District attorney gives $34,000 in seized funds to Presidio Police Department

83rd District Attorney Ori White presents Presidio Police Chief Margarito Hernandez with a $34,000 check from seized funds. The money will go toward a new vehicle and additional equipment.

PRESIDIO –– 83rd District Attorney Ori White visited the Presidio Police Department on Friday morning to hand off a $34,000 check to Police Chief Margarito Hernandez. The money comes from a pool of $69,000 White seized through a district case involving an individual who was arrested after trying to cross the border into Mexico with $81,000 in undeclared cash. 

Chief Hernandez said part of the money will go toward funding a new police vehicle and the rest will be used to purchase bulletproof vests and spike strips. The check amounts to roughly 10 percent of the department’s operating expenses in 2020.  “It’s nothing to sneeze at,” said Brad Newton, the interim city administrator. “We’re very grateful.”

83rd District Attorney Ori White presents Presidio County Attorney Rod Ponton with a $17,500 check.

The police department was not the only local agency to reap the benefits of the seizure. White gave both his office and the Presidio County attorney’s office –– which was also involved in the case –– $17,500 in order to purchase equipment and to train personnel. “We bought about five new laptops,” White said in an interview. “A lot of the equipment was worn out when I took office.”

In Texas, law enforcement agencies can take control over money if they believe it was earned through illegal means, a process known as asset forfeiture. “In this case we were certain that there was money laundering going on,” White said. 

The arrest occurred in November of last year after a black Ford F-350 en route to Mexico neglected to stop at a border checkpoint, according to court documents. Once the truck was brought back to the checkpoint, Border Patrol agents conducted a search that turned up a pistol, a pill bottle with ecstasy and .8 kilograms of marijuana –– in addition to the $81,000. 

As part of the settlement, the defendant was allowed to keep $12,000. White explained that by letting the defendant keep a portion of the seized funds, he was able to get some much needed cash for local agencies. “Presidio County only budgeted $35,000 for my office this year,” he said. “So we were trying to make some of that up.”

White stressed that asset forfeiture is more than about just swelling the county’s coffers though. “The only way we can ever impact the drug dealers, the upper echelons of the drug dealers, is by taking their money.” White said. “They’re all cartel people and to most of them, this is just petty cash.” 

At this time, the defendant faces no other charges.