Archive for May, 2009

Drug Cells in Houston–Update
May 27, 2009

Several members of an organization shuttling cocaine and cash between Houston and Mexico have been slapped with lengthy federal prison sentences today. Elisa Idalia Castillo and Martin Ovalle-Martinez were convicted of money laundering and possession with the intent to distribute cocaine. Castillo was sentenced to 20 year sin prison on money laundering charges and life in prison on the drug charges. Ovalle-Martinez was also sentenced to 20 years in prison for money laundering and 300 months in prison for the drug charges. Last month we reported how agents with the Drug Enforcement Administration broke the back of three drug cells operating in Houston. The cells would use tour buses to transport cocaine from Monterrey, Mexico to Houston. The same buses would then be used to transport millions of dollars in cash made from the sale of the cocaine back to Mexico.  Agents with the DEA told us members of these cells were also responsible for several murders, kidnappings and home invasions in Houston. All crimes that went unsolved until the DEA completed its investigation. Three other members of the organization were also hit with sentences ranging from 36 to 112 months in federal prison. Three more members of the organization are still on the run.

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Sex Offender Website
May 27, 2009

The Texas Department of Public Safety has unveiled a ton of new features on it’s sex offender website. One of the features allows you to sign up for e-mail alerts when a sex offender’s address or record changes. The site also gives you an offender’s work address, whether the person attends college and whether he/she has any type of occupational license. The new mapping features shows exactly how far a sex offender is from your house/apartment or work. Here’s a link to the new site…https://records.txdps.state.tx.us/DPS_WEB/SorNew/index.aspx.

Don’t be fooled.
May 26, 2009

I received this e-mail from a viewer today and thought it would serve as a good reminder not to be fooled by official looking e-mails from banks. Here’s the e-mail…

just wondering if anyone else is receiving emails from Banks saying ” Information reguarding your online account” when infact I do not have an online account with them. 1st time from Wells Fargo, this time from Commonwealthe Bank in Austrilia.. Is this just pilshing to get customers or worse Id’s??

This viewer is right to be worried about receiving these type of e-mails because they are phishing scams. Thankfully this viewer didn’t fall into the trap by giving out any personal information. Remember, your bank is NOT going to request your personal information via an e-mail. If you receive one of these e-mails, report it to www.ic3.gov then delete it. Also, don’t worry about having your personal information compromised just because you received one of these e-mails. You actually would have to respond to the e-mail for that to happen.

Change is finally coming to State Schools
May 22, 2009

For the five thousand residents living in Texas’ 13 state schools change is on the way. Last year we exposed dozens of cases of abuse and neglect at the institutions that are supposed to be caring for some of the most vulnerable people in the state–people with mental and physical disabilities. Last December the Justice Department issued a blistering report about the quality of care at all 13 schools. Today I got word Texas has reached a $112 million, five year settlement with the federal government to prevent a civil rights lawsuit. The deal requires the state to hire more than 1,000 new care workers, cut down on the use of physical restraints, hire independent monitors and work faster to investigate claims of abuse and neglect. This is desperately needed change, it’s just a shame it took the threat of a civil rights lawsuit by the Justice Department to get Texas to do what it should have been doing all along.

Guns to Mexico
May 22, 2009

I have been covering this issue since January. The ATF says Houston is the number spot in the country for the Mexican drug cartels to buy their weapons. It’s not the cartels actually buying the guns, but a network of straw buyers. These “straw buyers” are usually very young (not too terribly bright) and have clean criminal records. They walk into a store and buy a large amount of guns with money given to them by a middle man. The “straw buyer” then hands the guns over to the middle man who, in turn, makes sure the guns get smuggled back into Mexico. The “straw buyer” usually gets paid $50 for every gun he/she purchases. A small price considering this is a federal crime. Many of the “straw buyers” don’t even really know where the guns are going, they just know they’re making some pocket change and they get to feel like a gangster. In fact, two of the guys who were recently caught doing this talked to me and both nearly passed out when they heard the guns they were buying were going to Los Zetas (in case you don’t know this is the very brutal, militarized arm of the Gulf Cartel). The point of this post is to let you know that Texas is on the cusp of enacting its own gun smuggling law. There are already federal laws on the books, but Texas wanted the authority to go after these smugglers as well. A lot of Sheriffs I talk to say there’s just not enough Feds around to handle all the investigations into gun smuggling. Now DPS and the locals can go after and prosecute these smugglers. The bill would also allow law enforcement to seize money and property connected to the smuggling operation. The bill passed the legislature and is now headed to the Gov’s desk.

Busy Night On The Border
May 21, 2009

Customs and Border Protection Agents had a very busy Tuesday, making four big seizures within hours of each other down in Laredo. The first bust came when officers noticed something odd about an 18-wheeler crossing the border. When agents searched the rig they found 1,114 pounds of marijuana. That’s worth $1.1 million on the street. Not long after officers found 36 pounds of marijuana hidden in a Dodge Caravan. That’s $36,000 worth of weed. Those two busts would rack up a good day in any cop’s book, but agents on the border kept going. Officers also found 48 pounds of cocaine, worth $1.5 million on the street, hidden in a Toyota Corolla. The last bust came when a mental giant tried to smuggle more than $50,000 in cash into the US by hiding it in his pants. Is that stolen money or are you just happy to see me? So let’s recap. In one day agents working the bridges coming into Laredo seized more than $2.6 million worth of marijuana and cocaine and f0und $52, 815 hidden in a guy’s pants. I’ve been to this area of the border several times and I’ve seen the mass amount of traffic (both cars and pedestrians) coming into the US at all hours. The last time we were down there working on a story the lines at the bridges were so long it took a solid hour and-a-half to get back into the United States. Makes you wonder how much gets through on a daily basis.

A Wonderful Day!
May 18, 2009

Last Saturday was probably one of the most rewarding days I have had in the last year. The Local 2 gang met up to work with Habitat for Humanity to help finish building a house for a derserving family. We shingled the roof and put up all the siding. We worked, sweated and talked incessently under a cool blue, cloudless sky. When it was over we were a little banged up and sunburned, but every second was worth seeing the smile on Wanda Roberts’ face. She is the proud homeowner. Here are some pictures and a short video of Wanda seeing her completed home.

State School Improvements
May 14, 2009

Finally some progress on the issue of State Schools. I’ve been covering this subject since last spring. Now Texas lawmakers are close to an agreement to fend off a federal lawsuit. Here’s some quick background…..Last December the Department of Justice issued a scathing report on the quality of care at Texas’ 13 state schools. These facilities care for those with mental and physical disabilities. There are about 5,000 residents in the 13 schools. The DOJ’s report cited the quality of care at these schools actually violated the civil rights of the mentally disabled residents. Even before the DOJ’s report we ran a series of stories outlining dozens of cases of abuse and neglect and showed hundreds of employees being disciplined at these facilities. This tentative plan would increase the level of direct care workers and would put in place independent monitors to report back to the state and the feds on the conditions at the schools. These changes had to be made to prevent a full blown federal lawsuit. Before any of this is final both the State Legislature and the Department of Justice have to sign off on it.

Don’t Do it!
May 11, 2009

I know times are tough economically and the temptation to jump at what appears to be free money is nearly overwhelming.  I have been getting a lot of e-mails lately from people who have been told they’ve won a sweepstakes they never entered. Neat trick, huh? Wonderful, generous people from Canada just decided to enter all these American citizens at random in their sweepstakes because they had a few hundred thousand dollars just burning a hole in their pocket. These are all scams, you cannot win a sweepstakes you did not enter. The scam works one of two ways. One, you get a check for your winnings. The check looks great, except the account number is either bogus or from a closed account. The check will clear the bank when you deposit it, then a few days later the bank calls to say the check is bad, the money is being withdrawn from your account and you’re stuck with the NSF fee. Two, you receive a check to cover the taxes incurred from your winnings. How thoughtful. The check is the same deal as before, but here’s where the scam goes up a notch. The check you receive to cover the taxes is accompanied by a letter instructing you to call a number (usually a Canadian area code) to provide your bank account number so the total winnings can be wired into your account. Can you say ‘all my money is gone’? If you’re thinking ‘I would never fall for something so blatant’, remember the people who contacted me are very intelligent but have fallen on tough times. These people knew this was probably a scam but were seriously considering cashing the checks on the off chance this was something legitimate. 

Few things to remember:

1) You can’t win a sweepstakes you did not enter.

2) If you are asked to call a number with a 514 area code, don’t. This is Canada(I don’t care if the address on the check or the letter shows it’s orginating from the United States, it’s coming out of Canada)

3) Never give your personal information to anyone over the phone. No legitimate organization is going to call you out of the blue and ask for your bank account.

If these tips aren’t enough then just remember what mom used to tell you, “Nothing in life is free.”

If you receive one of these “winning” notifications via e-mail report it to www.ic3.gov.

If you get a letter in the mail go to www.fakechecks.org.

Playing Hooky Update..
May 7, 2009

Coming to a School District near You?

Coming to a School District near You?

Last November I wrote a story regarding Justices of the Peace wanting the authority to put ankle monitoring bracelets on chronically truant kids. Skipping school is a Class C misdemeanor and putting a 24/7 monitoring bracelet on kids who skip school frequently is a unique step. Bexar County and Midland County already started doing this and both counties claim great success with reducing truancy. A J.P. in Brazos County (Bryan/College Station) wanted to do the same thing, but the County wanted a ruling from the Texas Attorney General first. Generally speaking, J.P.’s have authority over crimes only punishable by fines. Since a monitoring bracelet goes well beyond a fine the Brazos County Attorney wanted to make sure it was OK before he gave the J.P. the go ahead. The program can now go forward. The Texas A.G. ruled J.P.’s can order chronically truant kids to wear ankle monitoring bracelets. Here’s a summary of that ruling…

“A justice court may use an electronic monitoring device as a condition of deferment of final disposition or probation for an individual found to have committed an offense under section 25.094, Education Code, if the justice court determines that the use of the device in a given proceeding is reasonable.”

Given this ruling I expect to see ankle monitoring bracelets popping up in more areas of the state. The thought behind all this is that a chronically truant kid is more apt to graduate to other crimes and constant monitoring of their whereabouts will get them to class and keep them out of trouble.