EDCOUCH, Texas (ValleyCentral) — The Governor’s Office put an Edcouch Police Department grant on hold Friday after Border Patrol caught the assistant city manager with marijuana.
Border Patrol caught Assistant City Manager Ernesto “Ernie” Rosales with a small amount of marijuana on Oct. 3, when he traveled to Dallas for a conference. Rosales was driving a truck purchased through Operation Stonegarden, a border security program.
Concerned about the situation, the Governor’s Office placed a financial hold on the city’s Operation Stonegarden funds.
“Mistakes were made. Mistakes are going to continue to be made. I mean, it’s a small community. Even big communities make mistakes,” said Edcouch City Manager Victor Hugo De La Cruz. “It’s identifying these mistakes and then taking whatever we’re going through and using it as a learning experience to make us better.”
Operation Stonegarden is a program that pays for law enforcement overtime and equipment. It’s designed to support local and state law enforcement officers who patrol the border.
Edcouch purchased a 2022 Ford F-150 with Operation Stonegarden funds.
“It was fairly new,” De La Cruz said. “It didn’t have lights. It didn’t have any indication that it was a police vehicle.”
Edcouch assigned the F-150 to police Chief Mark Leal. Rosales borrowed the truck on Oct. 3, when he drove to Dallas for a Texas Municipal League conference.
Border Patrol stopped Rosales at the Sarita checkpoint and sent him to secondary inspection. Agents found a small amount of marijuana and a gun.
In an interview, Rosales said he began smoking marijuana after being diagnosed with lupus, a painful autoimmune disease, because he didn’t want to take prescription drugs.
“I smoke marijuana. It’s not recreational. I smoke it for medical reasons,” Rosales told CBS 4 News. “I do understand that we live in a state that doesn’t condone it.”
Border Patrol confiscated a joint and two vape pens that contained THC, Rosales said, along with his gun.
Agents contacted the Texas Department of Public Safety, which charged Rosales with unlawfully carrying a weapon, a Class A misdemeanor, and possession of 2 ounces or less of marijuana, a Class B misdemeanor.
Rosales wasn’t arrested.
After he attended the conference, Rosales returned to Edcouch and resumed working at City Hall. He remained at City Hall until Monday, when Edcouch placed Rosales on unpaid administrative leave.
Edcouch didn’t immediately notify the Governor’s Office about the incident.
De La Cruz said he planned to contact the Governor’s Office after investigating what happened.
“The FBI placed a call to the Governor’s Office,” De La Cruz said. “And so that’s where they kind of beat me to the punch, in other words.”
The Governor’s Office sent a “Notice of Non-Compliance” letter to Edcouch on Oct. 20. The letter referred to Operation Stonegarden as OPSG.
“Mr. Rosales does not appear to be a law enforcement officer working on approved OPSG border security operations,” according to the letter, “and therefore his use of the OPSG-funded vehicle is not an approved use of this asset.”
The Governor’s Office informed Edcouch a financial hold would be placed on Operation Stonegarden funds.
Edcouch received $90,000 in Operation Stonegarden funds in March 2023, according to the letter. That funding is now frozen.
Officials with the state Public Safety Office, which is part of the Governor’s Office, will re-evaluate the hold after the city explains “the extent to which any OPSG-funded equipment was used for unauthorized purposes including information related to the impact on project personnel and required operational activities approved under the grant award,” according to the letter.
The Governor’s Office isn’t the only agency reviewing how Edcouch spent Operation Stonegarden funds.
On Oct. 18 — two weeks after Border Patrol caught Rosales with marijuana — the FBI raided City Hall.
The FBI had a search warrant for: “All records related to Operation Stonegarden during the requested reimbursement periods of Fiscal Year 2019 to present to include but not limited to over-time paysheets and shift records, vehicle purchase documents, and Equipment purchase documents.”
Agents also stopped by Rosales’ house and De La Cruz’s house.
“We want people to understand that we’re going to continue doing our job and try to maintain transparency,” De La Cruz said. “I know people expect for us to say that, but at the end of the day, I mean, what else can we say?”