By the late 1970’s, high-flying and flamboyant Jimmy Chagra was finally arrested on drug trafficking charges. By the time, the Chagra drama is finally settled a federal judge had been murdered and Jimmy Chagra had escaped jail and was eventually convicted and imprisoned in 1983. Jimmy Chagra was convicted on obstruction charges in the murder Judge Wood.
Although many whispers of county corruption existed at the time, then as today they were only whispers and indignant not us by the politicos. However, like today, little snippets would make it out into the community’s consciousness.
On February 26, 1983; two El Paso Sheriff’s deputies, Jim Beykin and Dwight Jefferson found a “powdery substance they thought was cocaine or heroin” in then County Judge Pat O’Rourke’s car. The County Attorney at the time, Luther Jones and First Assistant District Attorney Bill Moody did not prosecute the case because there “was not enough evidence” to prosecute it. The reason there was not enough evidence was that Sherriff’s Captain Willie Hill told Beykin and Jefferson to “get rid” of the substance they found. We know this because Hill was reprimanded for his actions and therefore the incident was documented. Had Hill not been reprimanded all of this would be nothing than more whisperings of corruption.
As you absorb this, notice the names of the two prosecutors: Luther Jones and Bill Moody and the alleged offender, Pat O’Roruke. Pat O’Rourke was the father of Beto O’Rourke who co-wrote a book with Susie Byrd on the issue of the legalization of drugs. O’Rourke’s mother, Melissa O’Rourke owns Charlotte’s Furniture, a store that pleaded guilty to cash transaction structuring involving more than half a million dollars in cash in 2012. To this day, no one has explained how a company can be guilty of dividing cash into amounts less than $10,000 in order to avoid IRS disclosure rules without anyone being involved, much less prosecuted for it. Regardless a high-scale store in a low-income community structuring cash is suspicious at best especially when it is related to politicians. Remember how I pointed out that certain businesses in El Paso seem to survive in a city whose economy is constantly under pressure although they cater to an affluent buyer. How many times do the individuals capable of paying for high-end furniture replace their furniture? In other words, how is it that a high-end furniture store can survive in El Paso for many years while other furniture stores come and go regularly?
Of course, the two prosecutors of the time are well known to you today. Obviously, Luther Jones is sitting in jail for public corruption and Bill Moody is still in politics, along with his son, today. This is one incident with each party having a significant impact in today’s El Paso politics and somehow an incident of a “white powdery substance” is nothing but a footnote in the historical record. One incident does not make a conspiracy so let me continue.
In 1986, a prison gang that evolved into the Barrio Aztecas was formed in the prison system. This is a gang that was created, nurtured and allowed to manifest itself in El Paso, not in Juárez. That means that the illegality that allowed the gang to fund itself and mature as a criminal enterprise transpired in El Paso. Recent court testimony showed that the gang has grown considerably, to the point that it has dominated the drug trade as well as the trade of military-grade weapons that were, and are used in homicides, of which thousands of Juárez residents are the victims.
At the same time, various news media outlets were reporting how El Paso was experiencing a growth in violent crimes along the border as a result of “criminal gangs” using the storm drains to cross back and forth between Mexico and the US. As it is common today, the public rhetoric was that “an organized band of criminals” were crossing the border to “rob and assault” El Paso residents alluding to Mexican criminal gangs instead of the growing local variety. In other words, blame Mexico. The local police department decried how the criminals were “disappearing” into the drains and thus they were unable to contain the petty crimes. Eventually the drainage tunnels were gated and new avenues were opened by the criminal gangs. As another unintended consequence of the sealing of the drainage tunnels and because petty crime was not enough to sustain the financial needs of the growing criminal gangs, not to mention that cars couldn’t cross the tunnels, the city’s crime saw an increase in car thefts as cars were now transported overland instead of illicit goods underground. The focus turned from petty crime into car theft but drugs were just an anecdote in the city’s public criminal dialogue. However, the Juárez cartel continued to grow and drugs continued to pour into the US through El Paso.
El Paso’s community whispered about the drug dealers and the local papers published articles about the rise of drug consumption in the US, but little ink was spent on pointing out that drugs flowed through El Paso. It was an inconvenient discussion point for the politicos then, as it is today. Very little, if any, public discourse was held about the Barrio Aztecas in El Paso although many discussed it in Mexico. El Paso and the US were focused on the Juárez femicides, however the local gang, the Barrio Aztecas were seldom mentioned, much less, the role El Paso plays in the drug trafficking problem.
I do not want to get into the highly controversial discourse about the Juárez femicides but they are an important element to the issue of cross border crime that cannot be ignored. In the 90’s the notion, that generally persists today, was that Juárez women were being systematically targeted for murder for various reasons. Most anyone today will tell you that there are over 400 women victims whose murders are yet to be resolved. Well-renowned activist Esther Chavez meticulously documented records on the murders. The record she created seems to suggest that of about 400 cases she documented, about 75% were resolved as domestic abuse cases. Furthermore a Canadian paper; “A Statistical Evaluation of Femicide Rates in Mexican Cities Along the US-Mexico Border” published in 2008 documents that during the period between 1998 and 2003 femicide rates in Cd. Juárez were lower than Houston Texas.
The debate is still ongoing however, evidence is starting to trickle out that suggests that the murders were a “sensationalistic” event skewing public perception that women were being targeted in exaggerated numbers. Understand that I am not minimizing the horrific losses to many families, instead I am pointing out how the general perception is skewed by sensationalism. Several US authors have begun to question the notion that women were disproportionately targeted for murder and instead the murders were proportional to other cities in the US, or even less and that the murders of men was ignored leading to the notion that women were being exterminated in Juárez. I point this out because as El Paso was caught up in the murder sensationalism in Juárez the Barrio Aztecas continued to grow and drugs continued to transit through El Paso.
Say what you may about Mexican incompetence, corruption or complicity there is an undisputable fact that needs to be pointed out. The Juárez drug market is not significant enough for the drug trade to account for the numbers of homicides suffered by the residents of Juárez. What is significant is the ability to cross the drugs into the US and that is where the El Paso plaza is key to the murders. Of course, one or two examples are not enough evidence to show a conspiracy. So, let me add some more evidence to my argument.
In 1999, Carlos Leon was appointed El Paso Police Chief. Less than a year later, on August 27, 1999 then Assistant Police Chief George DeAngelis received information from a confidential informant that another assistant police chief, close to Leon, was providing drug dealers with the license plate numbers of El Police undercover officers. Three days later, on August 30, DeAngelis requested that Leon open an investigation into the allegations of police corruption within his department.
In response, the City of El Paso and Carlos Leon launched a sting operation against George DeAngelis in an attempt to ascertain whether DeAngelis was passing information to the news media in violation of police department policy. In other words, rather than investigate possible corruption within the higher echelons of the police department, the city and the police chief instead investigated the individual who brought the information forward by initiating a sting operation against the whistle-blower. A year later, Carlos Leon was reprimanded by then El Paso Mayor Carlos Ramirez for “improperly back-dating” an official document. Moreover, no proof that DeAngelis violated any police department policies was ever established. More importantly, to this day no record of an investigation into the original allegations of corruption by Leon’s confidant at the police department has ever been published, or acknowledged, other than the person implicated was temporarily reassigned, later to return to his post without any apparent effect on his police appointment. Is it possible that a thorough investigation was conducted and nothing was found? Possibly, however with all of the subsequent investigations into DeAngelis and the various court cases that followed it would be reasonable that a documented investigation into the allegations would have been made public by now.
Let’s take a closer look into Carlos Leon. As you know, Carlos Leon is currently the County Commissioner for Precinct 1. Carlos Leon resigned as Police Chief in 2003 and unsuccessfully ran for Sheriff. From 2004 through 2006, Leon oversaw NCED’s security. There are two important things that need to be pointed out. The first is that Leon ran for Sheriff against Richard Wiles, who is currently the Sheriff, however Wiles was Leon’s subordinate at the police department and was involved in the DeAngelis matter.
In addition, as you probably already know, NCED was Bob Jones’ business that was the impetus for the numerous recent and ongoing federal investigations into public corruption. Those investigations started about a year before Leon went to work for Jones. Bob Jones is currently in jail for public corruption. Keeping in mind that much of the public corruption cases have centered on county government it is also important to note that Carlos Leon is currently the Precinct 1 commissioner for the county. I will get back to the county commissioners later but I first need to point out another important event that was going on at this same time.
In 2003, then FBI Agent in Charge for El Paso, Hardrick Crawford Jr., attended a press conference at the Juárez race track where he publicly stated that the FBI was not investigating the track owner, Jose Maria Guardia, much to the disgust of Mexican officials who had linked Guardia to allegations of drug trafficking. At this time, another former FBI contractor, Mario Castillo, was arrested for selling FBI classified information to the Juárez Cartel. Three years later, on August 16, 2006, Crawford was found guilty of concealing material facts from the FBI and making false statements to federal investigators.
Court records show that Crawford’s wife had been employed by the Juárez racetrack owner on a monthly salary of $5,000. Crawford, for his part, was convicted for receiving substantial gifts from someone that Mexican officials had complained was involved in the drug trade, the racetrack owner. What was lost in the rhetoric is that in 2002, Jose Guardia was a FBI informant for a six-month period and that he failed a FBI polygraph prior to Crawford holding the press conference exonerating him, in essence destroying the credibility of Mexican officials attempting to tame the drug lords. Crawford ordered the polygraph and knew he had failed it before delivering his press conference.
Most everyone likes to point out that Mexican officials are inept or corrupt and when that notion is challenged, the retort is always “prove it”. Crawford is one example of many others that fortunately, for me, exposed what many of us know to be true but cannot prove for various reasons. Although Crawford was eventually brought to account, the damage had been done and the drug traffickers continued to laugh all the way to the bank. Interestingly and as is the normal modus-operandi for El Paso federal contractors, Hardwick Crawford, after abruptly resigning from the FBI and while under investigation and awaiting trial, went to work for a federal contractor based in El Paso that to this day does significant business under federal contracts. How the contractor’s officials did not know about Crawford’s questionable integrity is beyond me but it is yet another example of scratch-my-back-while-I-scratch-yours El Paso mentality.