Texas lawmaker caught on tape dropping envelope containing cocaine

State Rep. Poncho Nevárez, D-Eagle Pass, on the House floor on May 1, 2019. Juan Figueroa/The Texas Tribune

By Cassandra Pollock, Texas Tribune

About two months before state Rep. Poncho Nevárez announced he was retiring from the Texas House, the Eagle Pass Democrat was caught on surveillance footage dropping an envelope stuffed with cocaine as he was leaving the Austin airport, according to an affidavit filed by the Texas Department of Public Safety.

The affidavit, filed Oct. 29 in Travis County court, was attached to a warrant seeking to conduct a test to determine whether Nevárez’s DNA was on the envelope. The document says that the envelope had Nevárez’s official House seal and held “four small clear baggies” containing a substance found to include cocaine.

On Thursday, Nevárez, who chairs the House Homeland Security & Public Safety Committee, said in a statement to The Texas Tribune that “the news is true” — and that’s why he decided against seeking re-election to the lower chamber.

“I do not have anyone to blame but myself,” he said. “I accept this because it is true and it will help me get better.”

Nevárez said “grief and addiction were consuming me” and noted that he plans to “seek treatment.”

On Sept. 6, according to the affidavit, two Texas Department of Transportation employees found the envelope outside the entrance to an area of Austin-Bergstrom International Airport used by traveling state officials. DPS was called, and investigators reviewed surveillance tape showing Nevárez exiting the airport, getting into the front passenger seat of a black SUV owned by his chief of staff and “dropping a white paper object,” the affidavit says.

The affidavit states that DPS immediately took custody of the contents left behind by Nevárez. Lab results indicated that the white powdery substance tested positive for cocaine. The total net weight, according to the affidavit, was roughly two grams.

“Through training and experience, I have learned that individuals involved in the possession of narcotics would like to remain discreet and typically conceal the narcotics as best they can,” wrote Special Agent Otto Cabrera. “Therefore, it is reasonable to believe that [Nevárez], using his own letterhead envelope, licked and sealed the envelope that contained the cocaine in order to keep it concealed.”

The document notes that Nevárez is suspected of third-degree felony possession of a controlled substance, which is punishable by up to 10 years in prison.

The affidavit was posted online late Wednesday night by the conservative activist group Direct Action Texas, and its contents were confirmed Thursday morning by the Tribune. It came to light after two unexpected moves from Nevárez last week. On Nov. 6, he announced his office would deactivate its Facebook page, but provided no reason for the move. Two days later, Nevárez announced he would not seek reelection to the lower chamber in 2020, saying in a statement he “must heal up for the rest of what may come in my life.”

Aside from chairing of the homeland security committee, Nevárez also serves as as vice chairman of a select committee that state leaders formed two months ago in response to the deadly shootings in El Paso and Odessa. He works as an attorney in Eagle Pass.

After Thursday’s news, the Texas Democratic Party said in a statement that it’s important for people with addiction to “access the help they need moving forward.”

Nevárez “is taking responsibility and seeking the help he needs,” the statement said. “We wish the best to him and his family.”

The chair of the House Democratic Caucus, Chris Turner of Grand Prairie, echoed the sentiment, saying in a statement that, “by not seeking reelection, [Nevárez] will be better able to focus his attention on his family and his health, which is where it should be.”