted of federal crimes related to corruption and drug trafficking. These include five sheriffs and 13 U.S. Customs and Border Protection agents. According to the Justice Department, this is higher than any other region in the entire country.
Law enforcement agencies, school boards, city councils, and even the judicial and legislative officials of the region have been found guilty of corruption charges. The issue is so deeply entrenched into the region’s government, that the FBI has appointed a task force to the region to identify the cause of the corruption and put an end to it.
It would be a simpler job if it was only an issue of threats and bribery. However, according to Jonathan Treviño, a former narcotics squad leader currently serving 17 years in a federal penitentiary for his crimes, this is not the case.
“No one forced us. No one held a gun to our heads.” said Treviño. I “was a cop who went drug dealer. That’s what it is.”
Al Alvarez, a lawyer who has specialized in representing the regions corrupt politicians believes it is entirely due to money.
“You know there is an underground economy,” says Alvarez, “Drugs fuel 20 percent of the economy here in the Valley.”
With countless examples of corrupt officials making fortunes, temptation is all around for officers looking to make some extra cash and retire early in the Valley. For the FBI task force assigned to the region, it will be a difficult task to put an end to corruption in South Texas.