Former constable finishes sentence

BROWNSVILLE — A former Cameron County Precinct 7 deputy constable who was sentenced to 40 years in prison for protecting marijuana and cocaine shipments for the Gulf Cartel will be released from prison today.

U.S. District Judge Hilda Tagle resentenced former Constable Juan Contreras to time served Friday.

In March, Tagle ruled that Contreras received ineffective assistance of counsel from his attorney during his 2003 trial for not properly informing Contreras of the consequences of not taking a plea deal in 2003.

Contreras, along with former constable Jose Alfredo Jimenez and Jose A. Camaron Morales, who was not a law enforcement officer, and former deputy Benito Villarreal, were all convicted in the case that implicated the men, who operated out of La Feria, of protecting drug loads for the Gulf Cartel.

In her ruling, Tagle ordered the government to reoffer that plea deal, which formally happened Friday morning.

In a single hearing, Tagle vacated Contreras’ conviction and sentence, rearraigned the man on the re-offered plea deal and sentenced him to time served. Contreras has served 15 years in prison.

Tagle ordered five years of supervised release and told Contreras to have no contact with his co-defendants. She ordered the U.S. Marshals to process and release Contreras as soon as possible.

Contreras pleaded guilty to conspiracy with possession and intent to distribute 1,000 kilograms of marijuana, possession with intent to distribute 500 kilograms of marijuana and possession with intent to distribute 132.8 kilograms of marijuana.

Contreras, who cried quietly while trying to gain composure to address the court before sentencing, told Tagle he understood the cost of his actions and the black eye it placed on public servants and politicians in the Rio Grande Valley, a region that has long wrestled with corruption and transnational criminal organizations.

“I understand that nothing I say can actually change anything, but I am fully aware of my actions and results,” Contreras said during the hearing. “I can blame nobody except myself. I wasn’t taught, trained or raised like that. All I can tell you is I’m sorry for everything although I know sorry doesn’t fix anything, and I’d like to apologize to everybody.”

He also apologized for abusing the badge.

“I’d like to apologize to everybody who looks at public servants wrong because of people like me,” Contreras said.

After the hearing, his family gathered outside the courtroom, overwhelmed with emotion.

His aunt by marriage, Socorro Contreras, said she just thanked God, while leaning on another family member for support.

“I would like to thank everybody that has had him in our prayers and to God for giving us the strength and the patience to endure this terrible road for so long,” Socorro said.

Contreras’ father, Juan Contreras Sr., said he loves his son.

“I feel great. I want to thank all my friends for all the help they gave me,” the father said.

Assistant U.S. District Attorney Andrew Gould recommended Tagle sentence Contreras to a minimum of 10 years in prison for the charges and said it appeared that the convict had been a model prisoner who earned multiple certificates while incarcerated and served as a teacher to other inmates. He also had no disciplinary history.

In sentencing Contreras, she noted the she received multiple positive letters from his family members and friends, as well as from staff at the Bureau of Prisons, but told Contreras she struggled and anguished over this case and in trying to choose to believe between him, a convicted drug trafficker, and Larry Warner, his former attorney.

“I have been hard-pressed every step of the way from the trial to here today,” Tagle said.

Warner has filed paperwork with the Board of Legal Specialization, which regulates attorneys in Texas, saying he knows he told Contreras about the extremely long sentence if he went to trial and were convicted.

“I do not believe my conduct in that case was ineffective,” Warner wrote. “A very favorable plea offer was conveyed along with my admonition that my client was facing a very long sentence if convicted. He rejected the offer and proceeded to trial.”