EDCOUCH, TEXAS (ValleyCentral) — The FBI agents who raided Edcouch City Hall on Wednesday are investigating how the city regulated local game rooms and managed federal border security funds, according to a copy of the search warrant obtained by CBS 4 News.
What prompted the investigation remains unclear. According to the warrant, however, the FBI raided City Hall as part of an investigation that involved bribery and racketeering.
“We welcome the investigation,” said Edcouch Mayor Virginio “Virgil” Gonzalez Jr. “If something was done wrong, we want to get to the bottom of this.”
The U.S. Attorney’s Office for the Southern District of Texas could not immediately comment on the search warrant Friday afternoon.
The warrant, which is signed by U.S. Magistrate Judge J. Scott Hacker, authorized the FBI to seize:
- “All records of all Regular and Special Open City Meetings to include the signed/certified minutes and the audio records related to the open meetings from July 2022 to present.”
- “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.”
- “All city purchase records, purchase approvals, billing information, receipts, invoices, payroll documents, paystubs, city credit card information/users, gasoline purchases/receipts, annual financial audits, from January 2021 to present.”
- “All records related to gaming permits to include but not limited to city ordinances, city meeting agendas, agenda meeting minutes, planning and zoning inspections, planning and zoning permit applications, premises licenses, emails, invoices/receipts for any payment(s) received, quarterly inspection results, and permit applications and associated documents.”
Armed with the warrant, FBI agents arrived at City Hall on Wednesday morning.
They parked an “Evidence Response Team” truck just feet away from the front door and began searching the building.
The FBI also showed up at City Manager Victor Hugo De La Cruz’s house and Assistant City Manager Ernesto “Ernie” Rosales’ house, according to Hidalgo County Sheriff J.E. “Eddie” Guerra.
Agents had warrants to seize their phones, Gonzalez said, adding that he didn’t know if the FBI had also seized phones from other public officials.
“Those are the only ones that I know for sure,” Gonzalez said. “And they told me what had happened.”
One of the FBI agents who showed up at Rosales’ house, David Roncska, has worked on several major public corruption cases, including the bribery case against former state District Judge Rodolfo “Rudy” Delgado.
Rosales declined to comment, and De La Cruz didn’t respond to requests for comment. They haven’t been arrested or charged with any crime.
Edcouch, Elsa, La Villa and other small towns in the Rio Grande Valley regulate game rooms, which allow patrons to play slot machines.
It’s illegal for slot machines to pay cash prizes.
Some game rooms attempt to skirt the law by rewarding players with small, silver-colored pellets. Players take the pellets to nearby boutiques, which buy the pellets for cash.
Attorneys who represent game rooms claim they’re operating within the law. The Hidalgo County Sheriff’s Office, though, isn’t convinced.
During the past two months, investigators raided Edcouch, Elsa and Sullivan City game rooms. They shut down the game rooms and charged the employees with engaging in organized criminal activity.
The big winners may be small towns, which charged game rooms as much as $50,000 for a permit — plus other fees.
Gonzalez, the mayor of Edcouch, said lawyers assured the city that game rooms could operate legally if they handled payouts correctly.
“And that’s what we’re basing our decisions off of,” Gonzalez said.
Edcouch is a small town, Gonzalez said, and every dollar counts. When the issue came up, Edcouch decided to regulate game rooms.
“It appeared to be legal based on the information that was given to us,” Gonzalez said. “So, I mean, we had to do it.”
Gonzalez said he didn’t know why the FBI investigated the federally funded border security program, Operation Stonegarden.
“I don’t know if it’s a result of the arrest of Ernie earlier this month,” Gonzalez said. “I mean, I can only speculate.”
Border Patrol caught Ernesto “Ernie” Rosales, the assistant city manager, with a small amount of marijuana on Oct. 3. At the time, Rosales was driving the police chief’s city-issued truck.
Gonzalez said Edcouch is cooperating with the federal investigation and wants to be as transparent as possible.
“We just want everybody to understand: If something was done wrong, we welcome this investigation,” Gonzalez said, “And for it to come to light.”