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EDCOUCH — Federal agents descended upon city hall here Wednesday morning in search of documents, meeting records and computer data as part of an ongoing investigation.
More than half a dozen FBI agents could be seen exiting Edcouch City Hall at approximately 1:15 p.m. after having spent the morning within the building, which was temporarily closed to the public.
They carried with them several bankers boxes, a cinched black trash bag, and several narrow cardboard boxes and other items, which were placed inside a white passenger van devoid of side windows.
A few minutes later, agents also emerged with a white plastic box the size of a large ice chest that took three men to lift into the back of a panel van emblazoned with the words, “FBI Evidence Response.”
Officials were mum on the reason behind the apparent raid, however, at least one Edcouch city official remained on site throughout the duration of the search.
“I’m currently here at the city of Edcouch. They’re conducting whatever investigation they have. … I really don’t have much to comment on it,” Edcouch City Attorney Roel Gutierrez said via phone Wednesday morning.
The city attorney, who was hired earlier this spring, said he received a courtesy call at approximately 7 a.m. Wednesday notifying him that the FBI would be executing a search warrant for Edcouch city records.
Though the scope of the investigation remains unclear, at least part of it may have to do with a recently approved game room ordinance.
“They’re looking for records. They’re looking for meeting records, basically. They’re looking at purchases by the city, things related to that. We passed an ordinance regarding gaming rooms, and so they want to get information on that kind of stuff — permits, things like that,” Gutierrez said.
The Edcouch City Council approved the game room ordinance earlier this year, Mayor Virginio “Virgil” Gonzalez said when reached by phone Wednesday.
“We passed an ordinance that allowed game rooms in our city — if the laws were followed, right?” Gonzalez said. “That was the basis of our ordinance — it was just (to) give them the opportunity if they followed all of the Texas laws as that related to gaming,” he said.
The mayor said Edcouch’s game room ordinance is similar to one passed in neighboring Elsa last fall.
Like Elsa, Edcouch officials received help drafting the language of their ordinance.
“We do have a gaming room administrator, and they did … supply us with a draft of an ordinance,” Gutierrez said.
Elsa’s game room ordinance was drafted by attorney Robert Flores, founder of the Texas Game Room Owners Association.
Flores’ organization has helped several local government entities pass game room legislation aimed at keeping the establishments on the right side of the law, including in Lyford, Miles and Zapata.
When reached for comment, Flores said his organization had helped Edcouch craft their ordinance earlier this year, but it was ultimately rejected by the city.
“They adopted it and then within a couple of months, they replaced it with Killion’s ordinance,” Flores said, referring to Mitch Killion, of the Greater Texas Gaming Coalition.
The city approved that ordinance in March, Flores said.
Meanwhile, the Edcouch mayor expressed shock at the FBI’s presence, saying he had not been aware of the search warrant until he started receiving calls Wednesday morning.
As federal agents remained inside Edcouch City Hall, across the street, a the brightly painted façade of a now-shuttered game room gleamed in the morning sun.
Mayor Gonzalez said it was the very same establishment that had been raided by the Hidalgo County Sheriff’s Office at the beginning of the month.
Calls made to Edcouch City Manager Victor Hugo de la Cruz on Wednesday went straight to voicemail.
De la Cruz had been advised to stay away from city hall while federal agents remained on scene, the city attorney said.
“He’s not here today. The FBI asked him to stay home, I believe,” Gutierrez said.
“I think he showed up on the premises and they said for him to leave,” he said.
Hidalgo County Sheriff’s Office deputies were also on scene, Sheriff J.E. “Eddie” Guerra said.
“The HCSO is assisting our Federal Partners in a lawful law enforcement operation at Edcouch City Hall. FBI is the lead agency and all inquiries should be made to them,” Guerra said via text message.
Two uniformed deputies stood outside the building during the hourslong raid.
FBI agents executed a similar search warrant at the McAllen home of Edcouch Assistant City Manager Ernesto “Ernie” Rosales.
“I can confirm that the FBI’s present in the vicinity of Southern Avenue (in Edcouch) and in the vicinity of 27th Street (McAllen) conducting court-authorized law enforcement activities,” Trista Moxley, public affairs specialist for the FBI’s San Antonio Field Office, said via phone Wednesday.
Edcouch hired Rosales in September 2021 to serve as an economic development consultant, according to a March 2022 lawsuit he filed against the city.
By December 2021, Rosales moved up to full time employment as the assistant city manager. He was largely tasked with auditing the city’s books.
Just three months later — in March 2022 — Rosales was fending off attempts by some on the Edcouch City Council to fire him.
Rosales claimed he was being threatened with his job in retaliation for uncovering certain “questionable actions and discrepancies by one of the elected officials,” his lawsuit against the city states.
But by last August, Rosales and the city seemed to have reach a resolution, as the assistant city manager dropped the lawsuit.
Meanwhile, both the Edcouch city attorney and mayor said the city is fully cooperating with local and federal law enforcement.
“The city always tries to be open and transparent and we are willing to cooperate. And I think we’re confident that there’s nothing — nothing’s gonna turn out of any illegal activity,” Gutierrez said.
With the FBI agents now gone, the mayor said officials will try to return as quickly as possible to “business as usual,” starting with a city council meeting on Thursday.
“We’re here trying to run a city. I know some of these things happen. We’ll just be forward with FBI and county. Whatever information they’re requesting, we’ll comply, give it to them. We’re following the law,” Gonzalez said.