Prominent businessman arrested in Starr County game room raid

RIO GRANDE CITY — The father of a prominent attorney and former Rio Grande City mayoral candidate was charged in connection with operating a gaming room last week after he failed to heed warnings from authorities.

Alvaro Peña, 52, was among several people arrested and charged in connection with operating an illegal game room, according to Starr County Attorney Victor Canales.

Peña formally surrendered to authorities Aug. 9 in connection with charges of keeping a gambling place, gambling promotion, and engaging in organized criminal activity, according to jail records.

Peña is owns several businesses, including home health services and land deals in and around the area.

In 1994, Peña was convicted in connection with aggravated cocaine possession charges, in which he was sentenced to 10 years prison, but the court suspended the prison sentence and placed him on 10 years community service, court records show.

Before the charges were brought against Peña, investigators with the Starr County Attorney’s Office met with him in June and advised him they had evidence that his game room was illegally paying out cash to customers and that he needed to shut it down, Canales said.

“Basically as far as our information and by his own admission (Peña) is the owner and operator of the facility that was raided,” Canales said.

He said his office afforded courtesies to Peña, who he considers a friend, that weren’t afforded to any other gameroom owners because his office wanted to avoid any misguided perception that his arrest was politically motivated.

“Generally speaking, what we do in each and every case is we go out to the various locations and advise the employees and owners if they’re present, that we’re coming through, and basically give them a heads up,” Canales said. “We don’t tell them that we’re going to conduct a raid on any specific day, but we’ll tell them this is an area of interest and if there’s anything going on that shouldn’t be going on, to take appropriate action.”

Despite the niceties, Peña, who agreed to shut down his room by mid-July, failed to do so, and a warrant for his arrest was drawn up, Canales said.

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