McALLEN — A U.S. Border Patrol agent was indicted this week on drug trafficking charges as part of a wide-ranging probe of dope dealers who allegedly corrupted U.S. lawmen to help them steal cocaine in Houston and deep South Texas, court records show.
Daniel Polanco, a Border Patrol agent since July 2007 according to agency spokesman Carlos Diaz, is charged with intent to distribute 17 kilos of cocaine, the indictment says.
Polanco’s LinkedIn profile describes him as an active member of the local Border Patrol union and a former Naval policeman.
A union spokesman was not able to provide the name of a lawyer for Polanco. Calls seeking comment from the Border Patrol's Rio Grande Valley Sector headquarters in Edinburg were not immediately returned Friday. A person who answered the phone at the station switchboard said Polanco was in the custody of Homeland Security Investigations and transferred The Texas Tribune to a law enforcement official, but the official did not immediately respond to a message left on his voicemail.
According to news reports published earlier this year, federal authorities believe a South Texas drug ring recruited various law enforcement officials as part of an effort to steal dope from traffickers and then stage police seizures that contained sham cocaine. When the real cocaine was sold, the leaders of the drug ring split the profits with the police officers, and the owners of the cocaine were led to believe the dope had been seized by law enforcement, according to the reports. The operation moved more than 200 kilos of cocaine during the past five years, records indicate.
A municipal police officer in the town of Edcouch, which sits near the U.S.-Mexico border in Hidalgo County, was arraigned on drug charges in April as part of the sweeping investigation.
The indictment of Polanco, unsealed Wednesday, signals the case has gone beyond the alleged corruption of local cops and now reaches into the offices of the U.S. Border Patrol, the largest law enforcement agency inside the Department of Homeland Security and the first line of defense against cross-border drug trafficking and human smuggling.
It is not clear how many other law enforcement officials assisted the drug ring.
The case bears some resemblance to the official corruption that federal authorities found inside the fabled Panama Unit, a multiagency antinarcotics squad headquartered in the Rio Grande Valley and composed of officers from the Hidalgo County Sheriff’s Office and the Mission Police Department. Members of the unit began stealing money and dope from traffickers, then selling parts of the loads themselves, prosecutors found.
Former Hidalgo County Sheriff Lupe Trevino and his son Jonathan were both sentenced to federal prison after federal agents concluded a sweeping investigation of the unit and related corruption probes.