Evidence log shows feds took 52 items during Edcouch raid

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FBI agents and a Hidalgo County sheriff’s deputy can be seen outside of Edcouch City Hall on Wednesday, Oct. 18, 2023. Federal agents spent at least five hours conducting a raid at the building. (Dina Arévalo | [email protected])

Newly released documents shed more light on what the FBI may be investigating in Edcouch.

The Monitor obtained a three-page property receipt that agents left with city officials after their Oct. 18 raid of Edcouch City Hall.

The log provides new insight into the scope of the federal investigation, including facets that have previously been unknown to the public.

The property log shows that agents seized a number of records pertaining to Edcouch’s budget, spending and game rooms, confirming early comments from city officials.

“They’re looking for meeting records, basically. They’re looking at purchases by the city, things related to that,” Edcouch City Attorney Roel Gutierrez said while the FBI carried out its raid two weeks ago.

He added that agents seized information regarding an electronic game room ordinance that the Edcouch City Council approved earlier this year.

Agents also seized records related to federally funded programs, including Operation Stonegarden, a border security law enforcement grant that is administered by the governor’s office.

But the evidence log reveals that agents took more than that.

NEW DETAILS

In total, the log contains 52 itemized entries of items that were removed from city hall — from paper documents, to computers and thumb drives, to certain police records.

The police records appear to focus on one man, in particular, named Saul Aguilar.

His name is listed twice in the log — once on the second page as “Marijuana Suspect Saul Aguilar,” and again on the third page as “Saul Aguilar Arrest paperwork (copies).”

Hidalgo County court records show that a grand jury indicted Aguilar, 23, on one count of unlawfully carrying a weapon after having previously been convicted in 2019 of felony aggravated assault and felony manufacture/delivery of a controlled substance.

The current indictment stems from an arrest made by Edcouch police last September.

Edcouch City Manager Victor Hugo de la Cruz said he’s unsure how Aguilar’s arrest figures into the FBI’s investigation into the city.

“I’m just really confused. It’s a mixture of stuff,” de la Cruz said Wednesday.

FBI agents are seen outside Edcouch City Hall on Wednesday, Oct. 18, 2023. More than half a dozen agents executed a search warrant on city hall and at the home of Assistant City Manager Ernesto “Ernie” Rosales. (Dina Arévalo | [email protected])

His best guess is that crime suspects such as Aguilar may have name-dropped city officials while being interrogated by law enforcement.

“A lot of the stuff that you’ll see there (in the evidence log) that’s PD, it deals with that type of scenario where I guess they’re investigating that whole situation because they named one of the city officials, or the chief, or whoever,” de la Cruz said.

“I don’t know exactly what they’re looking for, but it was brought up,” he added a moment later.

THE BREAKDOWN

The FBI property log includes two other entries that indicate law enforcement records were taken, including something noted as “evidence log copy” and another item noted as “victim report.”

In relation to the city’s finances and financial records, the FBI seized:

>> Two boxes of “general funds,” which is listed twice.

>> “General fund receipts 2023”

>> “White General Fund binder”

>> “Folders with audits inside”

>> “Expenditure reports”

>> Several entries for “purchase orders” and “permits.”

>> “Documents related to payments of City of Edcouch”

>> “Loan statement with pay stubs”

>> Documents related to budget, planning, employee contracts and salaries.

>> Several items related to deposits and contracts.

In regard to federally funded programs, the FBI seized:

>> “Two folders and one receipt book containing Stone Garden (sic) information”

>> “Local Border Security binder, Fuel Log, bank statements, public fund analysis”

>> “Documents for USDHS”

>> Four separate line items for fuel records and receipts.

Federal agents also seized a number of records related to the city’s daily operations, including a binder that de la Cruz said staff depend on to prepare for city council meetings, as well as meeting agendas, a weekly planner, and “two binders containing city meeting notes.”

But some entries are vague, leaving the city manager wondering what the agents took.

One line item reads simply, “CART,” while another reads “Seven binders.” A third reads “Proposals.”

A shuttered game room can be seen on the corner of Southern Avenue and South Hill Street in Edcouch in Wednesday, Oct. 18, 2023. To the left, two FBI evidence vans can be seen parked outside Edcouch City Hall as federal agents executed a search warrant. (Dina Arévalo | [email protected])

GAME ROOMS

The first items listed on the log, however, involve Edcouch’s recently approved electronic game rooms ordinance.

“Ordinance 2022-01 Maquinitas policy/Purchase of (illegible),” reads the first line of the property log.

Other game room-related records include:

>> “Permit forms, game room checklist, taxes collected”

>> “Five folders containing maquinitas documents”

>> “Game room deposits”

De la Cruz said he and other city leaders saw the game rooms as an opportunity for the small town to create a revenue stream that wouldn’t burden its tax base.

“With the way we live here, it’s tough. And trying not to interfere with our citizens with taxes or water rates or whatever — at that point in time, it sounded really good,” the city manager said in a recent interview.

At $0.8465 per $100 valuation, Edcouch assesses one of the highest property tax rates in Hidalgo County.

And with less than 2,800 residents, that tax rate only generates about $415,000 of the general fund’s $1.6 million in total revenues, according to a draft copy of Edcouch’s 2023-24 budget book.

City leaders saw the game rooms as a chance to generate nearly one-tenth of the city’s annual budget from the game room permit applications alone.

The city hired first one, then a second, adviser to guide them in crafting an ordinance that would allow Edcouch to issue operating permits for legal gambling — the kind that meets the “fuzzy animal” exception in what is otherwise a statewide prohibition on gambling.

But now, the city manager admits Edcouch was not adequately prepared to deal with the ramifications of a business enterprise that exists in a legal twilight zone.

De la Cruz said the advising process left him with questions over the distribution of authority — how much authority lay with city officials, and how much lay with its consultants at the Greater Texas Gaming Coalition.

“Because, yes, there was a coalition, but there’s still permits. There’s still a lot of things that go on, city functions, that I feel we let ourselves down in not knowing. A lot of just not understanding the whole system,” de la Cruz said.


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