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Thursday, September 25, 1997

Six law officers indicted on drug charges

By PAULINE ARRILLAGA / Associated Press Writer

DONNA, Texas (AP) -- Six former law officers, including two police chiefs, have been indicted on drug trafficking and corruption charges for allegedly smuggling more than 1,700 pounds of marijuana into the country.

The indictments, issued by a federal grand jury in McAllen this week, were unsealed Wednesday.

Named in three separate indictments were former Donna police chiefs Clemente Garza Jr. and Antonio Lopez, who also served as a Hidalgo County deputy constable; former Donna police Sgt. Homero Cisneros Gallardo; former Donna police officers Modesto Gonzales Jr. and Pedro Castillo; former La Villa police officer Raul Olivera Chapa; and Donna animal control officer Valentin Gonzalez.

Donna, a town of about 13,500 people, is 12 miles east of McAllen near the Mexico border. La Villa, a town of 1,500 people, is 12 miles northeast of Donna.

The first indictment accuses Garza and Gallardo of conspiring to help transport 1,000 pounds of marijuana from Mexico through Donna between Nov. 8, 1995, and Nov. 27, 1995.

Prosecutors allege the two men agreed to assist a cooperating government witness, who was posing as a corrupt police official, in providing security for the drug traffickers who were transporting the pot.

Garza was paid $2,200 for his help, while Gallardo received $1,200, the indictment alleges.

The second indictment accuses Gallardo, Modesto Gonzales, Castillo, Chapa and Lopez of conspiring to distribute 250 pounds of marijuana on July 26, 1995, in Lopez's marked police vehicle.

Lopez, who was employed as a Hidalgo County deputy constable at the time, received $5,000 for his part in the scheme, according to the indictment. Gallardo was paid $9,500, while the other officers received $1,000 each, the indictment alleges.

In a third indictment, Valentin Gonzalez was charged with conspiring to distribute 266 pounds of marijuana on Feb. 9, 1996, and 229 pounds of marijuana on Feb. 16, 1996. Gonzalez was paid $2,625 for escorting the drug loads in a marked police vehicle, the indictment alleges.

Prosecutors allege Gonzalez recruited Hidalgo County Deputy Sheriff Fernando Cuellar to assist him in moving the Feb. 16 load. Cuellar died on March 7 of this year, hours before he was scheduled to plead guilty to drug-trafficking charges.

Authorities initially investigated the death as a homicide, but have since concluded Cuellar accidentally killed himself while trying to fake his death.

If convicted, the suspects face between 60 and 300 years in prison and millions of dollars in fines.

The indictments were the result of a two-year task force investigation conducted by the Drug Enforcement Administration, the Texas Department of Public Safety and the Internal Revenue Service.

Federal prosecutors and a spokeswoman for the U.S. attorney's office did not immediately return telephone messages from The Associated Press.

The indictments are the latest in an ongoing crackdown on public corruption in South Texas.

In July 1994, Hidalgo County Sheriff Brig Marmolejo Jr. was sentenced to seven years in federal prison for taking $151,000 in bribes for allowing a drug trafficker to have special privileges in jail.

Also that year, a federal investigation in nearby Zapata County resulted in drug-related convictions of the former county judge, sheriff and county clerk.

In 1995, former Hidalgo County Judge J. Edgar Ruiz and several other county officials were indicted on charges of awarding county business to favored companies for more than $30,000 in kickbacks.

Two county employees and a former county commissioner pleaded guilty in connection with the allegations. Ruiz and four other officials were acquitted of the charges last year. Send a Letter to the Editor about This Story | Start or Join A Discussion about This Story
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