EDCOUCH, TEXAS (ValleyCentral) — The city of Edcouch purchased two police cars through a border security program but never actually equipped them for law enforcement work.
Edcouch purchased a 2022 Ford F-150 and a 2023 Dodge Charger through Operation Stonegarden, a grant that covers overtime and equipment for law enforcement officers. The city, however, never equipped the cars with lights, sirens or any other law enforcement accessories.
“They’re supposed to be marked. They’re supposed to be fully equipped: red-and-blues, radios. Ready to go,” said Hidalgo County Sheriff J.E. “Eddie” Guerra. “And neither unit had complied with that portion of the grant.”
The Governor’s Office placed a financial hold on the Operation Stonegarden funds during October, when Border Patrol agents stopped Assistant City Manager Ernesto “Ernie” Rosales at the Sarita checkpoint.
Rosales was driving the Ford F-150 purchased through Operation Stonegarden. When they searched the truck, agents found a gun, a small amount of marijuana and vape pens that contained THC.
Border Patrol contacted the Texas Department of Public Safety, which cited Rosales for unlawfully carrying a weapon, a Class A misdemeanor, and possession of marijuana, a Class B misdemeanor.
Edcouch suspended Rosales without pay after his arrest.
Two weeks later, the FBI showed up at Edcouch City Hall with a search warrant for “all records related to Operation Stonegarden,” according to documents released under the Texas Public Information Act.
Border Patrol followed up with Edcouch on Nov. 1.
Agents determined the police department wasn’t complying with the Operation Stonegarden grant requirements, said Christian D. Alvarez, the acting assistant chief patrol agent for strategic communications in the Rio Grande Valley Sector.
Border Patrol provided the Sheriff’s Office with a summary of the findings.
The city purchased the Ford F-150 in October 2022, said Guerra, who reviewed the summary provided by Border Patrol. Edcouch assigned the Ford F-150 to police Chief Mark Leal.
On Nov. 1, when Border Patrol checked with Edcouch, the Ford F-150 had about 22,000 miles on the odometer. It still had no lights, sirens or police equipment.
Edcouch purchased the Dodge Charger in August 2023. At the time, the Dodge Charger had 24 miles on the odometer.
When agents checked on Nov. 1, the Dodge Charger had about 1,700 miles on the odometer, Guerra said, but still had no lights, sirens or police equipment.
Edcouch police Capt. Andrew Perez said the department was still in the process of buying the equipment. It’s not clear how the Dodge Charger acquired more than 1,600 miles in the interim.
“At one point, the vehicle wasn’t here for a couple weeks because the city advised that it was going to be in preparations for decals and getting quotes,” Perez said. “When the vehicle came back, obviously, there’s no decals on it.”
Border Patrol also couldn’t find any documentation that Edcouch had participated in Operation Stonegarden since February.
“They had not worked any overtime,” Guerra said, citing information provided by Border Patrol. “And had not turned in any statistics.”
Agents couldn’t find any daily activity reports or records showing arrests, seizures or traffic stops conducted by officers working Operation Stonegarden.
Perez, who joined the police department in February, confirmed that Edcouch hadn’t submitted daily activity reports. He didn’t know whether officers worked Operation Stonegarden overtime during that period.
“Maybe they didn’t,” Perez said. “I think the issue here was: We have this vehicle that was purchased in 2022. There’s no documentation. Why isn’t there documentation?”
In October, when the problems with Operation Stonegarden surfaced, Edcouch asked Perez to handle the issue. Perez said he created a corrective action plan, met with Border Patrol and talked with other police departments that participate in the program.
Officers did work Operation Stonegarden for about a week in October, Perez said, before the Governor’s Office placed a financial hold on the grant.
Border Patrol recommended that Edcouch relinquish the Ford F-150, the Dodge Charger and the remaining grant money.
“It’s going to be approximately $29,000,” Perez said. “And that’s overtime pay for officers.”
Guerra said the Sheriff’s Office concurred with Border Patrol’s recommendation.
“We’ve got to just move forward,” Perez said. “And, you know, take the hit.”