Texas State Representative Poncho Nevárez faces a drug charge after being caught on surveillance cameras at the Austin airport dropping a sealed envelope that contained four baggies of cocaine.
According to multiple news sources, Nevárez, chairman of the House Homeland Security and Public Safety Committee, is charged with third-degree felony possession of a controlled substance, according to an arrest warrant filed Thursday by the Texas Department of Public Safety.
The offense is punishable by up to 10 years in prison. Bond was set at $10,000.
The Democrat from Eagle Pass, who announced last week he wouldn’t seek re-election, said Thursday “the news is true” and that he plans to seek treatment.
“I do not have anyone to blame but myself,” Nevárez, 47, said in a statement. “In a weird way I am grateful. Grief and addiction were consuming me, but oddly enough, I feel better now than I have in a long time, and I mean that.”
Investigators filed a search warrant on Oct. 29 seeking a DNA sample from Nevárez to compare it with saliva on the envelope, marked with letterhead from Nevárez’s legislative office. Initial testing confirmed the baggies contained two grams of cocaine; court records show.
The envelope was found Sept. 6 by two Texas Department of Transportation employees outside the airport, the court records say. On surveillance video, Nevárez is seen dropping a white paper object as he climbed into the front passenger seat of a black SUV and left the airport, the records say.
Nevárez, a personal injury attorney, flew to Austin in a plane registered to his law firm and was picked up at the airport by his chief of staff.
The court records note that Nevárez, a graduate of the University of Texas at Austin, was wearing a burnt orange shirt as he arrived in Austin that Friday, ahead of the school’s football game against Louisiana State University.
It is unclear why it took two months for authorities to charge Nevárez; the public safety department would not explain the timing on Thursday.
An affidavit related to the case was posted online late Wednesday night by the conservative activist group Direct Action Texas.
The revelation comes about a week after Nevárez announced he was deactivating his office’s Facebook page, followed by a retirement announcement two days later.
Of the Facebook deactivation, Nevarez said,
“Lamentably, we are discontinuing our use of Facebook in all areas. Professionally, personally and politically.
I say lamentably because Facebook has a tremendous capacity to influence us using truth, however, Facebook’s leader has made it abundantly clear he has no interest in the truth when it comes to target messaging or otherwise.
We must all own this. I may be just a half a drop of water in a vast ocean of users of this platform, but it does make a difference. Be well my friends.”
— Rep. Poncho Nevárez (@poncho_nevarez) November 7, 2019
Nevárez, first elected to the Texas House in 2012, made waves during his three terms. He pushed a Republican lawmaker during a heated exchange over immigration protests in the House gallery two years ago.
“What I did was wrong, but I’d do it again.”
That’s what Nevárez said of the 2017 scuffle between himself and a North Texas Republican who threatened to call immigration authorities on people protesting a so-called sanctuary cities bill. The confrontation ended with threats and cursing.
Republican House Speaker Dennis Bonnen appointed Nevárez this year to lead the powerful committee that oversees the Texas-Mexico border and public safety.
Nevárez is also vice-chair of the House’s Mass Violence Prevention & Community Safety Select Committee, which was formed just a couple months ago. It’s unclear whether he’ll retain the role going forward.
The Texas Democratic Party said in a statement Thursday that “addiction is a serious issue.”
“It’s important for people to access the help they need,” the statement read. “Rep. Nevárez is taking responsibility and seeking the help he needs. We wish the best to him and his family.”
Nevarez is hardly the only elected official facing charges. But, unlike the Texan, others refuse to step down from the office they hold.
The mayor in Fall River, Massachusetts found himself under arrest.
Yet last month, Fall River Mayor Jasiel Correia managed to survive an attempt by the City Council to temporarily have him removed from office stemming from charges pertaining to extortion toward at least four marijuana companies.
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The hearing was the result of a September arrest in which authorities said he extorted at least four marijuana companies that sought non-opposition letters to assist in fast tracking approvals of dispensaries in order to be recognized as Registered Marijuana Dispensaries for various applied locations.
The arrest also alleged that there was evidence of “kickbacks” from the mayor’s former chief of staff Genoveva Andrade who, in return for her having and keeping her job, gave the mayor all of her $10,000 “snow stipend” (which, for lack of a better term, is an allowance to an official to commence or aid their duties) and $22,800 of her $78,780 annual salary.
A Bristol County Superior Court judge, Judge Raffi N. Yessayan, ruled against a request filed by the council for an order that would temporarily remove Correia from office.
The council filed a request for a preliminary injunction on Thursday of last week, according to court records, to enact a temporary removal of Correia from his elected office.
The orchestration of events came into motion and the council voted to remove Correia on September 10th after he was indicted on charges of extorting marijuana companies that wanted to operate businesses within the city.
In his ruling, Judge Raffi N. Yessayan wrote that the council’s overall argument was too broad to make a fair ruling and that by him granting the motion he said:
“Would give the council authority to remove a mayor whenever he or she is unable to perform his or her mayoral duties to their liking.”
Essentially, even though the mayor is in hot water collectively, these matters are best left to the greater populace who elected him and not by committees.
The “populace” sentiments were further cemented by the judge’s ruling iterating that removal proceedings of any kind are a power reserved specifically for the citizens in the form of a recall election.
Earlier this year, Correia experienced just that and was recalled by the people back in March with a majority vote of 61% supporting to remove him from office and succeeding; however, he won the subsequent scheduled election with 35.4% of the vote. Essentially a moot endeavor to say the least.
Overall, the Fall River Mayor hasn’t had a pleasant run over the last year considering that last fall he was arrested for allegedly defrauding investors in a smartphone app he developed. For those not familiar with the aforementioned, it’s related to Correia’s arrest in October 2018 on federal charges that alleged he defrauded investors of his company SnoOwl.
In light of everything that has been unfolding for the mayor the past year, Correia has refused to step down from his position.
Needless to say, this mayor has quite the uphill battle in front of him considering the tarred history of his time in office and the copious amount of previous arrests and new accusations before him.
Here are all of the details in the back story:
The feds say he conspired to extort hundreds of thousands of dollars from companies that wanted to operate marijuana businesses.
According to authorities, Fall River Mayor Jasiel Correia took cash bribes in exchange for issuing official letters needed to obtain a license to set up a pot business.
They say at least four business owners paid a total of some $600,000 in bribes to the mayor. They then allege that he used the money to support a lavish lifestyle and cover mounting legal bills.
“Without hesitation, Mayor Correia was extorting marijuana vendor after marijuana vendor,” U.S. Attorney for Massachusetts Andrew Lelling said.
He made his comments in a news conference after the mayor’s arrest.
“It’s striking the lengths he went to get the money, and the seeming indifference with how overt his activities were.”
The feds detailed some of the instances involved in the accusations.
In one, Lelling said Correia walked into a vendor’s office and simply asked for $250,000 to issue one of the letters.
Then there was the time he said Correia was paid $75,000 in cash while sitting in the backseat of a car and then promptly handed over a signed letter.
Despite attempts to force him out thanks to his legal troubles, Correia has remained in office.
These weren’t the first criminal complaints against him. The mayor was already facing charges on accusations that he stole investor funds to bankroll a lavish lifestyle – charges to which he has pleaded not guilty.
Agents from the FBI and the IRS played a role in the latest investigation, which authorities said highlighted the potential for abuse in Massachusetts’ retail marijuana industry.
Here’s how the state law works. A so-called non-opposition letter is required to obtain a license to operate a marijuana business, which is issued by the head of the local government.
That letter says that he or she has verified that the business is in a permissible zoning district.
Turns out there were at least 14 such letters issued by Correia. Two of which went to his current girlfriend’s brother, authorities said.
As of the time of this report, it wasn’t clear if authorities are alleging there was any illegal activity involved in the issuing of the letter to the brother.
“We’re a little concerned,” said Lelling. “Local mayors can be sorely tempted. That single letter can be the ticket to a very lucrative business.”
The whole scandal has lead State Inspector General Glenn Cunha to make comments that he hopes the indictment prompts state marijuana regulators to consider additional safeguards.
Back in 2016, Massachusetts voters approved recreational sale of marijuana. It wasn’t until last November that the first storefronts opened.
Correia became the old mill city’s youngest mayor when he was first elected in 2015 at age 23. The indictment also details other accusations against Correia.
The now 27-year-old is also accused of accepting cash payments and a Rolex watch from a property owner to approve permits for his commercial building.
Then there’s his chief of staff, who also faces federal charges. Correia allegedly made her give him half of her salary in return for allowing her to keep her city job, prosecutors said.
There are also three other associates charged in the marijuana extortion scheme who will appear in court on another day.
Earlier this year, things got really interesting. Correia was recalled by voters and then promptly reelected on the same night in March.
Last October, Correia pleaded not guilty to a 13-count indictment charging him with defrauding investors and filing false tax returns.
This after prosecutors say Correia collected more than $360,000 from investors to develop an app that was supposed to help businesses connect with consumers.
Authorities say he instead spent more than $230,000 of the money on jewelry, designer clothing and a Mercedes as well as on his political campaign.
The trial on those federal charges is slated to begin Feb. 24.
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