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5 former south Texas law enforcement officers plead guilty to smuggling cocaine

MCALLEN, Texas — Five former south Texas law enforcement officers pleaded guilty Wednesday to smuggling cocaine, announced U.S. Attorney Kenneth Magidson, Southern District of Texas.

This case was investigated by the FBI, the Drug Enforcement Administration (DEA), and U.S. Immigration and Customs Enforcement's (ICE) Homeland Security Investigations (HSI).

The following four pleaded guilty to one count of conspiring to possess with the intent to distribute more than five kilograms of cocaine: Jonathan Trevino, 29, Claudio Mata, 35, and Eric Alcantar, 29, of McAllen, and Salvador Arguello, 34, of Edinburg. All four had been members of the Panama Unit, a drug task force with Hidalgo County Sheriff's Office (HCSO). A fifth individual, Gerardo Mendoza-Duran, 30, of Pharr, who had been an HCSO member, but not part of the Panama Unit itself, also pleaded guilty to attempting to aid and abet the possession with the intent to distribute more than five kilograms of cocaine. The Panama Unit was operated and comprised of HCSO deputies and Mission Police Department officers.

According to court documents, from 2010 to December 2012, Trevino, Arguello, Mata and Alcantar used their positions as law enforcement officers to steal narcotics and currency. The investigation revealed that the defendants, upon learning of the location of drugs and currency, used their positions to gain entry into residences and vehicles to steal the contraband. Afterwards, they sold the narcotics to other traffickers, and split the profits.

Additionally, in exchange for thousands of dollars, Trevino and Mendoza-Duran agreed to use their law enforcement positions to escort multi-kilogram quantities of cocaine as it traveled through Hidalgo County.

Seven others are also charged in relation to this case. Their cases remain pending, and they are considered innocent unless proven guilty though due process of law.

All five convicted Wednesday face a minimum of 10 years and up to life in prison, along with a potential fine up to $10 million. U.S. District Judge Randy Crane, who accepted the pleas, has set sentencing for Sept. 10.

Assistant U.S. Attorneys James Sturgis and Anibal Alaniz, Southern District of Texas, are prosecuting this case.