Federal prosecutors say the U.S. Immigration and Customs Enforcement department that conducts internal reviews received a tip in August that Espinoza and another task force member had been stealing drugs. Local police are often assigned to multiagency task forces focusing on drug interdiction. Federal investigators set up a sting.
According to prosecutors, a confidential source working for the government told Duran in September that the drug trafficking organization he was working for needed corrupt law enforcement officers to escort drug loads. On Oct. 19, Duran and another individual escorted a load of 20 kilograms of cocaine north from McAllen to the Border Patrol checkpoint in Falfurrias about an hour away. Duran was allegedly paid $4,000, they said.
The officers earned thousands of dollars more for allegedly escorting four more cocaine shipments in November that were part of the sting operation, prosecutors contend.
The complaint said all four "utilized their positions as law enforcement personnel to escort and protect loads of narcotics." Nothing in the charging documents accuses them of stealing drugs.
Mission Police Chief Martin Garza said Thursday that Jonathan Trevino was the only officer from his department assigned to the Panama Unit and that Espinoza was assigned to an ICE task force that had its own supervisor. The prosecutor's office didn't immediately respond to an after-hours message Thursday seeking clarification on the matter.
Garza said both officers were fired Thursday. The FBI visited his office late Wednesday afternoon to advise him of their investigation and to collect documents related to it. Garza said he cooperated fully and his department would conduct its own investigation.
Espinoza's father did not respond to phone messages seeking comment. Nobody from his department is accused of wrongdoing.
Lupe Trevino said Thursday he was cooperating fully with the federal investigation and conducting his own internal review, but he added that he also has responsibilities as a father.
"It's been devastating to our family, devastating to the organization," he said.
Associated Press writer Nomaan Merchant in Dallas contributed to this report.
Follow Chris Sherman on Twitter at https://twitter.com/chrisshermanAP
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