Pleas Entered In Panama Unit Case
McALLEN, Texas – Four members of the now defunct Panama Unit have been convicted, United States Attorney Kenneth Magidson announced today. Jonathan Trevino, 29, Claudio Mata, 35, and Eric Alcantar, 29, all of McAllen, and Salvador Arguello, 34, of Edinburg, entered guilty pleas just a short time ago before United States District Judge Randy Crane. Also pleading guilty today was a fifth individual, Gerardo Mendoza-Duran, 30, of Pharr, who was a member of the Hidalgo County Sheriff’s Office (HCSO) but not part of the Panama Unit itself.
Trevino, Arguello, Mata and Alcantar entered guilty pleas to one count of conspiring to possess with the intent to distribute more than five kilograms of cocaine, while Mendoza-Duran pleaded guilty to attempting to aid and abet the possession with the intent to distribute more than five kilograms of cocaine.
From 2010 to December of 2012, Trevino, Arguello, Mata and Alcantar utilized their positions as law enforcement officers to steal narcotics and currency. All four were members of the Panama Unit which was a drug task force operated by the HCSO and comprised of HCSO deputies and officers with the Mission Police Department. The investigation revealed the defendants, upon learning the location of drugs and currency, would use their positions to gain entry into residences and vehicles in order to steal the contraband. Subsequently, the narcotics would be sold to other traffickers for a profit.
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 today 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, 2013.
The investigation leading to the charges was conducted by the Drug Enforcement Administration, FBI and Homeland Security Investigations. Assistant United States Attorneys James Sturgis and Anibal Alaniz are prosecuting the case.