“Bee, Live Oak and McMullen counties are being used by Mexican cartels and Texas prison gangs to transport drugs and illegal aliens northward while large amounts of money are going southward,” Aliseda said.
The major traffic routes for vehicles smuggling in drugs and humans run from the Mexican border along U.S. Highways 59 and 281, on Interstate Highway 37 and State Highways 16 and 72, the prosecutor said.
The smugglers also use just about every back road connected to those thoroughfares to evade state, county and city police.
Aliseda said smugglers choose those routes because rural areas, like Bee County, often have fewer law enforcement assets.
Part of the smuggling effort through South Texas means bypassing U.S. Border Patrol checkpoints at Freer and Falfurrias. To do that, the smugglers have learned to use the back roads.
Another concern is the presence of several state prisons and one federal prison in this area.
Prison gangs coordinate their criminal enterprises from those institutions. Bee County has an unusually high number of parolees because the state releases them here, and they tend to stay close to the prisons to facilitate their illegal operations.
That has led to an increase in home invasions since Mexican cartels use that method to collect debts and intimidate witnesses.
In addition, federal authorities have stopped accepting human smuggling cases unless seven or more aliens are apprehended.
“That leaves prosecution of those smaller cases to us,” Aliseda said. “Without special emphasis on prosecuting cartel and gang crime, the situation will only worsen for our district and the rest of the state.”
That is why Aliseda maintains one prosecutor in his office dedicated to cases unique to border areas and who is paid by the governor’s Border Prosecuting Grant.
The prosecutor, James Sales, has won four home invader cases in recent months, sending defendants to prison for terms ranging from 40-50 years.
“Human smuggling cases are up since the Texas Legislature changed the law making the cases easier to prove,” Aliseda said.
“In Live Oak County alone, they arrest three to four coyotes a week,” the D.A. said. “The drug traffic is constant, but the seven-month delay in getting lab results for drugs prevent us from filing as quickly as we should. There are 20 cases needing to go to the grand jury, but they cannot be presented until we get scientific affirmation as to the weight and type of the substance being delivered.”
Aliseda said in one recent traffic stop officers found more than $410,000 hidden in jet skis being towed behind a vehicle. In that case, the money was successfully forfeited to agencies involved in the stop.
Forfeiture cases are pending involving cash amounts between $30,000 to $50,000 that officers have confiscated.
Aliseda said “multiple” confidential informants are working with law enforcement agencies on the state and federal levels to prosecute large organizations which operate “stash houses” that are used for hiding out drugs, humans and weapons that have either already crossed the border or are intended to be taken south.
Local deputies and officers are provided with the education and tools they need to interdict and interview suspects and conduct lawful searches for contraband.
In the future, Aliseda said law enforcement personnel intend to conduct the kinds of investigations that will lead to the arrests of high-ranking members of drug cartels and prison gangs.
“We strive for inter-agency cooperation in intelligence gathering and sharing,” Aliseda said. “We seek to provide training that will avoid evidence being suppressed. We seek to punish those who profit off of human weakness and misery.”
The D.A. said the judicial district covering Bee, Live Oak and McMullen Counties is one of 17 jurisdictions under Gov. Rick Perry’s Border Protection Unit Program.
“We share information and strategies with each other and are available to prosecute in each jurisdiction if necessary.”
The idea of giving the job to one border prosecutor in each jurisdiction makes interagency cooperation easier to coordinate throughout the border area, Aliseda said.
Gary Kent is a reporter at the Bee-Picayune and can be reached at 358-2550, ext. 120, or at reporter@mySouTex.com.