BROWNSVILLE, TEXAS (ValleyCentral) — Progreso school board President Frank Alanis pleaded not guilty to federal drug trafficking charges on Thursday.

Frank Alanis, 40, of Progreso appeared in court Thursday afternoon wearing an orange jail uniform. With his hands cuffed to a chain around his waist, Alanis said he understood the charges and pleaded not guilty.

“The Progreso Independent School District is aware of recent law enforcement activity that resulted in the arrest of a Board Member,” according to a statement released by Superintendent Sergio Coronado. “While we understand that this has raised questions and concerns, we want to emphasize that our primary focus remains on providing a safe, supportive educational environment for all students.”

Francisco “Frank” Alanis started working at Progreso City Hall in 2004, just two years after he graduated from high school, according to documents released under the Texas Public Information Act.

At the time, the Vela family controlled Progreso.

The family patriarch, Jose Guadalupe Vela Jr., worked for the school district and owned a local restaurant called The Board Room Bar & Grill.

His son, Michael R. Vela, served as president of the Progreso school board. Another son, Omar L. Vela, served as mayor.

In 2013, though, the FBI arrested Jose Guadalupe Vela Jr. and his sons on public corruption charges.

The arrests created a power vacuum in Progreso — and the Alanis family took control. They followed the Vela playbook.

Frank Alanis became the school board president. His brother, Gerardo “Jerry” Alanis, became the mayor.

Another brother, Alejandro “Alex” Alanis, also serves on the school board.

Frank Alanis and Jerry Alanis maintained control by offering supporters jobs at City Hall and Progreso ISD.

The system also created jobs for members of the Alanis family.

Frank Alanis became the assistant city manager. Meeting agendas posted at City Hall also identify Frank Alanis as the city secretary.

Progreso, however, could not produce a job description for Frank Alanis or any records that revealed why the city increased his salary from about $79,000 in 2020 to nearly $96,000 in 2023.

“On reference on his Job Description he is the Assistant City Manager/Human Resources we are a small city so we multi-task,” according to an unsigned memo the city released in March 2023.

Jerry Alanis, meanwhile, found a job at Progreso ISD. Documents released by the district list him as a “computer technician” who earns about $42,000 a year.

The drug trafficking case against Frank Alanis is part of a federal investigation that started in 2020.

Agents with Homeland Security Investigations, which is part of U.S. Immigration and Customs Enforcement, arrested six people and seized nearly 137 pounds of cocaine.

The drug trafficking organization shipped cocaine from Brownsville to Houston, according to documents filed by prosecutors. During the investigation, Homeland Security Investigations discovered links between the smugglers and Frank Alanis.

A grand jury indicted Frank Alanis on Oct. 3. Agents arrested him 10 days later.

The indictment charged Frank Alanis with one count of conspiracy to possess more than 5 kilograms of cocaine with intent to distribute and two counts of possession of more than 5 kilograms of cocaine with intent to distribute.

If convicted, Frank Alanis faces 10 years to life in federal prison.