Edcouch relinquishes Operation Stonegarden vehicles

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Three months after an FBI raid at Edcouch City Hall sent officials there reeling, the city has relinquished two vehicles bought with funds from a federal law enforcement grant.

The loss of the police vehicles comes after a confluence of legal quagmires for the city last fall, including the FBI raid at city hall and the suspension of a top Edcouch administrator who was arrested for allegedly possessing drug paraphernalia while carrying out city business.

The city transferred the vehicles — a 2022 Ford F-150 pickup truck and a 2023 Dodge Charger — to the Hidalgo County Sheriff’s Office this week, Edcouch City Manager Victor Hugo de la Cruz confirmed on Tuesday.

“The reason that they took the vehicles is because of the inspection,” de la Cruz said, referring to an audit conducted by U.S. Border Patrol into how Edcouch had been using the vehicles, which were purchased with money from Operation Stonegarden, a federal border security grant program.

The program is administered through the governor’s office and provides funding to local law enforcement agencies in border communities to help pay for things such as additional officers, overtime pay and equipment.

However, one of the stipulations of the grant is that anything paid for with those funds must be used for border security purposes, such as human and drug trafficking interdiction.

De la Cruz said that Edcouch was forced to forfeit the vehicles after the inspection found that the city had not complied with the usage terms of the Stonegarden funding.

“(Border Patrol) came in and did an audit of the vehicles and they found that they weren’t to the standards that they had to be for Stonegarden, which is, they have to be decaled and then, of course, the mileage logs,” de la Cruz said. “There was no mileage logs on them.”

But Border Patrol’s inspection into how the city was using the grant funding only came after two separate events last October — the FBI raid of city hall and the arrest of Edcouch Assistant City Manager Ernesto “Ernie” Rosales.

DPS troopers arrested Rosales on Oct. 3, 2023 after Border Patrol agents at the Sarita checkpoint intercepted him on his way to Dallas for a Texas Municipal League conference on behalf of the city.

Edcouch reels after FBI raid; assistant admin placed on leave

Rosales, who had been traveling in the F-150 truck Edcouch had purchased using Operation Stonegarden funds, was arrested for possession of marijuana and unlawful carrying of a weapon.

Two weeks later, on Oct. 18, the FBI descended upon Edcouch City Hall, as well as Rosales’ McAllen home.

Agents seized scores of records from city hall, and also confiscated Rosales’ cellphone.

Another team of agents paid a similar visit to de la Cruz at his Weslaco home, but they only had a conversation with him, the city manager said.

Among the items the FBI seized from city hall were records regarding Operation Stonegarden and other border security programs.

Not long after the raid, the Texas governor’s office notified Edcouch that it was placing the city’s Stonegarden funding on hold pending further inquiry.

In order to lift the hold, Edcouch would need to submit a corrective action plan, which it did, de la Cruz said.

Despite that, however, Edcouch soon learned that its Operation Stonegarden funding was being revoked. De la Cruz tried to appeal the decision, but to no avail.

“I wanted to clear that up because it was like, OK, you’re kind of double jeopardy. You’re telling me you released the hold but now you’re saying you’re gonna take it away from me? It doesn’t make sense,” de la Cruz said.

The city manager said the vehicle forfeiture was unrelated to Rosales’ arrest. Instead, it was about the city’s noncompliance with the grant terms.

With his entreaties to keep the vehicles denied, de la Cruz had no choice but to relinquish the vehicles. The city has since turned them over to the sheriff’s department.

Hidalgo County officials unanimously approved of the transfer during a county commissioners’ court meeting last week.

Meanwhile, Rosales has been on unpaid administrative leave since last October.

As for the federal investigation into the city, agents have continued gathering records, de la Cruz said.

As recently as this week, agents were at the Edcouch Police Department seeking additional records, he said.

Edcouch continues to cooperate with federal law enforcement. City leaders are also working to rebuild community trust, the city manager said.

“While obviously, it really hurt the city, it put a black eye on us … It’s kind of like, you’re just gonna remember the bad, right?” de la Cruz said.

“I think we’re doing things right. We’re trying to show the community that they can continue having trust in the city. And I think we’re doing really good,” he added a moment later.