Government paid informant $360K over 10 years Ex-Mission cop drug trial heads into day 5

McALLEN — The federal government paid informant Reynol Chapa-Garcia more than $360,000 during a 10-year span — but he testified Monday it wasn’t enough to stop him from engaging in other drug trafficking activity.

During the fourth day of testimony in the trial of former Mission police officer and DEA task force officer Hector “Jojo” Mendez, Chapa testified that despite his arrangement to be an informant for the government, which prohibited him from being involved in any illegal activity not approved by the DEA, he continued to engage in drug trafficking activity, some of which involved helping Mendez and large amounts of cash and drugs.

Chapa, who began working along with the government some time in 2004 until about 2014 when he was arrested in connection with a drug conspiracy to rip off another drug trafficker, testified the government paid him more than $360,000 beginning in 2004.

The 37-year-old convicted drug trafficker said not only was he being paid almost monthly from the DEA but that he also worked with Mendez, storing marijuana and cash at his home in exchange for cash payments.

Mendez’s attorney, Carlos A. Garcia, during cross-examination of Chapa, pushed the Mission resident about how his story has changed multiple times since his arrest in mid-2015.

Chapa admitted that he had given different versions to government officials in order to cover up the dealings he had with Mendez.

In one instance, in relation to the seizure of 15 kilos of cocaine from a Ford Taurus on July 28, 2012, in Mission, he told the feds that Salvador Gonzalez, a known drug trafficker he and Mendez allegedly worked together to rip off, was the one responsible for purchasing the beat up Taurus where Mission police found the cocaine.

But according to his own testimony last Friday, Chapa testified that he and Mendez planned to steal the 15 kilos of cocaine Gonzalez had intended to be moved to Charlotte, North Carolina, cut it, and then stage a seizure and provide documentation of said seizure so that Gonzalez and the drug organization back in Mexico would not suspect the theft.

Asked if he had any proof, other than his sworn testimony, that Mendez picked up the cocaine from his home and then cut it in an attempt to resell it for a profit, Chapa answered that he did not.

Chapa testified that he turned over to Mendez the surveillance footage from outside his home the morning Mendez picked up the cocaine that was later cut and seized during a bust just three days later.

He also said footage from the day after the seizure at his home when members affiliated with a Mexican cartel visited him along with Gonzalez, demanded payment or the cocaine, was also turned over to Mendez.

He ultimately agreed to testify as the government’s witness in exchange for a possible reduction in his punishment, but only if he told the truth in connection with the events in 2012.

Garcia continued to pick apart Chapa, the government’s star witness and the only one to testify to Mendez’s involvement in the drug theft and subsequent staged bust.

The attorney also focused on another witness who testified Monday, Ramon Arredondo, a close friend of Chapa.

Arredondo, who was also convicted of drug trafficking, testified to two different occasions where he witnessed Chapa hand over bundles of cash to Mendez outside of his home in 2014.

The Edinburg native, who named Chapa his son’s godfather and would frequent his home in Mission almost daily, said Mendez stopped by in a black Chevrolet Tahoe and collected cash from Chapa.

He said he agreed to testify not because he wanted to aide his friend Chapa, but in an effort to possibly have his probation reduced on an unrelated theft charge from 2014.

Rounding out the day’s testimony was Richard Champion, who worked at the DEA office in McAllen as the group supervisor between December 2007 and June 2014.

Champion testified he was in charge of the High Intensity Drug Task Area task force during the time Mendez worked as a DEA task force officer, and testified about his duties as the group’s supervisor before the court recessed for the afternoon.

Champion is expected to remain on the stand as the trial heads into day five of testimony.

If convicted of the federal drug charges, Mendez faces up to life in prison.

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Florida Supreme Court will reprimand Hillsborough judge

Hillsborough Circuit Judge Gregory  Holder sought a more lenient sentence for a veteran.

Hillsborough Circuit Judge Gregory Holder sought a more lenient sentence for a veteran.

TAMPA — The Florida Supreme Court will publicly reprimand a Hillsborough judge for his attempts to secure a more lenient sentence for a former U.S. Army Green Beret charged with multiple felonies, the court announced Thursday.

The circuit judge, Gregory Holder, was accused of overstepping his bounds by Hillsborough’s chief assistant state attorney, who said the judge asked him to reduce the defendant’s remaining community control to probation without conducting a hearing in open court.

The Judicial Qualifications Commission, which oversees judges across Florida, found that Holder had violated five canons of the code of judicial conduct. And in a deal reached with the commission, Holder acknowledged that he “went too far” in his efforts to lighten the man’s punishment.

In addition to being publicly reprimanded by the Florida Supreme Court on Aug. 31, Holder will have to complete six hours of training “on topics related to ethics.”

Holder, who was first elected to the bench in 1994, is a veteran and presides over Hillsborough County’s Veterans Treatment Court. It was there he met Clay S. Allred, then a 29-year-old who was arrested and expelled from the University of South Florida in 2014 for confronting a Muslim gas station clerk and firing his gun into the air several times as he drove away. “I hate you people,” Allred told the clerk.

Prosecutors charged him with two felonies: discharging a firearm from a vehicle and aggravated assault with a deadly weapon. Allred ultimately reached a deal with the state: he would plead “no contest” to the charges, averting a trial, in exchange for a sentence of two years of house arrest, followed by three years of probation.

Although the case was closed, Holder continued to lobby for Allred. In November, he wrote a letter to USF’s president asking that Allred to be readmitted to the university as an online student. He pleaded before the school’s board of trustees, enlisted the support of Veterans Affairs Secretary Robert McDonald in Washington, D.C., and sought help from U.S. Sen. Bill Nelson, D-Fla.

The commission found that when Holder failed to persuade USF officials, he tried to renegotiate the defendant’s deal with Hillsborough prosecutors. But this tactic didn’t succeed, either.

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Rookie deputy goes from jail to hospital after arrest on hit-run, drug charges

A rookie Broward sheriff’s deputy has been taken from jail to a hospital after a woman accused him of a hit-and-run and a search of his patrol car and home turned up a residue-coated marijuana grinder, nearly an ounce of marijuana, 10 hits of LSD and Adderall.

After spending a night in jail, Santiago Mayorga, 22, was hospitalized early Wednesday for a medical evaluation, said Veda Coleman-Wright, a spokeswoman for the Broward Sheriff’s Office.

Medical staff at the jail recommended Mayorga’s hospital evaluation. “He must have done something, or said something, for the medical staff to order that,” she said.

A deputy since April 2015, Mayorga is suspended with pay. He has been “relieved of his badge, BSO identification card, and BSO vehicle while the investigation continues,” Coleman-Wright said.

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This Week’s Corrupt Cops Stories

A Houston cop who helped cocaine traffickers and procured guns that ended up in the hands of Mexican cartel leaders gets hammered at sentencing, cops in Phoenix and California get in trouble for warning drug suspects of police activity, and more. Let’s get to it:

In Clay, New York, an Onondaga County sheriff’s deputy was arrested last Thursday on charges he stole prescription opioid pills from his girlfriend and the medicine cart at the downtown jail. Deputy John Gioconodo, 50, worked as a jail deputy and is a 26-year veteran. He is accused of stealing the drugs from the jail while on duty. He’s due back in court next week.

In Phoenix, Arizona, two former Phoenix police officers were indicted Wednesday on charges they warned customers and employees at a strip club that the club was being investigated for drug activity. Former officers Sebastian Castillo and Richard Denny both resigned after the March incident, but they have now been indicted on a single count of hindering prosecution, a felony.

In Sacramento, California, a former Yuba City police officer pleaded guilty last Friday to providing sensitive law enforcement information to a person he believed to be a cocaine trafficker. Harminder Phagura, 35, was paid at least $6,000 to repeatedly provide warnings that police were in the area. He pleaded guilty to one count of bribery. He’s looking at up to 10 years in federal prison.

In New Orleans, a former Houston police officer was sentenced last Thursday to 30 years in federal prison for his role in a large-scale drug conspiracy. Noe Juarez had been convicted in January of conspiracy to possess and distribute more than five pounds of cocaine and conspiracy to possess firearms in furtherance of a drug-trafficking offense. Authorities said he helped an organization that distributed hundreds of pounds of cocaine throughout the country. Juarez played a critical role in the conspiracy by providing sensitive law enforcement information, including running license plate numbers, and sharing police tactics and activities with his co-conspirators. He also supplied vehicles, body armor, and weapons to his co-conspirators, some of which ended up in the hands of senior cartel figures in Mexico.

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High-profile US police killings of black suspects

The United States was coming to terms on Thursday with the latest controversial police shootings of black men.

Wednesday’s shooting in the state of Minnesota of 32-year-old Philando Castile, came as civil rights investigators probed a similar incident a day earlier in Louisiana in which 37-year-old father of five Alton Sterling was shot to death by police.

Here are a selection of recent killings of US black citizens that have caused outrage — and sometimes violent protests — across America.

A person reads the personal messages written on the wall next to the convenience store where Alton Sterling was shot and killed, July 6, 2016 in Baton Rouge,...

A person reads the personal messages written on the wall next to the convenience store where Alton Sterling was shot and killed, July 6, 2016 in Baton Rouge, Louisiana ©Mark Wallheiser (Getty/AFP)

- Mario Woods -

On December 2, 2015, in San Francisco, the 26-year-old is shot by police who say he would not hand over a knife.

The scene is filmed on smartphones. At least six police agents take aim at him while he is huddled against a wall.

- Freddie Gray -

On April 12, 2015 Baltimore police officers arrest Freddie Gray, 25. He is handcuffed and eventually placed on his stomach in a police van, unsecured by a seatbelt.

While in transit, Gray asks for medical help but none is given. The police van is diverted to assist in an unrelated case, at which point Gray is found unresponsive.

Despite this, an ambulance is not called until after the police van reaches a police station and Gray is found to be in cardiac arrest, having suffered serious spinal injuries in the van.

Gray dies on April 19, leading to rioting in Baltimore and protests in other US cities. State prosecutor Marilyn Mosby calls the arrest illegal. Six officers are later charged over the incident. One trial ends in a hung jury, and two others in acquittal. The fourth trial started on Thursday.

- Walter Scott -

On April 4, 2015 in the state of South Carolina, a video shows police officer Michael Slager gunning down a fleeing black man, 50-year-old Walter Scott, after a traffic stop.

The video seems to show Slager in an altercation with Scott. Slager then draws his gun and shoot seven to eight shots in Scott’s back as he flees. Slager was charged with murder in June 2015. His trial is due to open on October 31.

- Tamir Rice -

On November 22, 2014, in Cleveland, Ohio, a video emerges of US police officers shooting dead Tamir Rice, a 12-year-old black boy carrying a replica gun, just seconds after confronting him.

Surveillance video showed Rice was killed within seconds of the patrol car arriving on the scene in a park.

In December 2015, the US authorities announce that the police officers concerned will not be prosecuted.

- Akai Gurley -

On November 20, 2014 an unarmed black man, Akai Gurley, 28, is shot by an Asian-American officer who opens fire in a dimly lit staircase at a Brooklyn, New York apartment block.

On the day of his funeral on December 7, New Yorkers take to the streets to denounce the spate of police killings. The police officer, Peter Liang, is in April 2016 given five years probation.

- Laquan McDonald -

On October 20, 2014 in Chicago a white police officer pumps 16 bullets into the 17-year-old adolescent, who was not showing threatening behavior.

Images of the incident shown in November 2015 during the indictment for premeditated murder of the police officer shock the country, right up to President Barack Obama.

The shockwaves lead to the chief of police in Chicago being fired and a federal probe which embarrasses Chicago Mayor Rahm Emanuel, Obama’s former chief of staff.

- Michael Brown -

On August 9, 2014, in Ferguson, Missouri, a white police officer shoots dead 18-year-old Brown, unleashing sometimes violent protests.

A subsequent decision not to indict the officer, Darren Wilson, prompts riots in Ferguson and raises tensions from New York to Seattle, with thousands taking to the streets.

In March 2015, the US Justice Department publishes a scathing report into the shooting, condemning Ferguson’s city hall, police department and municipal court for targeting the city’s African American majority. A black man subsequently takes over as head of Ferguson’s police.

- Eric Garner -

On July 17, 2014, African American Eric Garner, 43, dies after being held in a police chokehold while he is being arrested for selling individual cigarettes illegally in New York.

In an amateur video which is viewed around the world, as police wrestle him to the ground, Garner is heard repeating: “I can’t breathe.”

A coroner declares the death a homicide. But a grand jury opts not to charge the white officer involved, sparking demonstrations in several cities.

- Trayvon Martin -

The 17-year-old unarmed adolescent is killed on February 26, 2012 in Sanford, Florida by neighborhood watchman George Zimmerman, who was acquitted in 2013 by a jury which found that he had acted in self defence.

A mural honoring Freddie Gray near where he was arrested, on June 23, 2016 in Baltimore, Maryland

A mural honoring Freddie Gray near where he was arrested, on June 23, 2016 in Baltimore, Maryland ©Brendan Smialowski (AFP/File)

A memorial site setup near where Walter Scott was killed on April 11, 2015 in North Charleston, South Carolina

A memorial site setup near where Walter Scott was killed on April 11, 2015 in North Charleston, South Carolina ©Joe Raedle (Getty/AFP/File)

A protester is surrounded by tear gas during a demonstration on November 24, 2014 in Ferguson, Missouri

A protester is surrounded by tear gas during a demonstration on November 24, 2014 in Ferguson, Missouri ©Justin Sullivan (Getty/AFP/File)

Demonstrators display placards during a rally outside the federal court in Brooklyn borough of New York on July 18, 2015, to mark the one year anniversary of...

Demonstrators display placards during a rally outside the federal court in Brooklyn borough of New York on July 18, 2015, to mark the one year anniversary of the death of Eric Garner ©Jewel Samad (AFP/File)

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Broward deputy arrested on hit and run, drug charges

POMPANO BEACH, Florida — A Broward Sheriff’s deputy is facing charges after officials say he was involved in a hit-and-run crash in Pompano Beach.

Media outlets report that 22-year-old Deputy Santiago Mayorga has been suspended with pay and relieved of his badge following his arrest Tuesday.

The BSO says Mayorga was in his patrol cruiser when he side-swiped another car on Monday evening.

Several Broward Sheriff’s Office units responded to Mayorga’s Pompano Beach home, where they say they found drug paraphernalia and marijuana in plain view. Detectives say they also found a marijuana grinder, a cigarette wrapper with an unknown chalky substance and marijuana residue in his marked car.

Mayorga faces several charges, including leaving the scene of the crash. It’s unclear if he has an attorney.

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Florida Sheriff’s Office Accused of Entrapping Black Men with Help of Ex-Lovers

Law enforcement officials in Broward County are using illegal methods to bait Black men into committing crimes, according to a lawsuit.

Courtesy of The Woodlands.

Sheriff Scott Israel formed the Broward Sheriff’s Office’s Violence Intervention Proactive Enforcement Response (VIPER) Unit in February 2013 to “target, track, investigate, and apprehend Broward County’s most violent criminals,” the website reads.

“To accomplish its goal effectively the squad utilizes intelligence-led policing and numerous investigative techniques. VIPER has also become a vital regional asset, assisting other units and agencies with tracking down murder suspects, bank robbers, escaped criminals and numerous others.”

The New Times Broward-Palm Beach reports Ft. Lauderdale-based criminal defense attorney Kevin Kulik has accused the VIPER unit of using his client’s ex-girlfriend to lure the 25-year-old into stealing items from a hotel safe.

Court records showed Louis Hilaire was initially contacted by the former lover via Facebook in May 2014, according to the newspaper. The two had sex the following night, when the ex admitted her true motive for the reconnection: she wanted Hilaire to help her rob a safe at a nearby hotel. She claimed her housekeeper friend would hand over the room key in exchange for a share of the spoils.

After first refusing, the former convict went through with the crime and was arrested and charged with burglary, grand theft, grand theft of a firearm, and possession of a weapon by a convicted felon. According to Kulik, the old flame was a pawn in the unit’s long-term sting operation that enlists ‘amorous” women to entice African-American men with previous convictions into becoming repeat offenders.

The housekeeper was actually a cop and the girlfriend was a secret informant. In a motion to dismiss the charges, Kulik claimed the sheriff’s office manufactured all of the circumstances that led up to the criminal activity by providing Hilaire with the key, having the two women drive him to the inn and insisting that he go back for the safe, which contained a gun.

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Kulik wrote in the motion, “Clearly BSO was most interested in the firearm allegedly inside the safe, because the firearm trumps up the charges against Mr. Hilaire. Without the firearm inside the safe, Mr. Hilaire could not be charged with armed burglary, possession of a firearm by a felon, or grand theft of a firearm.”

Kulik insisted the operation was unconstitutional, because the sheriff’s office technically owned all of the stolen items.

“The lady works for BSO, since any [confidential informant] is an agent of the police,” Kulik told the New Times. “You can’t consent to somebody stealing your stuff. If you say, ‘Here’s the key to my office,’ you can’t charge them with theft.”

Kulik has identified 13 other ex-offenders targeted by the special task force. All were African-American, two were women and the rest were men.

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Brevard deputy charged with murder in roadside shooting

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A Brevard County Sheriff’s Office deputy was arrested by the Florida Department of Law Enforcement after an off-duty shooting in Palm Bay. Wochit

Hafza, a deputy with Brevard County Sheriff’s Office, was off duty at the time of the incident.

The Florida Department of Law Enforcement on Tuesday arrested a Brevard County Sheriff’s Office deputy in connection with  the fatal June 19 roadside shooting of a 25-year-old man in Palm Bay.

Yousef Hafza, 32, was charged with second-degree murder and attempted second-degree murder in the shooting death of Clarence Howard. Hafza was off duty at the time of the incident and was not acting in the capacity of a law enforcement officer at the time of the shooting, FDLE said.

The sheriff’s office said Hafza had been a deputy since November 2015 in the West Precinct Patrol division. He previously served with Palm Bay Police Department, Orange County Sheriff’s Office and West Melbourne Police Department.

Sheriff Wayne Ivey spoke to media at the sheriff’s office in Titusville on Tuesday afternoon, emphasizing the importance of having FDLE conduct an independent investigation.

“There’s not a whole lot I can tell you about the investigation. What I can tell you is investigations of this type are always extremely difficult where it’s one of your own,” Ivey said. “From the very beginning, our agency felt that it was appropriate to have FDLE investigate this as a completely independent agency so they could present their findings to the state attorney’s office.”

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N. Idaho attorney challenging use of drug dog in arrest

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The attorney is trying to fight a drug bust arrest that stemmed from a traffic stop. (File Photo) 
A northern Idaho defense attorney says using a drug dog at a traffic stop is overreaching and illegal.

Attorney Joanna McFarland argued Thursday that her client should have been released after Lewiston police officers cleared him of driving under the influence last summer, the Lewiston Tribune reported. Courts records state that 43-year-old Michael Parkins was driving erratically.

McFarland says that police instead detained Parkins while waiting for a drug dog to pursue another investigation despite having no reasonable suspicion that her client had any controlled substances on him.

“A drug dog sniff rises to a different level,” McFarland said. “If he was speeding, there’s no justification for a drug dog.”

According to police, a drug dog alerted officers to possible drugs inside the car around midnight on June 13, 2015. Police say they found $1,000 in cash as well as two ounces of methamphetamine in a nylon bag stuffed down Parkins’ pants a bulge which officers say Parkins attributed to gonorrhea.

Second District Judge Jay P. Gaskill is currently taking the motion under consideration. The state has not filed a counter motion to McFarland’s argument.

“That traffic infraction they stopped him for was complete,” McFarland said. “There was absolutely no additional independent observation to justify using a drug dog to start an additional investigation.”

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Ex-detective indicted in purported drug conspiracy

DIXON – The former Rock Falls detective accused of stealing money from an evidence vault now is entangled with at least three others in a purported 2-year, 2-county drug conspiracy.

Veronica Jaramillo, 43, of Sterling, Jody Canas, 44, of Sterling, Lynn Robinett, 45, of Dixon, and Rickey Richardson, 52, of Harmon, all have been indicted, the Illinois Attorney General’s office, which is prosecuting the case, said Friday.

Eileen Boyce, a spokeswoman for the office, said information on the charges against Jaramillo, Robinett and Richardson, and other details, would be released Monday.

But court records for Canas, made available Friday, show that Canas, whose live-in girlfriend is Jaramillo’s sister, Violeta “Violet” Jaramillo, 46, has been indicted by a state grand jury on charges of possession of a controlled substance with intent to deliver (more than 15 grams but less than 100 grams of cocaine), and delivery of a controlled substance (more than 15 grams but less than 100 grams of cocaine), each punishable by 6 to 30 years in prison.

Canas also is charged with two counts of delivery of a controlled substance (more than 5 grams but less than 15 grams of cocaine), each punishable by 4 to 15 years; possession of marijuana with intent to deliver (more than 500 grams but less than 2,000 grams), punishable by 3 to 7 years; and conspiracy (possession of marijuana with intent to deliver; more than 500 grams but less than 2,000 grams), punishable by 2 to 5 years.

He is being held at the Lee County Jail on $200,000 bond. His attorney, Allison B. Fagerman, is seeking a bond reduction; a hearing is scheduled for July 11.

If Canas bonds out, he must not have any contact with the co-defendants above, with Violet Jaramillo, or with Kathy Green, Roderick Coy, Oscar Canas, Austin Wheeler, Brandon Carter, Benjamin Franque, and Courtney Fritz (Carter), all also described as co-defendants, court records show.

Canas was indicted on June 10. Assistant Attorney General John Kezdy is prosecuting.

On May 17, members of a local drug task force seized drugs, three cars, and $17,248 in cash from his and Violeta Jaramillo’s home, court records show.

That same day, then-Detective Sgt. Veronica Jaramillo was arrested and charged with theft and official misconduct, both felonies, for stealing $1,741 from the Rock Falls Police Department’s evidence vault, according to Whiteside County Court records.

The State Police Blackhawk Area Task Force is investigating, and based much of its findings on monitored phone conversations and other surveillance.

Violeta Jaramillo and Canas are accused in court documents of selling cocaine and marijuana, and of using the proceeds to buy cars, real estate, drugs and The Grapevine Wine and Martini Bar, which she owns at 205 W. Second St. in Rock Falls.

Police confiscated more than 2 pounds of marijuana, worth more than $20,000, and 2 ounces of cocaine from their home on Timber Drive, which she also owns. The three vehicles seized were a black 2014 Corvette Stingray convertible, a black 2006 Chevrolet Impala, and a white 1991 Pontiac Firebird.

In May 2012, Richardson was sentenced to 4 years for aggravated battery of a peace officer, Lee County Court records show. Misdemeanor drug paraphernalia chrges were dismissed.

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