Sunday, February 18, 2007

NORTHERN MEXICO: WHERE THE HONEST POLITICIANS LIVE

Quick quiz:

Which one do you think is the tough South Texas sheriff and which is the Hollywood mover and shaker?


WRONG!

The guy on the left is some sort of Tinsel Town mogul. And the guy on the right is the Willacy County Sheriff who doesn't have office privileges and is camping out on the courthouse lawn and threatening to make crime legal in the greater Raymondville area if they don't give him back his phone.

This is true. I swear. The actor-director-producer guy is planning a made-for-teevee-movie (NOT a joke) about this. And it's far from reaching it's real-time zenith.

(editors note: Before Billy Clyde live-blogs the following story, he would like you to know that he is NOT picking on Hidalgo and Willacy counties -- two of his favorites. He also picks on Cameron, like the deal about the escapees from the jail a few months ago when the sheriff and his deputies (several of them also fled to Mexico) let murder suspects "escape" and go to the PRM, my favorite county.

BC would also link you to the story from the McAllen Monitor about the District Clerk who has been on the lam for a good while and was extradited back to the USA yesterday to face charges on his corruption and sexual assault charges -- except the Monitor site doesn't seem to be hospitable to cut-and-paste links. But the following VMN story is good enough, for now.)

http://www.valleymorningstar.com/onset?id=240&template=article.html

RAYMONDVILLE - District Attorney Juan Angel Guerra said Friday that he will request law enforcement agencies re-file as many as 500 criminal cases or he will dismiss them. (One or the other. I like the flip-a-coin method of ruining people's lives.)

As Guerra camped for the fifth day in front of the Willacy County Jail, a Hollywood actor who wants to produce a film based on Guerra's life began the second day of a hunger strike in protest of Guerra's Sunday arrest. (No comment necessary. Just dream.)

Meanwhile, in court, a state district judge accepted Guerra's request to dismiss his motion to remove state District Judge Migdalia Lopez from hearing several cases. (So he grants the motion to dismiss and recuse. If I read that correctly. That should make the underlying case moot. But I'm probably being a simpleton.)

In a motor home parked in front of the Willacy County Jail, Guerra stunned local law enforcement agencies when he requested that they re-file 400 to 500 pending criminal cases in his office. (What? Are these Spring Break minor-in-possession cases or something? This is a very small county that is divided into three equal parts: those who work for the school district, those who work for the county, and those who work for the roughly 27,000 municipalities and WCIDs in this county of maybe 15,000.)

Guerra claimed special prosecutor Gus Garza, the former district attorney who headed the investigation that led to Guerra's arrest, "contaminated" case files because he serves as a defense attorney who handles many of the cases. (He said; she said.)

"These cases have been tainted and I can't move forward," Guerra said. "We want to open new files so I can have confidence that those new files were not tainted." (I look forward to prosecuting a new batch of my political enemies.)

Guerra said he will determine the length of time law enforcement agencies will get to re-file their cases. "If, for instance, I give them four months to re-file, and they haven't, I have no choice but to dismiss," Guerra said. (Dude, if your hands are tied, your hands are tied.)

Sheriff Larry Spence said he would re-file his cases, but the work would strain his small staff.
"I haven't heard of anything like this before," Spence said. "I don't think it's realistic to ask to do that, but I'm not saying it can't be done. If that's the way it's going to be, that's the way it's going to be." (Sure. Play the naivete card. Who, in this day and age, hasn't had a local District Attorney thrown out of office by an acting special prosecutor who has his own cases thrown out by a District Judge who is then removed from office and cannot accept cases because of his own ethical problems but can reinstate the sheriff if only the defense bar would permit it. All this while the sheriff and and a movie star threaten to make a Lifetime Movie and camp out on the courthouse lawn. I mean, come on. That shit happens everyday.)

Raymondville Police Chief Uvaldo Zamora could not be reached for comment. (Thank God! There are so many characters here already I feel like I'm in a freakin Robert Altman ensemble movie.)

John Blaylock, a defense attorney who ran against Guerra in an election, said the request could further backlog cases, forcing taxpayers to foot the bill for longer jail stays. (Totally objective source plays the tax/crime card . How about this: If these people have to be held in jail because they are gonna abscond to Mexico, isn't just turning them free a win-win deal? ... Also, isn't having a 10th of your population in County Jail a little high?)

It could also force the court to dismiss some criminal cases, he said. (Let that force be with you.)

"It could be a terrible delay," Blaylock said. "Whatever amount of time it takes to re-file, it's that much more time that my client stays in jail. It could be really good for them, because if the cases aren't re-filed quick enough for lack of manpower or other reasons, my client gets off scot-free."
(No. Yes. No. Yes. Uh, yeah, I could set some guys free. So maybe I'm a "yes.")

In court, state District Judge J. Manuel Bañales accepted Guerra's request to dismiss his motion to remove Lopez from hearing several cases. (This is a WAY more complicated sentence than it seems.)

Guerra said he requested Bañales dismiss the motion because he planned to call Lopez as a witness in a Feb. 23 hearing in which Raymondville Municipal Judge Hector "Tiger" Lopez will determine whether authorities have enough evidence to arrest Guerra. (Typical politician. Punt it to Tiger, the part-time muni judge. Who will turn it over to the solid waste handlers ...)

"I didn't want to make that an issue," Guerra said of his request to remove Lopez. (I take you at your word, but I think you are lying. Mainly because you were the styled plaintiff in the action about which "I didn't want to make that an issue." )

Early this month, Guerra said he filed a request to remove Lopez because her alleged call for his investigation allegedly proved bias against him. (Cannot comment. Completely incomprehensible. But man, I want to see these pleadings. Hello, CourtTV.)

Late Thursday, actor Daniel Zacapa arrived at the motor home to begin a hunger strike to protest Guerra's arrest, Zacapa said. (Motor homes = Winter Texans = People Who Don't Like Cold Weather.)

"I will remain here until he returns to his office as a free man," said Zacapa, who's stared in film and television and won a best supporting actor trophy at the American Latino Media Arts awards in 1998. (Unless it's more than a week. Cuz SPI is 30 miles away and it's nice.)

Zacapa said he's producing a film based on Guerra's life. "This is an individual whose parents were migrant farm workers and he became a teacher, a businessman, an attorney and a district attorney," Zacapa said. "It's an American story." (Were I have written that last sentence, I would have inserted an adjective before "American." Like "great" or " classic.")

In front of the Willacy County Jail, Guerra continued to dare Spence to arrest him on a trespassing charge. (Don't Double-Dog Dare him. That would make you an inmate. Not as good as being the local DA. Just wondering: Why would allow him to arrest you? Why don't you just file false articles of information and throw HIS ass in the slammer?)

"I'm going to stay here until they drop the charges or they arrest me," Guerra said.
Sunday, Raymondville police arrested Guerra after he allegedly stopped them from entering his office to execute a search warrant. (Third option: go home or start working on the movie.)

Guerra faces three felony theft charges and a misdemeanor charge that stems from reportedly stopping police from entering his office. (These are NOT serious infractions in the grand scheme of Willacy County politics. This is the county that lost most of its budget in 2005 after its Treasurer acknowledged that he was "not great at math." That's a true quote.)

Monday afternoon, Guerra posted $22,000 bail after he spent the night in jail.
As Garza pursues his ongoing investigation, the threat of a second arrest has left him unable to sleep, Guerra said. (Where are the free samples of Ambien when you need them?)

So he came to the jail "where I can truly sleep," Guerra said. "To relax, I'm here." (Looks like the Ambien rep made his rounds.)




MAJOR BONUS NEWS: This story is actually the most interesting of the Sunday Rio Grande Valley articles. But I simply lack the time to live-blog it. Or learn about the Afi religion. And other reasons. Like going to dinner.

Alex Jones/The Monitor
Omar Guerrero, former Hidalgo County District Clerk and fugitive from justice since early December, ducks past media cameras as he is booked into Mission's city jail early Sunday morning.



More Break

red block Hospital group: FBI investigating suspected fraud
red block Mission homeowner slain after home invasion
red block Man pleads guilty, says he murdered teacher out of anger
red block Former Border Patrol agent accused of sexually assaulting minors
red block County limits a third of its bail bond companies


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Omar Guerrero extradited to United States
February 18,2007

Monitor Staff Writers

MISSION — Former Hidalgo County District Clerk Omar Guerrero has been arrested in Mexico and brought back to the United States, Mission police officials announced Saturday night.

Guerrero has been missing since Dec. 6, when authorities issued a warrant for his arrest on charges of sexually assaulting a minor.

Mission police were vague on the details of Guerrero’s arrest in the Mexican border state of Tamaulipas. Mission police chief Leo Longoria confirmed that he had been apprehended in or near Reynosa early Saturday evening and said more details would be available at a Monday afternoon news conference.

The FBI brought Guerrero across the Hidalgo-Reynosa International Bridge about 11:45 p.m. Saturday, Mission police officials said. Guerrero was cooperative with authorities, according to Longoria.

Guerrero was brought to Mission police headquarters for booking about 12:10 a.m. today. He will likely be arraigned Monday afternoon, Mission police spokesman Sgt. Martin Garza said.

Since early December, Mission police and FBI agents have been working many tips about Guerrero’s whereabouts and forwarding them to Mexican authorities. But the events directly leading to Guerrero’s arrest seem to have unfolded only in the last day or two. Longoria said he learned about the capture early Saturday night.

“This was coming,” Longoria said. “We have received information previously that he was in our area of reach, and we’ve been patient.”

In the week following Guerrero’s disappearance, his lawyer, defense attorney Al Alvarez, made several successive promises that Guerrero would turn himself in. But the then-district clerk repeatedly failed to show.

Alvarez, who represents Guerrero in several pending legal cases, did not return a message seeking comment Saturday night.

If convicted of aggravated sexual assault, a first-degree felony, Guerrero faces up to 99 years in prison. Longoria said his department was still mulling whether to charge Guerrero in connection with his flight from the United States.

A HISTORY OF TROUBLE

The sexual assault charges weren’t the first legal problem for the 30-year-old Guerrero, although they seemed to be the last straw that prompted him to flee. His public troubles began in November 2005, when he was arrested on charges of marijuana possession and driving while intoxicated.

Guerrero arrived at a police crime scene to help a friend, who was also charged with possession of marijuana. Although police said Guerrero had showed up red-eyed and slurred his words, the then-district clerk refused a blood test, saying it was against the tenets of Ifa, the ancient African religion he claimed to follow.

In March 2006, Guerrero lost his re-election bid by a landslide to Laura Hinojosa, who took office Jan. 1. Also in March, First National Bank sued him for defaulting on a $17,000 loan. Guerrero later claimed the suit was politically motivated.

He was subsequently arraigned in late September on charges of assaulting his then-wife, Karina. The couple has since divorced, and Karina has legally reverted to her maiden name, Rodriguez. She was awarded sole custody of their young daughter.

Even after Guerrero fled, his financial and legal problems continued to mount. While searching for him at his home in an upscale North McAllen neighborhood, police found what they called “a sizeable amount” of marijuana and cocaine. Lone Star National Bank repossessed the home shortly thereafter.

In late December, Justice of the Peace Mary Alice Palacios, who had clashed with Guerrero during his September arraignment on the assault charges, told media outlets she had requested police protection at her home after hearing from the Hidalgo County Sheriff’s Office that Guerrero had made threats against her. Palacios had refused a request from Guerrero’s lawyer to bar media from the courtroom during the arraignment.

Sheriff Lupe Treviño said at the time he had no credible information about Guerrero having made threats against Palacios.

COMMUNITY REACTION

Guerrero’s troubles have made for plenty of local water cooler gossip.

But news of his impending return Saturday night had his successor, Laura Hinojosa, hoping that public attention will shift to the goals she hopes to accomplish as district clerk.

“I hope for all concerned it’s true so we can just get some closure and move forward,” Hinojosa said late Saturday, before authorities brought Guerrero back to the United States.

La Joya Mayor Billy Leo, one of Guerrero’s early political supporters and himself a former district clerk, is asking what happened to the man who was once a rising political star.

“I didn’t understand why he never gave himself up,” Leo said. “Maybe now he’s having second thoughts.”

Leo, a political powerbroker who is friends with Guerrero’s father, said the younger Guerrero developed a reputation as a hard-working campaigner.

“It’s obvious he isn’t the same guy who was elected,” Leo said. “He was a smart guy. The biggest question is: Where did he go wrong?”

Monitor staff writer Sara Perkins contributed to this report.

Kaitlin Bell covers Mission, western Hidalgo County and general assignments for The Monitor. You can reach her at (956) 683-4446. For this and other local stories visit www.themonitor.com.

Michael Barnett covers law enforcement and general assignments for The Monitor. He can be reached at (956) 683-4447. For this and more local stories, visit www.themonitor.com.

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