Portillo given 3 years probation, $5,000 fine in phone-spoofing scandal

BREWSTER COUNTY –– Devon Portillo, a former sheriff candidate for Brewster County, has been sentenced to three years of probation and a $5,000 fine after pleading guilty to making a false statement to agents with the Federal Bureau of Investigation in the phone-spoofing scandal that shook up the 2020 Brewster County Sheriff’s Office election race.

During the run-up to the election, Portillo sent out a racist message using technology, known as spoofing, that made it appear as if Brewster County Sheriff Ronny Dodson, who was running for re-election at the time, had authored the text.

When questioned by the FBI soon after, Portillo denied having spoofed Dodson’s phone, saying that another person was responsible for the fake message. Yet in subsequent interviews with the agency, Portillo admitted that he was in fact to blame for the racist text.

“When it first happened, we immediately knew it was some kind of ploy. That’s why I took the initiative to call the FBI to get them to come right away to clear my phone,” Dodson said in an interview. “And they did show that I didn’t send any kind of messages or anything like that.”

While spoofing alone can be considered a crime, Portillo was ultimately only charged with making a false statement to authorities, which can carry a sentence of up to 5 years in federal prison.

Nonetheless, Portillo waived his right to a trial, resulting in a probated sentence that was handed down last month in July.

“I got to respect the judge’s decision. The only thing I can say is he did a lot of damage to my family and my reputation there for a little bit. But I’m real lucky that the people of the county and the people who know me know I’m not that way,” Dodson said.

One special condition of Portillo’s bond is that he is not to have contact with Dodson or any member of his family. Portillo no longer resides in Brewster County, however, significantly reducing the chances of Portillo interacting with the chief law enforcement officer in the county. Portillo’s lawyer, Stephen Spurgin, declined to comment on the probated sentence.

Beyond the official sentencing, Portillo –– who was employed at the sheriff’s office for less than a year up until August 2019–– will be facing the possibility of having his peace officer’s license stripped. In the state of Texas, an officer’s license is to be revoked if they are convicted of a felony.

According to the Texas Commission of Law Enforcement, Portillo still has his license. Yet now that he’s been sentenced, the agency will consider revoking it, preventing him from working as a law enforcement officer in the state.

Before the spoofing incident, Portillo’s campaign for sheriff was already mired in controversy. As The Big Bend Sentinel previously reported, an online petition demanding Portillo withdraw from the race popped up in June of last year after racist tweets –- that used the n-word alongside derogatory stereotypes –– from 2013 were found on Portillo’s Twitter account.

At the time, Portillo had denied that he had authored those tweets, calling the controversy a matter of “political sabotage.” Portillo declined to comment further after The Big Bend Sentinel found evidence that cast doubt on his assertions. In August of last year, Portillo dropped out of the race, leading to a landslide victory for Dodson.

The federal prosecutor’s office for the Western District of Texas declined to comment on the matter.