2018-03-07 / Front Page

Sheriff Spence says two former investigators indicted in Texas Rangers case

BY ALLEN ESSEX
Reporter

Willacy County Sheriff Larry Spence is awaiting official confirmation of reports that two former investigators in his department have been indicted by a grand jury on charges of abusing overtime pay funded by two grant programs.

One of his former officers, John C. Reyes, resigned last week after months of being off the job due to a non-work-related knee injury, telling Spence that he was informed that he and his former supervisor, Investigator Guillermo “Will” Salinas have been “true billed” (indicted) by a Willacy County grand jury and to prepare to face charges.

Both men have been accused of falsifying payroll documents that are funded by Operation Stonegarden and/or Operation Border Star, programs that funded overtime pay for special investigations into narcotics and human trafficking crimes, said Spence and Sheriff’s Department Major Ernie Garcia.

Spence and Garcia said a Texas Rangers investigation, which has been going on for about a year, with Rangers first visiting the sheriff’s office to look at payroll records.

“They wanted to look at records for grants. They took some of them with them,” Spence said.

He has not done an internal investigation since the Rangers started their probe, Spence said.

The grand jury that handled Reyes’ and Salinas’ cases met last week and there was supposed to be another grand jury on Tuesday, but it couldn’t meet because it was election day, Spence said.

“This has been a long, drawnout thing, I didn’t want to appear to be interfering,” the sheriff said.

“It’s possible that there could be more (people indicted),” the sheriff said.

Salinas, who was in charge of the grant programs, first came to work at the sheriff’s department in 1995. He had left to take other jobs, then came back, but worked at the Willacy County Sheriff’s Department a total of 21 years and six months.

Reyes also had left and returned to the Willacy department, working a total of 14 years, one month. He had worked as an investigator for both the Cameron County and Willacy County District Attorney’s offices before returning to Willacy County Sheriff’s Department.

Both men had been able to return to the department because they had been good employees, the sheriff said.

Reyes resigned on Friday at the advice of his attorney, Spence said.

The purpose of the Stonegarden and Border Star programs was to increase the num- ber of “boots on the ground” in cases such as drug smuggling and alien smuggling and “safe house” cases, Garcia said.

In a non-related action, Garcia commented on a recent visit by the Texas Commission on Jail Standards visit in which the jail received a number of “hits” on it inspection report.

One of the main items was non-functioning air conditioning, but also plumbing and the presence of mold and other maintenance items, the major said.

Two heating/ventilation/air conditioning units were broken when the inspection was made, but the units were already on order at the time of inspection, he said. Now, all nine roof HVAC units are operating correctly, he said. Plumbing, painting and other repairs are taking place.

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