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Former South Texas sheriff Trevino sentenced to 5 years in prison for money laundering

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McALLEN, Texas — A former South Texas sheriff who had pleaded guilty to money laundering was sentenced to five years in prison Thursday in what the judge called a sad day for the county.

U.S. District Judge Micaela Alvarez departed from sentencing guidelines that topped out at less than four years to impose a stiffer penalty on former Hidalgo County Sheriff Lupe Trevino.

Alvarez said many questions remained about how much money Trevino really took from a known drug trafficker. She said Trevino admitted to accepting $20,000 to $25,000 — double the amounts in question that were recorded in his re-election campaign account.

"You knew that this person was a drug trafficker," Alvarez said. "You are contributing to the problem that we have in this county." She said cases like Trevino's diminish the public's trust.

Standing before the judge, Trevino made no excuses.

"I'm sorry. It happened. I did it," he said.

Trevino apologized to his wife and children, "because our last name will always be synonymous with what happens here today."

PHOTO: Reporters follow former Hidalgo County Sheriff Lupe Trevino as he makes his way to his car after his sentencing hearing on Thursday, July 17, 2014. Trevino was sentenced to five years in prison, months after he resigned and pleaded guilty to accepting illegal campaign contributions from a local drug trafficker. (AP Photo/The McAllen Monitor, Delcia Lopez)
Reporters follow former Hidalgo County Sheriff Lupe Trevino as he makes his way to his car after his sentencing hearing on Thursday, July 17, 2014. Trevino was sentenced to five years in prison, months after he resigned and pleaded guilty to accepting illegal campaign contributions from a local drug trafficker. (AP Photo/The McAllen Monitor, Delcia Lopez)

Trevino's four-decade career in law enforcement began unraveling when on Dec. 13, 2012, federal prosecutors announced the arrests of one of Trevino's sons — a local police officer — and two of Trevino's deputies. They were members of a joint task force targeting the street-level drug trade. Within months they pleaded guilty to participating in a conspiracy to steal drug loads and resell them to another trafficker.

Trevino has maintained that he had no knowledge of the rogue unit's activities, including the role of his son, who was living in his home at the time.

Trevino's own case was separate, but he referenced the date of his son's arrest as the start of events that led to his resignation in March. A couple weeks afterward on April 14, Trevino pleaded guilty to one count of conspiracy to launder money.

His lawyer, Robert Yzaguirre, tried to persuade Alvarez on Thursday that his position as sheriff should not weigh more heavily on his sentence, but the judge wasn't having it.

"The reason the donation is made is because he is the sheriff at the time," Alvarez said. She said Trevino accepted money on at least two occasions in 2011 and 2012. She also alluded to the investigation finding that $40,000 in cash was deposited in Trevino's accounts over a two-year period and asked why that would be the case for a salaried government employee. She did not receive an answer.

"Clearly money was being accepted here and pocketed," she said.

Trevino, who began serving as sheriff in 2005, started his career as a local police officer in the 1970s. He spent 14 years as an officer in the Austin Police department before returning to South Texas to work as an investigator in the district attorney's office.

South Texas sheriffs have gotten into trouble before.

Former Starr County Sheriff Rey Guerra was sentenced to federal prison in 2009 for his role in a drug-smuggling conspiracy. Former Cameron County Sheriff Conrado Cantu was sentenced to federal prison in 2005 for running a criminal enterprise. And former Hidalgo County Sheriff Brig Marmolejo was sentenced to prison for taking bribes in 1994.

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