HIDALGO COUNTY, TEXAS — In Part One of our exclusive Border Conspiracy series, we went inside the Hidalgo County Sheriff’s Department. We watched as a crime analyst admitted on hidden camera to changing the crime codes in the Uniform Crime Reporting system. Downgrading the nature of the crimes that the sheriff’s office reports to the federal government makes the Texas county appear safer than it really is. The statistics also help the Obama administration argue that the border is now safer than it was just a few years ago, despite the drug war raging across the Rio Grande in Mexico. What we have learned so far is just the tip of the iceberg.
According to a current Hidalgo County sheriff’s deputy, downgrading the county’s crime stats is part of a systematic effort to create a false impression that the community is safe. In this exclusive video, we have protected the identity of this brave whistle-blowing deputy by blurring the image and distorting voices. The deputy says the effort to manipulate the county’s crime statistics starts at the top, with Sheriff Lupe Treviño.
Deputy: They cook the stats, from minor crimes, to big crimes.
Interviewer: What do you mean, cook stats? They change the description of crime?
Deputy: They find a way to justify it, to downgrade it.
Interviewer: So in your experience, the sheriff’s office looks for ways to downgrade the crimes, to change the statistics so that there’s credibility, supposed credibility, in proclaiming that particular crimes are down. Kidnappings, car thefts…
Interviewer:…aggravated assault, aggravated robberies, serious crimes.
Interviewer: They’re downgraded to less serious crimes so that, our borders look safer?
Sheriff Treviño gets political mileage out of claiming that he brings federal grant money to the county and that the federal grants plus his own efforts have made Hidalgo County safe despite the violence raging just across the border in Mexico. But according to this deputy, Sheriff Treviño himself behaves as if Hidalgo County is not the safe community that he claims it is.
Deputy: He doesn’t go around by himself. He has bodyguards. He’s had bodyguards guarding his house while he sleeps at night. That…that’s a fact. When he goes, when he travels somewhere out to places, he has bodyguards with him. Why he has bodyguards, if you’re saying this is the safest county?
Treviño might say that he needs such protection because he has been so effective at fighting crime that he has become a target. He could even point to the almost-routine assassination of police and government officials south of the border. But the deputy says it’s because on Sheriff Treviño’s watch, Mexico’s drug cartels have moved in and now have real power in Hidalgo County.
Deputy: I mean, he’s (Treviño) a politician, so he’s looking for anybody to pay his campaign. It’s easy for any cartel member who holds millions of dollars, who has an unlimited budget, to come and buy their way into the sheriff’s office.
Interviewer: Is it your opinion, violent Mexican drug cartels and factions, are they able to produce resources and payoffs to county law enforcement to stay off the radar? Would it be your guess or your observation…that Mexican cartels have an influence in Hidalgo County politics and/or law enforcement?
Deputy: Well, it do, yeah it sure seems that way sometimes because they do have the money, they have the funding.
Deputy: So…for example, Emmanuel Sanchez, a deputy in the sheriff’s office. He belonged to a cartel on this side of the river that was connected to a cartel on the other side. And Emmanuel Sanchez provided a lot of money to Lupe’s campaign. Now, there’s probably no paperwork because he probably, you know, provided it in cash but he was caught with a million dollars coming back from Florida, and he was caught by Georgia.
Cooked statistics, a sheriff who uses bodyguards, and deputies pressured not to fight or report crimes…what’s really going on in Hidalgo County, and why?
The federal crime grants, while a small part of the overall federal budget, play a large role in linking the federal government’s priorities to the actions that local law enforcement agencies take. Better crime stats often lead to more and larger federal crime grants, as Treviño himself noted in February 2012 when Secretary Napolitano visited his county. The Obama administration has been particularly interested in making the U.S.-Mexico border appear to be safer than ever. Both President Barack Obama and Homeland Security Secretary Janet Napolitano have used the statistics coming from counties like Hidalgo to assert that the border is safe and getting safer.
The federal grants are supposed to encourage local law enforcement to aggressively fight crime. But in the case of Hidalgo County, Texas, according to one deputy, something else is happening. Real drug cartel violence goes unreported and real spillover crimes go unsolved, according to the whistle-blowing deputy.
And despite what President Obama says, we really don’t know if the border is secure or not. Not when Hidalgo County pressures its deputies not to find or fight crime.
Deputy: Spillover violence has been here since the beginning, and it’s just getting worse. It’s getting out of hand. They’re not putting their foot down on it. And it’s just, it’s getting out of hand.
So preventative action doesn’t normally occur from the deputies because their supervisors really look down towards that. The reason why is they’re always getting, I guess, bitched at. They’re always getting after. If a deputy causes trouble or goes looking for trouble and finds it and making an arrest or something and then the supervisor gets involved. Well he has to report it to his captain, he has to report it to his lieutenant that night, he needs to report it up the chain of command, you need to write a memo of what happened that night. And then it’s gonna come back down to the supervisor the following day (mimics supervisor griping at subordinate). So the supervisors usually, they kind of look down to, they don’t like the pursuits, they don’t.…Anything that’s gonna, like, bring the attention of the administration to the sergeant on patrol, they’ll cut it off quick.
Interviewer: So any prevention activities, as a law enforcer, anything that you do preventative to fight crime before it occurs, that would become a reflection or a statistic that the sheriff would not want to reflect, is discouraged by immediate supervisors.
Deputy: Exactly. Yes.
Interviewer: Because the immediate supervisors then don’t want the attention from the sheriff so that it looks like there’s less crime. Is that correct?
Hidalgo County is just one of the 23 counties on the U.S.-Mexico border, and according to its crime analyst and a whistle-blowing deputy its crime statistics have been faked to keep the federal grants coming. The cooked statistics also help keep up the administration’s story that the drug war raging in Mexico has not spilled over into the United States.
In Part Three of our exclusive report, we’ll look at an unsolved crime that crossed the border — and how the Hidalgo County Sheriff’s office treated it.
Watch the PJTV report here.