Monday, August 20, 2007

Gaming room black market contributes to police corruption

More corruption among border law enforcement has surfaced that threatens to undermine the proposed "surge" along the Texas Mexico border ("Laredo cop cuts plea deal in corruption case," Aug 16).

Lately I've started to track Texas bribery and official corruption cases on Grits more closely, hoping that accumulating anecdotes will enable me to identify patterns that don't appear when viewing each case atomically. One hypothesis I want to explore in greater detail is the idea that black markets encourage official corruption. That certainly appears to be the case here:

Sgt. Alfonso Santos, 51, admitted receiving almost-weekly bribes from an illegal gambling operation in exchange for protection from police raids.

He received $37,040 in payoffs between April 2003 and November 2006, the U.S. attorney's office said.

A second officer, Lt. Eloy Rodriguez, faces the same charges, in addition to several counts of cocaine possession and distribution.

Laredo has more than 50 licensed "game rooms" featuring eight-liners — electronic games of chance that look like slot machines. Such game rooms are not illegal, but under Texas law it is illegal for operators to pay out anything other than prizes valued at $5 or less.

A San Antonio Express-News investigation last year showed that many game rooms in Laredo dole out illegal cash awards.

As part of the plea agreement, Santos agreed to cooperate fully with federal authorities in exchange for prosecutors not opposing his expected request for a smaller sentence.

Currently, Santos faces up to 20 years in prison and a $250,000 fine.

The plea agreement stipulates that the government will request that Santos' sentencing be deferred "until all co-defendants indicted or unindicted have pled guilty."

That stipulation revives the likelihood of identifying and charging a third co-conspirator, so far unnamed, mentioned repeatedly in the original indictment.

The indictment states that on two occasions, the unnamed co-conspirator received $5,000 payments from the game room operator. At other times, Santos and Rodriguez picked up payments on the third person's behalf.

The plea agreement adds that prosecutors possess recorded conversations of Santos and Rodriguez claiming to have collected money for the unindicted co-conspirator.

I wrote recently about the growing black market statewide that illegal gaming rooms cater to, and how difficult it is for police to shut them down. The problem becomes worse when an officer charged with enforcing the law turns out to be on the weekly take. The same problem occurs with narcotics enforcement. Not even the FBI is immune.

That's why I think new border security funds should go first to bolster Internal Affairs divisions and to investigate and prosecute official corruption. Until that problem can be reined in, it will be difficult to achieve other security goals at the border, no matter now well-intentioned or lavishly funded.

No comments: