Federal agents, Texas Rangers search Hidalgo County Sheriff's Office amid 'El Gallo' probe

Dave Hendricks |
The Monitor

EDINBURG — Armed with a search warrant, federal agents and the Texas Rangers removed a computer from the Hidalgo County Sheriff’s Office on Monday morning.

Agents investigating the “El Gallo” drug trafficking network — including former Sheriff’s Office Cmdr. Jose Padilla, now indicted on money laundering and marijuana trafficking charges — executed the search warrant about 10 a.m. Monday. Sheriff Lupe Treviño said the agents wanted Padilla’s computer records, but couldn’t comment further about the federal investigation.

The U.S. Drug Enforcement Administration, the Homeland Security Investigations division of U.S. Immigration and Customs Enforcement and the Texas Rangers executed the search warrant together, said Houston DEA spokeswoman Lisa Johnson, adding that they removed the computer Monday morning. Assistant U.S. Attorney James Sturgis declined to comment.

Investigators started unraveling the “El Gallo” drug trafficking network in July, when the Texas Department of Public Safety arrested a truck driver hauling about 322 pounds of marijuana from Weslaco-based T&F Produce, according to federal court records. Indictments later linked the truck driver and nine other people to Tomas “El Gallo” Gonzalez, who co-owned T&F Produce.

Together, they shipped marijuana from the Rio Grande Valley to Arkansas, Tennessee, Alabama, Georgia, Iowa and South Carolina, according to federal court records. Border Patrol agents intercepted several shipments at the Falfurrias checkpoint.

On Christmas Eve, the investigation ensnared Sheriff’s Office Cmdr. Jose A. “Joe” Padilla, 54, who supervised the Special Services Bureau and reported directly to Treviño.

Prosecutors unsealed a new indictment, which linked Padilla to the “El Gallo” drug trafficking network. The indictment formally charged Padilla with money laundering and marijuana trafficking. Padilla pleaded not guilty.
Treviño fired Padilla two days later.

Padilla didn’t just head the Special Services Bureau. Since 2004, the top-ranking lawman worked on Treviño’s political campaigns, according to records filed with the Hidalgo County Elections Department. Padilla organized campaign events, personally donated money and collected donations from others — including $5,000 cash contributions from Gonzalez in July 2011 and June 2012.

Treviño rejected the money. Apparently undeterred, Gonzalez obtained two “Re-elect Sheriff Lupe Treviño” signs anyway. Both remained displayed outside Gonzalez’s home when federal agents arrested him.