Sheriff indicted on drug smuggling charges

/ Source: The Associated Press

The sheriff of a rural Texas county next to the Mexican border was arrested at his office Tuesday after being indicted on charges alleging he was involved in a large-scale cocaine and marijuana smuggling operation.

Starr County Sheriff Reymundo Guerra was named in a 19-count indictment along with more than a dozen other people. The south Texas sheriff is charged with conspiracy to possess with intent to distribute cocaine and marijuana; accessory after the fact, for an alleged suggestion he made to a co-defendant to use false documents to avoid apprehension; and facilitating the drug trafficking conspiracy through use of a telephone.

The first count alone carries a minimum of 10 years in prison and a maximum of life as well as a $4 million fine.

Guerra was added to the indictment after the FBI searched his Rio Grande City offices in early September.

Guerra appeared before a U.S. magistrate judge in McAllen on Tuesday and was ordered temporarily detained pending a hearing Friday on the government's request that he be held without bond until trial, said Angela Dodge, spokeswoman for the U.S. Attorney's Office.

It wasn't immediately clear if Guerra had an attorney. His chief deputy will run the department for now, said Starr County Judge Eloy Vera.

"It is very shocking and, of course, very disheartening when something like this happens," Vera said. "I was, I am of the opinion that Sheriff Guerra is a very good sheriff."

Few details about the allegations against Guerra have been released, but Vera said it is a blow to the reputation of a county trying to clean up its image.

In 1998, Guerra's predecessor, Sheriff Eugenio "Gene" Falcon Jr., pleaded guilty to conspiracy after an informant posing as a bail bondsman paid Falcon $11,050 in bribes for inmate referrals.

At least three other sheriffs in nearby counties have been found guilty of drug-related charges since the mid-1990s.