Pubdate: Wed, 16 Jul 2008
Source: Allen American, The (TX)
Copyright: The Allen American 2008
Author: Ann Marie Shambaugh


The arrest of a former Collin County deputy constable who allegedly 
protected an international drug ring in exchange for cocaine while 
working in Frisco has come as a surprise to local authorities.

Melissa resident Robert Benavidez, 41, was arrested July 8 and 
charged with six counts of abuse of official capacity. He was 
indicted by the Collin County Grand Jury on all six counts Tuesday. 
He is being held at the Collin County Jail on $1.5 million bond.

According to arrest records, Benavidez periodically checked the 
National Crime Information Center computer database to determine if 
his cousin and leader of a North Texas drug cell, Sergio Maldonado of 
McKinney, had any warrants out for his arrest. He is also accused of 
using a database to check the registration for license plates that 
Maldonado thought may be on law enforcement officials' vehicles.

In return for these services, Maldonado "would routinely give 
Benavidez several grams of cocaine for Benavidez' personal use," the 
affidavit states.

"This job is largely based on public trust, so we were surprised," 
Collin County Constable Precinct 4 Chief Deputy Gary Boone said. 
"There's no way to sit and watch over somebody's shoulder what 
they're running."

The alleged crimes occurred while Benavidez was employed as a Collin 
County Precinct 4 deputy constable between 2001 and 2006. Boone said 
he resigned from his position in July 2006 for non-criminal 
violations of department policy, although he declined to provide 
specific information about Benavidez' violations. At the time of his 
resignation, officials in the constable's office were unaware of his 
alleged abuse of official capacity, and they are not ruling out that 
the violations may have been connected.

"Some of the violations may have been caused by what he was trying to 
do," Boone said.

Law enforcement officials began unearthing Benavidez' ties to the 
drug ring in October 2005 through Operation Puma, a 
multi-jurisdictional federal investigation of an international drug 
trafficking and money laundering organization. In North Texas, 
Operation Puma led to the seizure of 277 kilograms of cocaine, 900 
pounds of marijuana, nearly $2.5 million in U.S. currency, and the 
arrest of 20 people, including Maldonado, who pleaded guilty to money 
laundering and drug charges last year.

A U.S. Drug Enforcement Administration special agent was conducting 
surveillance of Maldonado and another suspected drug trafficker for 
Operation Puma when he noticed the two men slowly circling his car 
while speaking on a cell phone, according to the affidavit.

Through a series of recorded phone conversations, federal agents 
learned Maldonado had asked Benavidez to check the special agent's 
license plates, and records show that they were checked three times 
by the next day. The first check reportedly went through dispatchers 
at the Collin County Sheriff's Office, the second through the DEA 
Dallas office, and the third from the Precinct 4 constable's office in Frisco.

After his arrest, Maldonado told law enforcement officials that he 
would ask Benavidez to check law enforcement databases for 
outstanding warrants and license plate registrations beginning in 
2004. Records show that the NCIC terminal in the Frisco constable's 
office was used about 25 times to search for warrants on Maldonado or 
his wife, and that Collin County dispatchers were asked to check 
about six times between Sept. 5, 2001, and Dec. 6, 2006.

Boone said that several people had access to the NCIC terminal in the 
Frisco office, but the affidavit stated that it was in Benavidez' office.

"He can come in and run something, and frankly, who knows who ran 
it?" he said. "We know it was somebody in the office, and that's why 
I say it's part of the public trust in that job. You can't just abuse it."

The arrest record also states that Collin County Precinct 4 Constable 
Johnny Todd noticed that Benavidez would drive expensive new 
automobiles that he said belonged to Maldonado, who Todd met at a 
surprise birthday party for Benavidez' wife.

Benavidez also reportedly showed Todd a gold-plated Colt 1911 .45 
caliber pistol that he said he had received from Maldonado.

Boone said that he does not know if the constable's office ran a 
background check on Benavidez when he was hired in 2001, because a 
different constable was in office at that time. He said that all new 
employees have undergone background checks since he became chief 
deputy in July 2007, shortly after Benavidez resigned.

He also said he does not think that Benavidez was abusing his 
official capacity in other ways, and that he never noticed anything 
suspicious about him when he was employed by Collin County.

Benavidez' trial will be held in the Collin County 199th District 
Court, but a date has not been set. He could face up to 99 years in 
prison and a fine of up to $10,000.

Officials from the Collin County District Attorney's Office declined 
to comment. 
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