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WENDY HUNDLEY
The Dallas Morning News

One of Mexico's most powerful drug cartels may have had some inside help in North Texas for several years from a Collin County deputy constable, according to police documents.
Robert Benavidez, whose career as a North Texas peace officer dates back almost a dozen years, was arrested July 8 on six counts of abuse of official capacity. He is accused of helping his cousin, Sergio Maldonado, who was believed to have been the North Texas "cell leader" for the Zetas, the ruthless enforcement arm of Mexico's Gulf Cartel drug smuggling operation.
Mr. Maldonado was among 30 people arrested last year during a massive federal drug sweep known as Operation Puma. Mr. Maldonado pleaded guilty earlier this year to drug trafficking and money laundering-related charges.
Beginning in 2004, while working as a deputy constable, Mr. Benavidez would periodically check law enforcement databases to determine whether Mr. Maldonado or his wife had any outstanding arrest warrants, according to arrest affidavits. Mr. Benavidez would also check the registration and ownership of suspected law enforcement surveillance vehicles, according to the arrest documents. In return, Mr. Benavidez was given several grams of cocaine, Mr. Maldonado told federal agents.
Mr. Benavidez, 41, is being held in Collin County Jail in lieu of $1.5 million bail. He declined to be interviewed.
The Department of Public Safety and the U.S. Drug Enforcement Agency declined to comment and referred calls to the Collin County District Attorney's Office, which is prosecuting the case. Collin County District Attorney John R. Roach could not be reached for comment.
According to court documents, the secret partnership between Mr. Benavidez and his cousin began to unravel on the afternoon of Oct. 5, 2005. That's when an agent for the DEA was conducting surveillance on the Dallas apartment of suspected drug trafficker Aaron Gutierrez-Garcia.
The agent saw Mr. Maldonado pull his truck into the parking lot where the DEA agent's vehicle was parked. He circled the vehicle and made a call on his cellphone.
Later that day, federal agents recorded telephone conversations between Mr. Maldonado and Mr. Gutierrez-Garcia. They heard Mr. Maldonado say that "his cousin" ran license plates of the suspected surveillance vehicle and that it belonged to the government.
Federal authorities later determined that the plates were checked through the Communications Section of the Collin County Sheriff's Office and from the Precinct 4 Constable's Office in Frisco.
Mr. Benavidez worked as a deputy constable for Precinct 4 in Frisco from 2001 until he resigned in July 2006. Precinct 4 Chief Deputy Gary Boone said Mr. Benavidez was allowed to resign for allegedly violating department policy. He declined to elaborate.
Between Sept. 5, 2001, and Dec. 6, 2006, Mr. Maldonado and/or his wife were checked for outstanding warrants more than 30 times through the constable's office or the sheriff's office, according to the arrest documents.
In May, Johnny Todd, the Collin County constable for Precinct 4, told officials that Mr. Benavidez drove expensive vehicles such as a Hummer and a Mercedes-Benz and once showed up at the office with a gold-plated Colt 1911 .45-caliber pistol. The deputy constable said they belonged to Mr. Maldonado, documents show.
Mr. Todd told officials that he once attended a birthday party for Mr. Benavidez's wife and was introduced to Mr. Maldonado, who was described as her cousin.
After resigning from the constable's office, Mr. Benavidez began working as a peace officer for the Richland College Police Department. He is now on paid administrative leave from that job, a college district spokeswoman said.
After working for five months at the Van Alstyne Police Department, Mr. Benavidez was employed as a jailer and peace officer for the Collin County Sheriff's Office from 1996 to 2001, according to Texas Commission on Law Enforcement records.

Story From:McClatchy-Tribune News Service
 
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