2018-10-10 / Front Page

Federal agents, DPS troopers raid gold, silver shops plus El Toro maquinita

BY ALLEN ESSEX
Staff Writer


HEAVILY-ARMED OFFICERS surround Brittany’s Boutique in downtown Raymondville. From left: A Texas Department of Public Safety trooper; an unknown officer with a “sheriff” tshirt; a federal Immigration and Customs Enforcement (ICE) agent; a federal Customs and Border Protection agent; and an Air & Marine agent speak to a boutique employee in front of the store. 
(Photo by Allen Essex) HEAVILY-ARMED OFFICERS surround Brittany’s Boutique in downtown Raymondville. From left: A Texas Department of Public Safety trooper; an unknown officer with a “sheriff” tshirt; a federal Immigration and Customs Enforcement (ICE) agent; a federal Customs and Border Protection agent; and an Air & Marine agent speak to a boutique employee in front of the store. (Photo by Allen Essex) Local residents were startled Thursday as federal and state officers with assault rifles and bullet-proof vests swarmed three locations. In Raymondville, agents chased people down the alley as a helicopter hovered over the downtown district.

No one is talking about why federal agencies are investigating 8-liners in Willacy County. Sheriff Larry Spence, Raymondville Police Chief Uvaldo Zamora and Lyford Police Chief Andy Maldonado all said the operation was led by federal agents.

Sheriff ’s Major Ernie Garcia said county officers were involved in more than just securing buildings and traffic control. He would not elaborate on the role sheriff’s deputies played in the operation. Constables’ vehicles were also seen at the Lyford raid. No Border Patrol vehicles were present.


AN ICE AGENT agent confiscates documents from Brittany’s Boutique in Raymondville. 
(Photo by Allen Essex) AN ICE AGENT agent confiscates documents from Brittany’s Boutique in Raymondville. (Photo by Allen Essex) Garcia, who is in charge of the Willacy County Jail, said no prisoners from the raids were booked locally by federal agents.

No Raymondville officers were present at Brittany’s Boutique, 329 W. Hidalgo Ave. as heavily armed U.S. Homeland Security agents and Texas Department of Public Safety troopers surrounded the goldand silver business from the front and rear. It remains closed.

Zamora and Maldonado said they were called about the raids only a few minutes before they took place at about 5 p.m. Thursday.

In Lyford, federal agents and state troopers surrounded the El Toro hall, which is presently an 8-liner hall, and a nearby gold-and-silver shop. Some who were inside the hall were handcuffed and a large number were held outside the building under an awning to protect them from the sun. They were given water while agents attempted to determine who was an employee and who was a patron.


A CUSTOMS AND BORDER PROTECTION AND DPS TROOPER wait outside the El Toro 8-liner hall with a group of people who are either employees or patrons. 
(Photo by Allen Essex) A CUSTOMS AND BORDER PROTECTION AND DPS TROOPER wait outside the El Toro 8-liner hall with a group of people who are either employees or patrons. (Photo by Allen Essex) Willacy County District At- torney Annette Hinojosa said she was welcomed by federal agents when she, the sheriff and Garcia arrived at the El Toro gaming hall. She was briefed on the operation but would not comment.

“I’m not at liberty to say,” she said.

On Tuesday, a San Antonio based spokeswoman from the Department of Homeland Security said she also could not divulge any information about why federal agents would be conducting raids on 8-liner gaming halls and goldand silver shops that are connected to the 8-liner business.


A SHERIFF’S DEPUTY and a DPS trooper at a Brittany’s Boutique location near the El Toro 8-liner hall in Lyford on Business 77, securing the business during Thursday’s raid. 
(Photo by Allen Essex) A SHERIFF’S DEPUTY and a DPS trooper at a Brittany’s Boutique location near the El Toro 8-liner hall in Lyford on Business 77, securing the business during Thursday’s raid. (Photo by Allen Essex) “There is an ongoing investigation,” said Nina Pruneda, spokeswoman for Immigration and Customs Enforcement. She recommended contacting the Department of Justice. A USDOJ spokeswoman has not yet responded to the Raymondville Chronicle/Willacy County News.

About a dozen state and federal agents swarmed on Brittany’s Boutique in Raymondville’s downtown business district, which was recently upgraded with brick paver sidewalks and new lighting poles and wiring for Christmas lights. Although Raymondville cracked down on 8- liner arcades, often called “maquinitas,” the boutique was directly connected to 8-liners because winnings of silver millings could be cashed in there, local law enforcement sources said.

State law forbids cash payouts to winners and prizes are supposed to be limited to a maximum value of $5. But many local senior citizens - and younger adults - play the “maquinitas” and some report to friends winning large sums on occasion.

Sheriff Spence said the gaming halls do not support local civic groups or charities.

One gaming hall, the Silver City on the I69E northbound frontage road near Sebastian, has remained closed since they reported a burglary in a nearby small building (made from a shipping container) last month.

Someone absconded with about $6,000 in cash from the little building, the sheriff said.

The Sheriff’s Department received a letter stating they were closing temporarily so they could do some remodeling work and would notify authorities when they plan to reopen, Spence said. That closing is voluntary.

The county’s new 8-liner ordinance went into effect in February. Eight of the gaming halls were closed.

Now, two groups of 8-liner arcades are involved in court proceedings. A group of four that had been rejected for county permits, under the new ordinance, reopened under a temporary restraining order issued by 197th state District Court Judge Migdalia Lopez.

Those four cases were transferred to federal court and have a hearing in Brownsville on Dec. 27. They are represented by Attorneys Robert Flores, Ed Cyganiewicz and Leonel Olivarez.

Two other 8-liners that were denied county permits are represented by Attorney Dan Serna. Those cases will be heard by a visiting judge on Oct. 11 in Raymondville.

Five 8-liners were operating in Lyford but the city ordinance aimed to have a maximum of three and to eventually eliminate all of them if they are closed for violating state law.

El Toro was the largest in Lyford and has been closed since last Thursday’s federal raid.

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