Sunday, July 31, 2016

Texas Southmost College Official About Dr. Lily Tercero: "We Hired the Wrong Person!"

The decision in May by Laredo Community College NOT to include Lily Tercero among the finalists for president of that institution may end up costing Texas Southmost College a small fortune.

Mischievously, many at TSC wished Laredo had actually hired the obviously incompetent Tercero, saving TSC from having to terminate her, while paying her ample salary, hiring an interim, then launching an expensive nationwide search for a replacement.  Simple arithmetic indicates those moves could cost hundreds of thousands of taxpayer dollars.

All of this is compounded by the inexplicable, recent decision by the Board of Trustees to, not only extend Tercero's contract for three more years, but to give her a raise.  That decision is dumb on so many levels. What was the hurry, the rush to add salary to someone not doing a good job?  Who was the board bidding against?

It literally blows my mind that Kiko Rendon, Ed Rivera and Trey Mendez would vote for this, along with Art Rendon and Dr. Rey Garcia.  

Of course, replacing Tercero is not the college's current top priority.  Saving the school is.

Tercero knows that her performance has not impressed the CURRENT Board of Trustees.  Her job application at Laredo Community College shows she saw the writing on the proverbial wall. Her mishandling of the windstorm insurance policy, financial gaffes and the horrible decline of the school's nursing program are clearly nails on her employment coffin.

Being terminated for cause is an option that could protect taxpayer assets.  It could easily be argued that correcting Tercero's mishandling of the windstorm insurance will cost a bundle, but, more than that, reports indicate that Tercero has failed to apply for grants that could have meant hundreds of thousands of dollars for TSC. 

Addendum:  Dr. Lily Tercero was due for extension consideration on June 30, 2016. Since former Chairman Kiko Rendon and Board Trustee Ed Rivera were leaving before that date,  they, along with Dr. Rey Garcia, Art Rendon and Trey Mendez voted Tercero the extension a couple months early as they knew that the next board would not favor such an move.  There was no raise.  Tercero's current salary stands at $228,000.  I still have not received an explanation as to WHY it was so urgent to extend Tercero for three years.  No other schools were trying to hire her away and she was not doing a good job.

Saturday, July 30, 2016

Local Blogger Threatened by Dallas Car Salesman Mike Hernandez III

The onslaught of  car dealer Mike Hernandez III of Colleyville, TX continues.  After a bumbling, misguided effort to influence the Port of Brownsville and Texas Southmost College elections this past spring, the car dealer/leaser is now subtly threatening the free speech of local blogger, Jerry McHale.

A cover letter to McHale from an Arlington, Texas law firm claims that an article the MCHALE REPORT defamed Hernandez.

What did McHale actually say about Hernandez? Did he accuse Hernandez and his entourage of "bringing drugs. They're bringing crime. They're rapists. And some, I assume, are good people?" Had Jerry used such inflammatory language, Hernandez might have had justification in retaining the services of Attorney Frank Hill. 

Read McHale's words and Hill's letter for yourself. Here is the link to Jerry's blog, containing the threatening legal letter and the language Hernandez claims he found defamatory:

Our January 5, 2016 Brownsville Observer article identified Hernandez as the renter of cryptic signs throughout Cameron County promoting something called OP 10.33.

This blog and local bloggers Juan Montoya, Jerry McHale and, eventually, Bobby Wightman-Cervantes ALL found objectionable and offensive elements in the techniques, style and methodology employed by Mike Hernandez III and OP 10.33. Proposing to give a $2,000,000 stipend to United Brownsville, that unelected, elitist entity that attempts to shadow and usurp local government? What the hell? 

Carlos Marin
Knowledgeable Brownsville citizens were also alarmed when Hernandez hired Carlos Marin as a sort of guru for his OP 10.33 posse.  Marin is well known locally for manipulating local boards, politicos, especially those entrusted with dispersing 4A tax dollars for the "economic development" of his company, Ambiotec, Inc.

Mike Hernandez III foray into Brownsville politics has been a learning curve, an expensive one, largely because he simply didn't do his homework.  Will he choose to dive into a local lawsuit involving 1st Amendment rights similarly unprepared?  

How Many MORE Idiotic Things Can I Say in the Next 101 Days?

Thursday, July 28, 2016

Yes, Tercero Will Be Removed, But the Priority is Saving Texas Southmost College

Dr. Lily Tercero
As one TSC official explained: "Tercero is over her head."

But, firing, terminating, buying out Tercero, simply has to take a back seat to saving TSC at the moment.

The nursing program is dropping faster than the payload out of a B-52 bomber.

The college has lost a substantial amount of instructors, administrators, experiencing an obvious brain drain over the last couple years.  

Remember, the basic components of a school are instructors and students, without which the campus is just brick and mortar, pavement and landscaping.

Monday night's meeting of the TSC Board at the Gorgas Board Room will essentially begin the process of resuscitating Texas Southmost College.  
The issues that may eventually disqualify Tercero; the ill-advised unilateral windstorm protection agreement, the alleged accounting gaffes, have to take a back seat to saving the school.  The current board majority of Garza, Mendez, Herrera, Hinojosa and Zavaleta have work to do.  Thanks to the departing Kiko Rendon and Ed Rivera, they are hamstrung with Tercero's extended contract and pay raise.

Saving TSC becomes even more critical with the almost total shift of the now UT-RGV to up valley. As Tony Zavaleta declared at his swearing in last month as a TSC trustee:  "Brownsville no longer has a university.  It is now time for Texas Southmost College to offer a 4 year degree."

Parks Department Employee Pablo Lopez, Former "Employee of the Month," Arrested on Charge of Theft by Public Servant, Class A Misdemeanor

Pablo Lopez
This picture was published on the Brownsville Police Department website today.

The charge has subsequently been lowered to a class "B" and $2500 PR bond, also usual for long time residents. The difference between "A" and "B" is the dollar amount involved. Likely the DA had it right on the edge so either moved to a step lower on a plea deal or reduced the charge to stay on solid ground, possibly a plea deal.

Found this in the City of Brownsville website.  I will check the commission videos to see the person receiving the Employee of the Month award from Charlie Cabler for that February 2013:  

"Last year’s(2013) respective employees of the month are as follows: January, Juan D. Garcia; February, Pablo Lopez; March, Eduardo Ledezma Jr.; April, Erika Espinoza; May, John M. Jones; June, Zenaida L. Vasquez; July, Ruth A. Hernandez; August, Mirna G. Vasquez; September, Ricardo Najera; October, Alma M. Pizana; November, Jose De La Garza; December, Jesus Posada."

At the time Pablo received his award for Employee of the Month, he'd been employed by the City of Brownsville for 23 years.  Cabler mentioned he worked for the city's maintenance division, but in the Parks Department with his principal duties maintaining aquatic equipment.

Mr. Lopez accepted the award, speaking a few words in Spanish.

On the City of Brownsville website, the video for the 2/05/13 City Commission meeting shows Mr. Lopez getting his award for Employee of the Month.  That portion of the video starts at the 14:13 mark and ends at 16:22.

Tuesday, July 26, 2016

Airport Advisory Board Meeting, 7/26/16: Finalizing Design of New $27,000,000 Airport Terminal Held Up by City Commission

Brownsville S.P.I. Airport Advisory Board
Attention to detail differentiates the Airport Advisory Board from the GBIC.  While the Greater Brownsville Incentives Corporation typically approves projects involving hundreds of thousands of taxpayer dollars thirty seconds after BEDC Executive Director Jason Hilts presents them, the Airport Advisory is more analytical, careful, involved in the minutiae of airport projects.

Chief Operations Officer Sesha Vorrey, as always, gave a slide presentation detailing the progress of a multitude of airport projects at the 7/26/16 meeting of the Airport Advisory Board.

When newly installed Airport Director Bryant Walker mentioned that the deadline was approaching to submit a final, approved design for the new $27,000,000 airport terminal, board secretary Chris Hughston interjected:  "Didn't the City Commission take the design decision away from us?  Since that time, we've not heard back from them."

Advisory Board Chair Alcocer, Airport Director Walker
Board Chairman Manuel Alcocer explained that, despite not having a design decision from the City Commission, work on the terminal has continued:

"Actually, the engineering of the terminal is set, that is, the format for the actual building.  All that's lacking is the actual look of the facade on the exterior of the building."

"My role, as I see it," began Airport Director Bryant Walker, is to get this board to agree on four possible designs, then narrow that down to two and present those two to the City Commission for a final decision."

Board member Jose Angel Hinojosa said the actual design was not that important to him as long as it didn't make him "regurgitate."  

That comment got a muffled laugh from Assistant City Attorney Allison Bastian.

One project, a $2,500,000 General Aviation Hangar, was experiencing cost overruns, risking FAA approval, according to Bryant Walker.

"We've had to scale that project back to a cargo building," Walker explained.  

When Chris Hughston reacted in disbelief, Walker explained that the building would be constructed in such a way, that it could be utilized and revamped into a hangar at a later date, if needed.

"Do you have a tenant for the hangar?" asked Walker.

"We have a tenant who will lease half the cargo facility once completed," continued Walker.

Hughston seemed satisfied with that response.

Work on one end of the runway extension has to be completed before it can be connected to the current runway, according to Walker.

FAA monies have already been allocated through 2018 according to Walker, affecting the runway project.  He said that since most of the FAA's approved projects were based on 90/10 matches, it was possible that the local airport could "leap over some FAA projects" if it could find financing enabling a 85/15, federal to local, match.

Another issue is a needed master plan for the airport.  Walker explained that the current master plan, set in place in 1997, is now obsolete after the changes in the way an airport must operate after the 9/11 tragedy.  

"Generally, a master plan has a life expectancy of twenty years," offered Walker.

Correction:  We reported incorrectly in a recent story that Ed Rivera was no longer on the Airport Advisory Board.  That is incorrect. Ed was at today's meeting and participated.

Russian President Vladimir Putin~"Vee Vant Trump!"

Wednesday, July 20, 2016

Presidential Candidate Hillary Clinton~The Unnecessary Lie

Hillary Clinton Interviewed by Charlie Rose on CBS
The lie that's always intrigued me is the unnecessary one, the untruth that serves no purpose, gains nothing and is easily exposed.  

The Charlie Rose interview with Hillary Clinton focused primarily on Clinton's handling of emails, classified and otherwise, including the testimony of FBI Director James Comey before the U.S. House of Representatives concerning his investigation into Clinton's handling of emails.

Rose asked Clinton if Director Comey had characterized her handling of emails as "sloppy." Clinton said he did not.  CBS  later showed excerpts from Comey's testimony that contradicted Clinton.  Below is an excerpt from CBS rendering of the Rose-Clinton interview:

"Let me go to what he said. He said, 'careless,'" Rose pointed out.

"Well, I would hope that you, like many others, would also look at what he said when he testified before Congress. Because when he did, he clarified much of what he had said in his press conference," Clinton said. "And I appreciated that."

"But he said it was sloppy," Rose said.

"No, he did not," Clinton said.

"Correct me if I'm wrong. ... Someone said, 'What's the definition of careless?' And he said, 'Real sloppiness,'" Rose said.

"Well, let me say this: There were three at-- probably at least 300 people on those emails, the vast majority of whom are experienced professionals in handling sensitive material. ... And I have no reason to have second-guessed their decision to send or forward me information," Clinton said. "Do I wish I hadn't done it? Of course. Was it a mistake? Yes."
"Was it wrong?" Rose asked.

"Well, it was wrong because -- look at what it has generated," Clinton said.

"But was it careless?" Rose asked.

"Well, I think you would have to say 300 people who communicated with me on email are among the most careful people I've ever had the privilege of working with," Clinton said.

"Do you think it contributed and became a controversy because it fed trust issues?" Rose asked.

"Well, I'm sure it didn't help. Yes, I am sure it didn't help," Clinton said. "But I'll tell you this, I am the last person you will ever have to worry about, ever -- not being 100 percent as specific and precise as I can be so that nobody ever raises any questions like that ever again."

The Trump Campaign: A Bit of the Truth Sandwiched in Between Political Spin

Meredith McIver
Meredith McIver, a Trump Organization writer, not directly connected to the campaign, took some of the blame for the unfortunate plagiarism in Melania Trump's Monday night speech, even tendering a resignation that was not accepted.

The New York Times published this quote:

“In working with Melania on her recent first lady speech, we discussed many people who inspired her and messages she wanted to share with the American people,” Ms. McIver wrote.
“A person she has always liked is Michelle Obama,” she added.

“Over the phone,” Ms. Trump “read me some passages from Mrs. Obama’s speech as examples. I wrote them down and later included some of the phrasing in the draft that ultimately became the final speech. I did not check Mrs. Obama’s speeches. This was my mistake and I feel terrible for the chaos I have caused Melania and the Trumps as well as to Mrs. Obama. No harm was meant.”

Morgan Graham
Hopefully, this will end the silly political spin from Trump Campaign Manager Paul Manafort, the loquacious Newt Gingrich and even our local Republican County Chairperson, Morgan Graham, trying to explain away the obvious lifting of two sentences from Michelle Obama's 2008 speech at the Democratic National Convention for inclusion in Melania Trumps' Monday night address in Cleveland.

Donald Trump Makes his Entrance Monday
Trump's people still blame the media for keeping this plagiarism story alive for two days, but, the reality is that Trumps' mishandling of the incident is the real culprit.  Why is it so difficult for Donald to admit a mistake by his staff or himself?

Speaking of spin, Donald Trump tweeted this statement today:  

"Good news is Melania's speech got more publicity than any in the history of politics especially if you believe that all press is good press!"

Melania, Donald Trump
Interestingly, Donald made his dramatic entrance today via helicopter flanked by VP Candidate Mike Pence and all the adult Trump kids were there to greet them.  Melania was a no-show. She's not shown her face since Monday night.

Tuesday, July 19, 2016

Diego Lee Rot~Downtown Brownsville Shanty

Amateur Hour: Trump Campaign Manager Manafort Blames Clinton for Speech Plagiarism

The Trump campaign missed a golden opportunity to admit an error and move on after last night's obvious plagiarism in Melania Trumps' otherwise fine speech delivery.

The damage control by Campaign Manager Paul Manafort was beyond hilarious.  He actually blamed Hillary Clinton for the reuse of two sentences from Michelle Obama's 2008 speech by staff speech writers.

"This is once again an example of when a woman threatens Hillary Clinton, how she seeks to demean her and take her down,"  Manafort was quoted as saying in the Wall Street Journal when asked about the plagiarism.

Not even Trump supporters believe Melania's claim that she largely wrote her own speech.

"I read it once over, and that's all because I wrote it with as little help as possible,'' claimed Mrs. Trump.

Perhaps the most clever bit of spin was offered by passed-over Vice Presidential hopeful Chris Christie, who offered that "93% of the speech is completely different than Michelle Obama's speech."  Chris, it was only the 7% that was plagiarized.  

None of Trumps' aides thought to use the old Flip Wilson excuse:  "The devil made me do it!"

While Melania did a nice job with the speech, her hubby lost some credibility with the way the obvious plagiarism was handled.

Sunday, July 17, 2016

The Extraordinary Skill Set Demonstrated by Barack Obama in Times of National Crisis

As an eyewitness to every U.S. president in the television era, I suspect we will not see anyone with Barack Obama's particular skill set any time soon.

I can close my eyes and still visualize President Eisenhower warn of the dangers of the "military-industrial complex."  

My  personal  impressions of the 1960 Kennedy-Nixon debate remain.  I don't need to revisit them on some CNN documentary.

Vaughn Meader on TV in 1962 as JFK
A friend, Steven, who lived just down the street from me in the Highland Park subdivision of Renton, Washington, bought the "First Family" album featuring Vaughn Meador doing his near-perfect impression of John F. Kennedy.  We listened to both sides of the album together at his house.

President Reagan:  "Tear Down That Wall" Speech
Along with many of you, I've watched Eisenhower, John F. Kennedy, Richard Nixon, Gerald Ford, Jimmy Carter, Ronald Reagan, the two Bushes, Bill Clinton and now, Barack Obama, deal with national crises, military efforts, speak at inaugurations, state of the union speeches or during addresses to the nation, all on national TV.

All of the above were educated men, articulate, choosing or reading their words before the nation carefully.  None, in my opinion, possessed the total skill set of Barack Obama.

Obama's words at the Dallas memorial for five slain police officers, spoken from the heart, were nothing short of magnificent, carefully walking the emotional tightrope between police officers murdered while defending the community and the recent proliferation of videos showing black men unnecessarily gunned down by police.

Hillary Clinton does not possess Obama's dexterity in approaching sensitive, possibly explosive issues.  

Donald Trump?  If I need to answer that, you may not be thinking independently, free from partisanship.

Sometime, during the first national tragedy of 2017, many of us will quickly realize the void left by Barack Obama as so-called Comforter-in-Chief.

Friday, July 15, 2016

Brownsville's Left Hand Does Not Know What Its Right Hand Is Doing in Terms of Regional Control

The City of Brownsville is sending mixed messages with respect to promoting the Rio Grande Valley as a region or going it alone while the surrounding cities group together and promote themselves with McAllen as their hub.

Brownsville's Mayor Martinez has chosen the route of isolationism in the most illogical of focuses, the planning for roads, highways and other transportation.  If any focus would benefit from a regional approach, it would be transportation. Perhaps, Martinez harkens back to those days of yesteryear when railroad tracks were made of varying gauges.

At last month's meeting of the Brownsville Metropolitan Organization, Martinez bristled, hardening his heart at the very mention of moving into a regional MPO that would encompass the entire valley.  Perhaps, Martinez hates the idea that he would be at the table of such a regional MPO, but not at the head of the table.  The prevailing thinking that the valley's population as a united entity would put them into "big boy" range for TxDot grants with Austin, San Antonio, Dallas and Houston is lost on Martinez for some reason. Perhaps, he is so philosophically and financially tied to certain local projects that he is not willing to risk losing them to a regional decision.  The West Rail Road?

While the mayor wants to put a moat and drawbridge around the city with respect to transportation issues, the City Commission keeps approving an annual $17,500 stipend or "dues" as Debbie Portillo expresses it, to pay its share to the Rio South Texas Economic Council, essentially a lame, seldom-updated website that promotes the RGV as "the largest border region in the country" and the "nexus of international trade." Illustrating the "diversified economy" in the region the RSTEC site shows a picture of a Radio Shack outlet, yes Radio Shack, a company that went into chapter 11 bankruptcy a year and a half ago after enduring 11 straight quarterly losses.

Even the long-running scam organization, United Brownsville, has been making noises about regional development.  The 2013 BiNed conference held at the Gran Salon salivated over an "8 $Billion dollar opportunity in binational manufacturing.  

In a resolution passed March 4, 2014, the City of Brownsville yielded development of such a "BiNed Zone" along FM 550 corridor and the Port of Brownsville to several out-of-Brownsville entities:

Consideration and ACTION on Resolution Number 2014-034, in support of the creation of a Bioned(sic) Coordinating Board to be made up by Equal Representation from United Brownsville, Imagina Matamoros, and the City of Harlingen in order to promote and plan the development of the Bi-Ned Zone. (Commissioners D. Portillo/R. Gowen)

At a recent United Brownsville meeting, the newly installed UB board president, Irv Downing, cautioned against "working in silos," that is, independently, as opposed to striving for cooperation.

It seems the City of Brownsville, represented by the mayor, is talking out of both sides of its mouth. They want regionalization in terms of industry, manufacturing and trading, but want to isolate themselves on transportation issues.

Do you smell a rat?

"Local Blogger Out on the Town" by Diego Lee Rot

Thursday, July 14, 2016

Sergio Cavazos, Coming to An Election Near You

Sergio Cavazos
Sergio Cavazos messaged us recently about his desire to return to Brownsville once he completes his undergraduate studies at the University of Texas.  After stating that he wants to "get involved in Brownsville, he added:  "Over the past couple of years, I've noticed a lot of the key issues associated with the governmental/educational priorities of our community and how they have long-term development implications on the growth of our citizens as they attempt to branch out into their professional careers."

Cavazos reminds us of the words spoken by legendary UT football coach, Darrell Royal, at the time of signing Tyler, TX high schooler Earl Campbell to play football for Texas.  Royal stated that Earl would be his starting fullback the following year, despite being a freshman and, in spite of UT having an All-American already at that position.  Royal explained:  "If a dog's gonna bite, he'll bite as a pup."

Sergio at 16, After Speech to BISD Board
Five years ago, when Sergio was a mere pup of 16, many of us were smitten with his poised, well-articulated presentation before the BISD Board of Trustees, as he addressed transition issues facing Veterans Memorial High School.

Here is the link to Cavazos' presentation before the school board in 2011:

Later, during a presentation by BISD administrators about molding Veterans into a STEM school, Cavazos questioned if administration had a transportation plan in place and funding to transport students from all over Brownsville to Veterans.  They did not.

Since that time, Cavazos has been active in UT student government, currently serving as President of the UT Senate of College Councils.

Cavazos claims that, despite the recent emphasis on dual enrollment, many of his Brownsville peers were not ready for UT.  In his own case, he found that students from other areas of Texas were well ahead of him in credit hours at enrollment.

The young man is mulling over his options, but is currently inclined to run for some local office in upcoming elections.

Wednesday, July 13, 2016

Alex Torres Continued~"Wetties vs."Wetbacks," "To(sic) Many Bloggers," Ted Cruz Flunks Spanish

Alex Torres, Nena Barton, in front of
VA Outpatient Clinic in Harlingen in 2012
We first met Alex Torres personally at the VA Outpatient Clinic in Harlingen in 2012.  He was then offering counseling to veterans having difficulty returning to civilian life. Torres himself is a Navy veteran.  

At the time, Torres, was campaigning for the Texas House of Representatives, District 38, a race he eventually lost to Eddie Lucio III, 71% to 25% with Libertarian candidate Nancy Mishou garnering 4%.

Weeks earlier, Torres had been accosted at a Brownsville Cheezmeh forum by Ron Lozano, described as an "Eddie Lucio III thug." Here are Torres' words recorded in this blog in 2012: 

"This guy got into my face about capital punishment and some other things. He invaded my personal space. I mean I don't allow people to get jaw to jaw with me. So I asked Erasmo and anyone to get this guy off of me. I first asked a reporter from Matamoros, then I saw Tad Hasse, who I recognized. He was nice enough to help me get out of that situation.

Yes, Ron Lozano. He's what I call a conspiracy theorist. He always wears a ball cap and sort of a military coat. He's done something similar at City Commission meetings in Harlingen. He kept trying to start something. Then, Robert Uresti joined us. He told the guy to get out of here or he'd call the police. Some people wanted me to file a police report, but there's no need."

We've not visited with Torres much lately, at least until yesterday's phone conversation.  Here are a couple tidbits we left off our report:

Torres stated that he mainly promotes Hispanic candidates.(Trump is obviously the exception.) We asked him his view of the two recent Hispanic Republican presidential candidates.  

Senator Ted Cruz
Torres stated that he had no interest in Marco Rubio, but was somewhat interested in Texas Senator Ted Cruz, that is, until he met him at a campaign event and learned he does not speak Spanish.

"Can you imagine an Hispanic candidate who does not speak Spanish?" Torres asked.

In the comment section of yesterday's article, Alex Torres engaged in some give-and-take with other commenters, further revealing his viewpoints, attitudes and ideas.

Torres made comments that seemed on the surface to be racist:

Alex TorresJuly 12, 2016 at 6:29 PM
"Calling me a liar...your papers are lying, can not wait for TRUMP to win to throw you over the wall, you wetty"

"Spoken like true anti Catholics....go to your holes in Mexico"
"Again I remind you... anytime any place, put your fist where mouth is ...I will take on you anonymous cowards...big words hiding behind your keyboard..come show your faces, you bunch of wetbees"

While some commenters assumed Torres references to "wetties" and "wetbees" was a variation of the racial slur "wetbacks," Alex says that is not the case.  Here is his spin on the matter:

Alex TorresJuly 13, 2016 at 2:53 PM

"I don't use wetbacks banter...wetty means wet behind the ears (I am calling you rookies)...but go ahead, this coming from a Anglo Cameron County party..I embrace my culture and I am proud of my heritage...'QUE VIVA CRISTO REY'"

The Brownsville Observer refers its readers to a modern translation of St. Matthew, Chapter 24, Verse 15: "Let the reader use discernment."

In another blog comment by Alex Torres, he seems to feel that Brownsville has too many bloggers:

"this is a blog, one of many in of to many in Brownsville. So smile and know that I tried but at the end of the day I can not be part of your conversations on this blog...Jim will be happy with your extra comments, it is blogs like his that keeps some of you informed, thank you Jim for serving the greater good. So I bid you farewell and ask for the Blessings of GOD upon all of you.

Did Alex just say that there are "to(sic) many blogs in Brownsville?"  Which blog or blogs would he recommend cease operation?  Are there too many blogs for the population or simply too many for his liking?  Is he suggesting a Cameron County Blog Review Board?

Tuesday, July 12, 2016

Alex Torres Clarifies His Role in County Republican Party Politics

Alex Torres
Longtime Cameron Country Republican operative Alex Torres has resigned his position as precinct chair.  In a phone conversation today, Torres says he's putting "God first in his life," with family a close second.  

When pressed for a reason for his resignation, Torres stated that he'd "never been treated as an employee" under the chairmanship of Frank Morris.  When asked who was now treating him as an employee, he did not respond.

Torres' phone call was prompted by negative comments about him and Frank Morris posted on this blog.  "I don't use that kind of language," he stated, "and I don't appreciate it being used in connection with me."

Frank Morris
When asked if Frank Morris had actually tried to make appointments of "area coordinators" for the Trump campaign at last Wednesday's meeting of the Brownsville Republican Club, Torres claimed that it didn't go down that way.  He states that Frank had already been appointed Area Coordinator for District 38, and that Frank, in turn, had appointed him Area Coordinator for Cameron Country.  

"Bob Prepejcal's name did come up as area coordinator for Brownsville, but it didn't happen," admitted Torres.

Torres stated that he and Frank Morris are no longer official representatives of the Donald Trump campaign, but that both men continue to promote Trump and intend to vote for him in November.

"I've been a Trump supporter since '96 when he first mentioned running for President.  I've read all his books and was for him since he announced this time," stated Torres.  

When asked about Trump's comments that Mexicans immigrants are frequently rapists, drug dealers and bad people, Torres felt those remarks were "blown out of proportion."  

"We support legal immigration.  Many of those (described by Trump) are from Central and South America and Asia,"  offered Torres.

Torres also wanted it known that "Frank has no interest in power or being county chairman" and is not "anti-Morgan."

Friday, July 8, 2016

Alarming Schism Surfaces in Local County Republican Party~Frankites vs Morganettes

Donald Trump simplified voting in the Presidential election for Hispanic voters in Cameron County with his comments to the right.  There's not any way those remarks could be spun to portray Trump as sympathetic to or understanding of the needs of those of Mexican heritage,  

Former Republican County Chair,
Frank Morris
If the presumptive nominee doesn't make the job of the local Republican Party difficult enough, infighting between those supporting the former and current county chairs simply steepens that uphill climb.

Our recent report, that former county chair Frank Morris stood up at the last Wednesday's meeting of the Brownsville Republican Club to announce his appointments of "area coordinators" for the Trump campaign, has prompted some defensive moves within the local party to stifle, stymie and squelch any Frank Morris influence in local party affairs.

Our GOP source claims that Frank's attempt to usurp or undermine the authority of duly elected county chair Morgan Graham has caught the attention of higher ups in the state party hierarchy.  They are uncomfortable with Morris' attempt to represent the party or its nominee in any way.

Cameron County Republican Chair,
Morgan Graham
Cameron County Republican Chair Morgan Graham has worked hard to connect the local party to social media, promote local candidates and share the party's message and platform.

Party officials are not agreeable with the former chair, Frank Morris, asserting that he still has a position within the local party.  The Trump campaign, we've learned, prefers that Morris work with, not against current chair, Morgan Graham, in his support of Trump. Graham, after all, is an actual Trump delegate to the national convention.

Some have suggested that a resolution be drafted to curb Morris' influence with the local party, to "grant the (county) chairman the authority to use any legal means necessary to enforce an order that an individual (Morris) cease and desist from the use of the word 'Republican' in any of their public or private dealings."

Those party aficionados are worried that Frank Morris will splinter off his close followers, sometimes called "Frankites," into a splinter group that will further weaken the efforts of the red party in an overwhelmingly blue county.(Remember that disgruntled Cynthia Hinojosa, wife of former County Judge Gilberto Hinojosa, formed a splinter group of Cameron Country Democratic women a few years ago.)

While we doubt that anything preventing Frank Morris or anyone else from describing themselves as a Republican would stand a court test, we empathize with the party's difficult struggle.

"The (Political) Death of a Salesman" by Mike Hernandez III

Car Leaser Mike Hernandez III
(Photo by Brownsville Herald"s 
Miguel Roberts)
Mike Hernandez III did not get to be car salesman extraordinaire by taking "no" for an answer.  He will be back, Brownsville, despite getting his hiney kicked every which way in the Texas Southmost College and Brownsville Navigation District elections this past spring. Hernandez of OP 10.33 is still trying to claim "victory," since he spread his money on both sides of several elections, hedging his bets.

My three year foray into sales in the mid-70's was not a total loss.  I learned I could sell, but that I didn't really enjoy selling.  My first sales manager, a spitfire named Gary, tried to tell us to either get a sale or make the customer mad.  

"If the customer is not mad and didn't buy, you didn't do your job.  We're not out there to make friends," Gary pontificated back in the day.

Gary burnt out in six months and I replaced him as sales manager.  The company owner was not totally supportive in announcing at a sales meeting that I'd replaced Gary:  "Jim is different from Gary. He believes in proving our product's superiority and sells based on need.  That's not my way of selling, but he's been successful.  I don't care if you sell like Gary or sell like Jim, just get out there and sell this shit."

Mike Hernandez III sells like Gary. He has half of Brownsville mad at him because of his clumsy interloping in local elections. He pretended to fight corruption, but quickly got into bed with Brownsville's most notoriously corrupt.  He feigned taking the higher moral road, then lied through his teeth.  

The writer of the OP 10.33 Facebook page seems to love platitudes, cliches and generalizations.  Let us add this one to his repertoire:  

Borderland Beat~Padre Island Beheaded Body, Border Agent and Mexican Cartel Facing Charges

Posted by DD republished from The Center for Investigative Reporting

DD; Borderland Beat reported on this story in November 2015 posted by Texcoco de Mora.   After months of investigation, as part of a joint year long project between the Texas Tribune and the Center for Investigative Reporting, this story focuses on law enforcement corruption and gives much more detail on the South Padre Island decapitation story.


SOUTH PADRE ISLAND, Texas – It looked like a crab trap floating in the calm waters of Laguna Madre, just off South Padre Island. At least, that’s what the man who spotted it while boating with his two daughters would tell police.

But when he poked the floating mass with a pole, he discovered otherwise. He dialed 911 and told the South Padre Island Police Department what he’d found: “a headless body floating in the bay.”

Blood still was dripping from the neck when Cameron County Sheriff’s Deputy Ulises Martinez arrived, he later would report. It looked to him like the head “had been cut off with one swift motion with a fine, sharp cutting instrument.”

The grisly discovery came at a busy time on the island. It was March 16, 2015, the frenzied start of Texas Week, when thousands of spring-breaking college students descend on Padre to guzzle from beer bongs and get rowdy. Maybe one drank too much, fell in the water and collided with the wrong end of a propeller-driven barge?

That was an early theory, but Cameron County Sheriff Omar Lucio, with more than a half-century in law enforcement, sensed something more sinister.“We’re just across the border from Matamoros,” he said. Investigators couldn’t find the man’s head, and there were other suspicious cuts on the body. Mexican drug cartel payback often comes at the end of a fine, sharp cutting instrument, Lucio observed.
“It’s just kind of the way that they handle people,” he said.

 “They take revenge that way.”

Luckily, the body still had hands. Using a portable fingerprint reader from U.S. Homeland Security

Investigations, police quickly matched the prints to Jose Francisco Palacios Paz.
Cameron County authorities allege that a criminal enterprise centered on drug trafficking was partially run out of Veteran’s Tire Shop in Edinburg, Texas. They also say it’s where Jose Francisco Palacios Paz was killed.Credit: Douglas Young for The Texas Tribune
Before he was found naked and decapitated days after his 33rd birthday, Palacios – “Franky” to his friends – worked at Veteran’s Tire Shop in Edinburg, one county over. In no time, authorities came to suspect that tire repair wasn’t the only thing going on there. It’s where they think Franky – about to rat out a drug trafficking operation with links to the powerful Mexican Gulf Cartel – met his end.

Over the ensuing weeks, the investigation led authorities on a meandering journey through the Gulf Cartel’s internal bloodletting, featuring tales of a supposed double-crossing cartel hitman, a U.S.-born narco-turned-folk legend and a major mafia capo nicknamed “Commander Pussy” now locked up in a federal prison in Beaumont. And by last summer, they had arrested four of Franky’s tire shop associates on murder and drug trafficking charges.

With fall trials expected, authorities say they have turned up the familiar markings of mafia muscle and hardball tactics that experts have come to associate with 21st-century cartel warfare – complete with a severed head supposedly secreted off to Mexico to prove a snitch was dead.
All of which would sound familiar to anyone versed in Gulf Cartel etiquette, had it not been for one late-breaking and quite unexpected development: the alleged involvement and eventual arrest of a U.S. Border Patrol agent.

Allegations of a drug trafficking ring

Border Patrol Agent Joel Luna confers with his attorney, Carlos A. Garcia, after his arraignment. Prosecutors are preparing to argue that Luna was an integral part of a cartel-connected drug trafficking ring that Jose Francisco Palacios Paz was going to expose.  Photo.Credit: Douglas Young for The Texas Tribune

 Joel Luna, a six-year Border Patrol veteran, was supposed to protect the country from drug trafficking and spillover violence. If the indictments are to be believed, he participated in it instead.

Dirty cops and dirty Border Patrol agents are nothing new. More than 130 officers employed by U.S. Customs and Border Protection have been caught in alleged acts of mission-compromising corruption – often by letting drugs, undocumented immigrants or both into the country – over the past decade. While that’s a tiny fraction of the total number of agents, report after report has suggested the known cases may be the tip of the iceberg.

Still, even hardened South Texas lawmen long accustomed to cartel violence were surprised by Luna’s indictment for murder — a cartel-inspired beheading no less. How did a decorated Iraq War veteran sworn to protect the U.S. border end up in an orange jumpsuit potentially facing life in prison?

Cameron County authorities have a simple theory: Luna and his two brothers, Fernando and Eduardo, operated a criminal enterprise centered on drug trafficking, partially run out of Veteran’s Tire Shop. Franky Palacios was killed because he knew too much, they say.

All three of the Luna men, plus two others who worked at the tire shop, each have been charged on four counts, including capital murder and drug trafficking. All five defendants have pleaded not guilty and asked for jury trials in Cameron County. All are presumed innocent until proven guilty.

“The Luna brothers were involved in a drug trafficking organization, and Franky was going to rat them out,” said Gus Garza, a Cameron County assistant district attorney and lead prosecutor on the case. “We believe that’s what led to his demise and to his beheading.”

Joel Luna’s South Texas lawyer, Carlos A. Garcia, said his client had nothing to do with Franky’s death and had no involvement in the drug trafficking business prosecutors are pinning on his brothers. Nor have prosecutors ever alleged that Joel was at the tire shop on the day of the murder, Garcia stressed.

“This is a case of guilt by association – or rather guilt because of his relationship to the people who were arrested (first),” Garcia said. “We believe this is a clear case of ‘you’ve got the wrong guy.’ ”

Lawyers for the other four defendants, including Joel Luna’s brothers, did not return repeated phone calls from The Texas Tribune.

Fernando Luna co-owns Veteran’s Tire Shop in Edinburg, Texas. DNA testing of stains on the walls of the tire shop office matched the blood of Jose Francisco Palacios Paz, whose headless body had been found floating off South Padre Island.Credit: Cameron County Sheriff’s Office

It didn’t take long for investigators to place Franky at Veteran’s Tire Shop the afternoon before he apparently was killed. The Honduran national had worked there for several years and often slept on a couch in the front office.

Investigators traced him there after finding a missing person report filed on March 14 by his on-again, off-again girlfriend, Martha Sanchez, who said she hadn’t heard from Franky since Tuesday, March 10, six days before he was found. The silence was “not like him,” she told police.

Although records and interviews indicate they fought a lot, sometimes quite violently, when sheriff’s deputies told her that they’d found Franky’s headless body floating in the bay, Sanchez threw herself on the bed and began crying, according to court records.

“Franky, Franky. Why?” she asked.

For weeks, homicide detectives, including an investigator from the Texas Rangers, attempted to answer that question.

According to court records, Sanchez’s 13-year-old son told investigators that he saw “stacks of dollars brought from Reynosa, Mexico” and had seen “marijuana inside (PlayStation) games at the tire shop.” The teenager also said Franky had told him “that he was a Gulf Cartel member and that they would chop off heads.” Another girlfriend said he had boasted of smuggling immigrants into Texas.

When investigators showed up at Veteran’s Tire Shop the day after the body was found, they identified at least three people who worked there: Aaron Rodriguez Medellin, 23, whom everyone called “El Guero;” Nestor Manuel Leal, 19; and Eduardo Luna, 25. The shop was co-owned by Fernando Luna, 35 – Eduardo Luna’s older brother.

The Luna brothers’ cellphones yielded clues and  mysteries that, over time, would help investigators flesh out the story of Franky’s murder.

Text messages in Spanish were sent the day before Franky went missing from Fernando’s phone to Eduardo’s phone, and they alerted police to a possible motive.

“This Franky is a fucking traitor,” one of them read. Another warned that “at any moment he is going to snitch on you,” court affidavits indicate. A third, possibly garbled and using improper syntax, said Franky “is going around saying and your brother sells drugs.” The identity of the brother isn’t specified.

It’s not clear whether Fernando Luna wrote the messages or merely forwarded them to his brother.

Other clues would take longer to piece together. Why did Eduardo have photos on his phone of newspaper stories describing the 2014 capture of a man who used to be a high-ranking Gulf Cartel member known as Comandante Panochitas, or “Commander Pussy?”

Investigators also were puzzled that stored on Eduardo’s phone was a picture of an unusual gun — a “highly engraved” .38-caliber Super pistol, inscribed with the word “Pajaro,” or “bird,” on the handle, sources close to the probe said.

Surveillance camera videos from the tire business weren’t much help. There were recordings from March 9, 2015, and March 11, 2015. But everything from March 10 — the day Franky went missing — was gone.

Franky’s cellphone records, obtained by investigators, proved more useful: They showed many ingoing and outgoing calls on March 10 – especially with co-worker Medellin, who called Franky numerous times that day, a source close to the investigation said. But Franky’s phone appears to have gone dead at 4:27 p.m.

Hours after Franky quit using his phone, cellular phone records – including tower pings – indicated that Eduardo Luna and Nestor Manuel Leal drove to Port Isabel, just across the causeway from South Padre Island, and called Fernando Luna multiple times during the drive.

By early May, DNA testing of stains on the walls of the tire shop office turned out to match Franky’s blood.

A little more than a month later, on June 24, 2015, Eduardo Luna, Nestor Manuel Leal and Aaron Rodriguez Medellin were arrested at the tire shop. Fernando Luna wasn’t there but was found the same day crossing the border from Mexico into the United States. An agent at the port of entry in Hidalgo County, arrest warrant in hand, recognized him in a white Chevrolet pickup.
Another man also was in the truck — Joel Luna. Until then, investigators hadn’t known there was a third Luna brother, much less what he did for a living.
Bigger dreams for Joel Luna

Joel Luna (right) and his brother Fernando attend a cousin’s quinceañera. Joel Luna mostly grew up in Reynosa, Mexico, and was about 12 when his parents sent him to live with family in Hidalgo County, Texas. Photo credit: Courtesy of Josefina Palomo

Why the two Luna brothers were traveling from Mexico into the United States that June day sits atop a pile of unanswered questions about Joel Luna and his alleged connection to the brutal death of Franky Palacios.

Even the circumstances of Joel Luna’s birth are a matter of dispute. He has a U.S. birth certificate indicating he was born in San Juan, Texas, on May 20, 1985, which would have been found during his initial vetting process with the Border Patrol. But authorities recently discovered a Mexican birth certificate for him, issued in Reynosa, Mexico, three years after his birth was reported in the United States. The discovery prompted authorities to place a detainer on Luna at the Cameron County jail, meaning if he is ever set to be released from custody, federal agents can hold him for possible deportation.

His lawyer and family members say that Joel was born in Texas and that — like many kids who grew up along the border — his parents later obtained a Mexican birth certificate to meet school admission requirements.

Joel’s mother, Concepcion Rodriguez, is a housewife. His dad was a cook. Both are from Reynosa, where Eduardo and Fernando were born. Rodriguez had bigger dreams for Joel — and for the whole family by extension, according to Rodriguez’s sister, Josefina Palomo. She wanted him to be born in Texas.

“Back then, you could get (U.S. residency) papers through little children,” Palomo said, so her sister gave birth to him in San Juan.

Joel mostly grew up in Reynosa, at least through elementary school — and after that on weekend visits. His cousin Maria Lepe called him a “very honest kid” who did his best to care for an ailing, diabetic father.

Joel was about 12 when his parents sent him to live with Palomo in Hidalgo County, where he stayed for less than two years before moving again with associates of his father, his aunt said.

Joel was drawn to ROTC, and in high school, commanders took him under their wings, giving him rides back and forth to class, Palomo recalled. It surprised no one in his family when he joined the Army after graduating from Pharr-San Juan-Alamo High School. He served in Iraq and earned a number of honors, including the coveted Expert Infantryman Badge.

Joel’s achievements were a source of pride for the extended family. He’d gone farther than his brothers in school. Honorably discharged from the Army in 2008, he entered on duty with the U.S. Border Patrol in 2009 and in a few years was working at a highway checkpoint an hour north of the border in Hebbronville. Joel never forgot about his family in Mexico, helping care for his father until he died in 2011.

In spring 2013, investigators later would learn, Joel’s brothers and their families apparently had to flee Mexico in a hurry.

They came to him for help and a place to live – and he obliged, sources close to the investigation say.

Early 2013 was a tumultuous time in the patch of northern Mexico that Joel Luna’s two brothers called home.

Drug lords were locked in a fierce internal battle for control of the major smuggling corridors in Tamaulipas, which borders Texas from Brownsville to Laredo. A major wing of the Gulf Cartel – more a loose confederation than a united front by then – was falling apart.

Gunfights erupted in broad daylight. Grenades were tossed. Battles raged for hours on end.

“The army and police largely have been bystanders. Residents cower in their homes or in stores, waiting for the next outburst,” a reporter from McClatchy newspapers wrote in a dispatch from Reynosa on March 28.

Records used to seize the Luna family’s property in Hidalgo County suggest that Eduardo Luna was anything but a bystander to the violence. In a court affidavit, he is referred to as a Gulf Cartel “comandante” – a commander – associated with an infamous U.S.-bred narco named Mario Alberto Peña.

Born in Rio Grande City, Peña – known as “El Popo” – rose up from a Texas street gang to become a Gulf Cartel commander feared on both sides of the border. He reportedly was killed in Mexico on March 19, 2013.

Since his death, El Popo has become a sort of gangster folk legend. Multiple rap videos online pay tribute to Peña, who fled to Mexico after being charged in late 2011 with the attempted murder of three people in Starr County. Two of the videos purport to tell the story of his death at the hands of a former ally who supposedly double crossed him and shot him in the back. U.S. authorities later confirmed Peña’s death.

More than two years later, Peña’s sister would claim that Eduardo Luna was the double-crosser who shot and killed her brother.

After Eduardo Luna’s mugshot flashed across TV screens in South Texas in connection to Franky Palacio’s murder, Jessica Peña told U.S. detectives that she had met him several years before in a Tamaulipas border town across from Rio Grande City. She knew him as Eduardo Perez Rodriguez, which authorities believe is another name for Eduardo Luna Rodriguez, the full name of Joel’s baby brother, sources close to the investigation say.

Jessica Peña told investigators that Eduardo “shot her brother in the back several times to steal two million dollars from the Gulf Cartel that her brother was guarding,” according to affidavits cited as evidence that cartel money was used to purchase homes in the United States. She said Eduardo “fled to the U.S. after killing her brother sometime around March 19, 2013.”

There’s no way to independently verify Jessica Peña’s claims, and she declined to be interviewed by The Texas Tribune. Eduardo Luna’s lawyer did not return phone calls and emails seeking comment.

Eduardo Luna is one of five men charged with the murder of Jose Francisco Palacios Paz. His two brothers, Fernando and Joel, also are among the five charged.Credit: Cameron County Sheriff’s Office

Jessica Peña offered up two other details that led investigators to believe Eduardo was connected to the Gulf Cartel and its internecine warfare in 2013.

First, she told authorities that a man named Juan Saenz-Tamez, a former high-ranking Gulf Cartel capo known as “Commander Pussy,” helped recover her brother’s body. Saenz-Tamez, whose lawyer did not return phone calls, now is serving a 30-year sentence in a federal prison in Beaumont after pleading guilty to laundering $100 million while moving a half-ton of cocaine and 90 tons of marijuana through the United States.

Investigators hadn’t known what to make of the news stories about Saenz-Tamez they found on Eduardo’s cellphone after Franky was killed. Jessica Peña’s information hinted that Eduardo might have been paying attention to the fallout from her brother’s murder.

A second piece of information was even more intriguing. Jessica Peña told police that Eduardo’s nickname was “El Pajaro,” or “The Bird.” Investigators had seen that name before, in pictures on Eduardo’s cellphone, inscribed on an unusual gun.

About the time that Mario Peña was gunned down across the river from his hometown in Texas, multiple accounts indicate that the Luna family was forced to get out of Mexico quickly.

According to Josefina Palomo, the Luna brothers’ aunt, some manner of urgent threat was made against the family in Reynosa, across the border from McAllen, Texas, during a baby shower the Luna family was holding for the upcoming birth of Fernando Luna’s third child.

Palomo said she still doesn’t know exactly what happened, but the family fled, and her sister — the Luna brothers’ mother — has not returned to Mexico since.

“My sister said they had to had to run out of there,” she said. “It was, ‘Get out! Get out!’ And they left the tables and gifts and everything.”

“She can’t go back there,” Palomo told the Tribune. “She’s scared.”
Following the money in Texas

This handgun, stamped with the Spanish word “pajaro,” or “bird,” was found in a safe that Cameron County authorities say belonged to Border Patrol Agent Joel Luna. Authorities believe the gun may be the one used to kill Jose Francisco Palacios Paz.Credit: Dina Arevalo/Port Isabel-South Padre Press

Joel Luna apparently was so worried about the incident that he alerted his Border Patrol supervisors in Texas. Multiple sources with direct knowledge of the investigation say that in March 2013, Joel told the agency that he’d been warned his family in Mexico was in danger unless he helped move drugs for the Gulf Cartel. Murder investigators would report two years later that “information discovered inside Joel Luna’s personnel file where he worked” are now part of the government’s case against him.

The Tribune requested Luna’s urgent memo from U.S. Customs and Border Protection under a Freedom of Information Act request, but the agency blocked its release, citing law enforcement and privacy reasons. The agency also declined to answer any questions about the memo and what actions it might have taken in response, if any.

Once the family fled to Texas, the extended Luna family settled near McAllen. Fernando and Eduardo Luna lived with Joel at first, sources close to the investigation say, and court records indicate they later moved into separate houses near his home.

What his bosses did or did not know about Joel Luna’s family situation in 2013 isn’t clear. After he was found in that white Chevy pickup with his brother Fernando — by then a murder suspect — investigators assembled a Luna family tree and began looking into their backgrounds and activities.

A major break in the case came when they learned of a financial transaction under the name of Roxana Ruvalcaba, the half sister of Joel’s wife, Dulce. Ruvalcaba had deposited $42,000 in cash at a South Texas bank in May 2013 – a transaction made at the request, she told investigators, of Joel Luna. The money was used, she said, to buy a house in San Juan.

That house on Sendero Street in San Juan, bought in June 2013, later would be seized by Cameron County on the grounds that it was “purchased with money which are proceeds of a drug trafficking organization comprised of the three Luna brothers, Fernando, Joel, and Eduardo.” Court records indicate Eduardo Luna’s wife lived in the home.

Authorities would make the same argument to seize another Luna family home a few miles away. Records show it was bought in May 2013 by Concepcion Rodriguez, the Luna brothers’ mother. Fernando Luna’s wife lived there; she has since been deported to Mexico, court records show.

Ruvalcaba opened up another, more productive vein for investigators when she told authorities about a big black safe Joel Luna recently had moved into the house of her mother — Joel’s mother-in-law — in San Juan.

Ruvalcaba’s husband, Carlos, worked at Sam’s Club and had seen Joel and Eduardo Luna buy the safe there. Roxana Ruvalcaba told police that she believed Joel “had a large amount of bulk United States currency” inside the safe.

This AR-15 rifle, stamped with the U.S. Border Patrol logo, was recovered from Joel Luna’s house.Credit: Cameron County Sheriff’s Office

On Nov. 4, 2015, investigators arrived at the home of Joel Luna’s mother-in-law, Maricela Villanueva, with a search warrant. Inside they found “a large black steel ‘SENTRY’ SAFE,” court records show. Villanueva told investigators that it belonged to Joel Luna.

Luna was there and denied knowledge of the safe. In a statement recorded on police dash cam video, he told detectives “that the safe did not belong to him and that he had never seen it before in his life.” Investigators called his denial deceptive because three other people pegged him as the owner of the safe, records say.

Inside, authorities found a trove of documents and contraband, including Joel Luna’s commemorative Border Patrol badge, his work station password, documents related to his credit union account and medical excuse paperwork.

They also discovered $89,000 in cash, more than a kilogram of cocaine, 17 grams of meth, a scale, measuring spoons and “a ledger documenting the sales of narcotics and firearms and ammunition,” his arrest warrant says. To date, authorities have not charged any of the defendants with arms trafficking.

One of two guns found in the safe drew immediate attention. It was a 1911-style .38-caliber Super pistol – a model frequently associated with cartel assassins – gold plated, highly engraved and stamped with “Cartel del Golfo” on one side and the likeness of St. Judas on the other.

The word “Pajaro” was embossed on the handle. It was the pistol pictured on Eduardo’s phone, bearing Eduardo’s supposed nickname. Authorities believe it may be the gun used to kill Franky.

Case raises questions about Border Patrol

Attorney Carlos A. Garcia speaks to the media after an arraignment hearing for his client, Joel Luna, who has pleaded not guilty to murder and drug trafficking charges. “We believe this is a clear case of ‘you’ve got the wrong guy,’ ” Garcia said.Credit: Douglas Young for The Texas Tribune
A trial eventually will examine whether Joel Luna was involved in his brothers’ supposed drug trafficking and the death of Franky Palacios. The U.S. Border Patrol issued a statement after his arrest saying Luna would be placed on administrative leave. His lawyer said he is not being paid.

But when a Border Patrol agent winds up in jail awaiting trial on murder charges, it raises a few questions. Why didn’t federal authorities find his conflicting birth certificates? The nation’s largest federal law enforcement agency long has been dogged with questions about loose vetting procedures during and after hiring.

How did the agency allow one of its own to stay on the job months after his two brothers were arrested for murder and more than two years after he alerted them to a Gulf Cartel threat against his family? Why didn’t the $42,000 bank deposit by his wife’s half sister — now said to be drug money — set off any alarms?

The Border Patrol referred all questions about Luna’s case to the the U.S. attorney’s office in Houston, where spokeswoman Angela Dodge declined to comment.

Generally speaking, the Border Patrol doesn’t include checks of any foreign databases, including criminal records or birth certificates, said agency spokesman Carlos Diaz. During the hiring process and every five years, the agency looks at financial information, such as “unexplained affluence,” but he didn’t say how deep into family members the checks go.

Imposing at 6 feet, 4 inches and prone to passionate outbursts about evidence gaps and government overreach, attorney Carlos A. Garcia says Cameron County’s case against his client rests on circumstantial evidence at best, along with the unfair inference that Joel Luna must have been up to no good if his brothers were.

Garcia acknowledges there are cellphone calls between Joel and his brothers around the time Franky allegedly was killed at the tire shop. But phone calls to family members are “no evidence of guilt,” he said.

And in Joel Luna’s arrest warrant, authorities say co-defendant Nestor Manuel Leal told police during interrogations that he, Franky, Aaron Rodriguez Medellin and Joel’s two brothers were “involved with narcotics trafficking activities by … the Gulf Cartel” – but those records don’t mention the middle Luna brother.

“I represent Mr. Luna, Joel Luna,” Garcia said. “What his brothers may have been involved in or did or didn’t do have nothing to do with his behavior or what he is accused of in this case.”

The safe and its contents are harder to explain, Garcia conceded. But he notes that the safe itself “wasn’t found in my client’s possession” and that the government has the burden to prove it was Joel’s.

But what about the Border Patrol badge? The evidence that Joel Luna bought the safe with brother Eduardo in tow? The personal documents sitting alongside a big bag of cocaine and piles of cash? And then there’s the “Pajaro” gun – possibly the murder weapon. What was that doing in there?

“I agree that when it’s presented that way, it gives one pause to think about, ‘those two things don’t go together,’ ” Garcia said. “This cartel pistol with the bad guy’s name on it should not be with the badge of a border patrolman, you’re right. … Those things don’t belong together. But those things being together don’t make someone part of a killing. They don’t make them part of a criminal organization. That in and of itself is not evidence of any criminal act.”

Gus Garza, the lead prosecutor, declined to go into the evidence blow-by-blow but expressed confidence in the indictments. Prosecutors are preparing to argue that Joel Luna was an integral part of a criminal enterprise, a cartel-connected drug trafficking ring that Franky Palacios was going to expose – and the enterprise struck first.

As far as Garza is concerned, the alleged criminal act of one Border Patrol agent doesn’t tar the entire agency. But the fact that investigators are connecting a federal official sworn to secure the border to a Mexican cartel hit job – executed on U.S. soil – worries him a great deal.

“Of all the cases I’ve prosecuted, murder case, etc., this represents a step higher,” Garza said. “I’ve seen and I continue to see a move, an effort, to bring the culture of violence from across the river to South Texas. … The message is, ‘Don’t squeal. Don’t finger anyone. Don’t identify anyone, or you are going to get beheaded.’ “



Self-Portrait by Josie del Castillo