The Panama Unit corruption scandal started and ended with Jonathan Treviño.
On Wednesday afternoon, U.S. District Judge Randy Crane sentenced former Mission police Investigator Jonathan Treviño — the youngest son of Hidalgo County Sheriff Lupe Treviño, who himself resigned and pleaded guilty to laundering drug money— to 17 years behind bars.
The corruption scandal started with the Panama Unit, an anti-narcotics squad that went rogue, stealing drugs and cash from criminals. Investigators eventually indicted nine Hidalgo County lawmen and three drug traffickers connected with the Panama Unit.“What you all have done is disgrace us,” Crane said, concluding the nearly five-hour hearing Wednesday on the ninth floor of Bentsen Tower. “And sentencing you to prison isn’t ever going to bring back the damage that has been done to our community, and what people think of the Sheriff’s Office and law enforcement.”Jonathan Treviño, who turned 30 on Friday, received the harshest sentence. Assistant U.S. Attorney James Sturgis described him as the ringleader, saying he approved all the Panama Unit’s illegal activity and negotiated drug transactions through an intermediary. ...
While technically a partnership between the Mission Police Department and Sheriff’s Office, the only person assigned to the Panama Unit who didn’t ultimately report to Sheriff Treviño was Jonathan Treviño — the sheriff’s son. They gradually went bad, according to court testimony, with small thefts escalating to major narcotics transactions and armed robbery.Federal agents started making arrests on Dec. 12, 2012, starting with Jonathan Treviño and three other lawmen. The Panama Unit investigation and a related corruption indictment eventually resulted in criminal cases against Sheriff Treviño, the county’s three-term sheriff; Cmdr. Jose Padilla, a top-ranking lawman who helped run the sheriff’s re-election campaigns; and Chief of Staff Pat Medina, the sheriff’s longtime assistant and campaign treasurer.On Wednesday, the two-day Panama Unit sentencing hearing concluded where the investigation started — with Jonathan Treviño. Along with him, four other disgraced lawmen and a drug trafficker appeared Wednesday in federal court.Crane handed down prison sentences ranging from 10 to 14 years.