HTTP/1.0 200 OK Content-Type: text/html Former Sheriff Faces Drug Trafficking, Other Charges
Pubdate: Fri, 10 Jun 2005
Source: Brownsville Herald, The (TX)
Copyright: 2005 The Brownsville Herald
Author: Sergio Chapa


Former Sheriff Conrado Cantu faces drug trafficking, money laundering,
extortion and other charges listed in a federal indictment unsealed

Cantu and four others, including a former captain and a former jail
vendor, are accused of using the Cameron County sheriff's office to
protect drug traffickers in exchange for payments.

Court records show the former sheriff acted as the leader of a
three-man ring that allegedly extorted and accepted bribes totaling
nearly $50,000 from suspected drug traffickers, money launderers and
undercover sources.

A 10-count, 45-page federal indictment unsealed Thursday lists more
than a dozen examples of Cantu and the others abusing his office to
protect smugglers, money launderers, illegal video gamblers and
political supporters.

The indictment shows that Cantu faces numerous charges of
racketeering, extortion, money laundering, obstructing justice and
conspiracy to distribute more than 5 kilograms of cocaine.

Cantu also allegedly covered up a kidnapping charge for an undisclosed
political supporter.

Federal authorities arrested the former sheriff in a Wednesday-morning
traffic stop near his home outside Olmito.

Cantu's former captain Rumaldo Rodriguez is facing racketeering and
extortion charges. Armed agents arrested him at his place of work as a
deputy constable in Port Isabel at 11 a.m. Wednesday.

Former jail commissary vendor Geronimo "Jerry" Garcia faces
racketeering, extortion, money laundering and conspiracy charges.

According to the indictment, Brownsville plumber Reynaldo Uribe is
accused of transporting laundered money.

Both Uribe and Garcia were arrested Wednesday in a raid at Garcia's
Brownsville home.

Federal officials also arrested Brownsville business owner Hector
Solis on Thursday morning at his restaurant, Pepe's Tacos To Go, 3850
Paredes Line Road.

Solis allegedly ran an illegal video gambling casino and faces an
obstruction of justice charge.

A federal investigation shows that Cantu agreed to tip off Solis about
county task force raids against his casino and on one occasion told
deputies not to raid it.

Solis is expected to appear in federal court today.

Cantu, Rodriguez, Garcia and Uribe appeared before U.S. Magistrate
Judge Felix Recio Thursday morning.

At the prosecution's request, Recio ordered that Cantu, Rodriguez,
Garcia and Uribe be held in federal custody without bond until a
Monday afternoon hearing.

U.S. Marshals spokesman Gene Diaz said the men are expected to be held
at a federal detention center in Willacy County but would be kept
isolated from the prison's general population for their protection.

It was not clear Thursday if Cantu and the others would be kept
separate from each other, but defense attorneys said they could be
freed on bond after the Monday afternoon hearing.

Cantu's attorney Alberto Pullen said Cantu plans to plead innocent to
the charges.

"These are charges we can fight," Pullen said Thursday outside the
courthouse. "Based on what my client has told me, he believes that he
is innocent."

Pullen replaces Cantu's long-time attorney Ernesto Gamez who
reportedly had a conflict of interest in the case. Neither attorney
would elaborate on that conflict.

Pullen said Cantu was demoralized by the arrest and the charges, but
remained determined to fight.

"He thinks that this is a witch hunt and that there's just not enough
evidence there to convict him of all the charges that have been made,"
Pullen said. "Until I see different, we won't even consider entering a
(guilty) plea at this time."

Prosecutors said the case had been under investigation for years by
nine local and federal law enforcement agencies.

"The people of the Rio Grande Valley have the right to expect that
their law enforcement officials will themselves abide by the laws that
they have sworn to uphold," U.S. Attorney Michael Shelby wrote in a
prepared statement issued Thursday.

"This case stands as proof of our continuing efforts to hold
accountable those who misuse their position and abuse the public's
trust for personal gain."

Although the investigation originated in Brownsville, court records
show that Cantu and the others were indicted by a grand jury in
Houston Monday.

"The law provides that any case can be presented at any grand jury in
the Southern District of Texas," said U.S. Attorney spokeswoman Nancy

Chief Deputy Gus Reyna said agents searching Cantu's home on Wednesday
found a small amount of marijuana as well as Sheriff's Department
property, including a uniform, portable radio and a shotgun.

The items were supposed to be returned to the county when Cantu left
office Jan. 1, Reyna said.

Reyna said his agency forwarded a possession of marijuana case to the
district attorney's office for review. 
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