Sun. Jun 23rd, 2024

Border Patrol officials under investigation for ties to tequila mogul are also under scrutiny for parties with businessman

By 37ci3 May17,2024


Border Patrol officials who are under investigation for their ties to a Mexican tequila tycoon Two sources with knowledge of the relationship told NBC News that a wealthy businessman involved in cross-border trade also attended parties hosted by his wife, raising questions about whether there was a conflict of interest.

Mexican-American businessman Eduardo Garza, owner of Uni-Trade, a company that advises international companies on “global shipping, foreign trade and customs,” hosted Border Patrol agents for three events and a smaller group of officials at his ranch in Laredo, Texas. Mexico for the other two cases, sources said.

Customs and Border Protection’s Office of Professional Responsibility is now investigating whether senior officials, including Border Patrol Chief Jason Owens and Rio Grande Valley Sector Chief Gloria Chavez, fully disclosed their ties to Garza or what Garza presented to them, the sources said.

The Inspector General’s Department of Homeland Security is also asking questions about the activities of Chavez and Garza at some or all of the events, sources said.

Regardless of what they do or do not disclose, CBP’s ethics policies prohibit receiving gifts from anyone who “engages in activities regulated by the employee’s agency” or “has an interest that could significantly affect the performance or non-performance of the employee’s official duties.”

Uni-Trade describes itself on its website as a “customs broker”. Because Garza’s business conducts activities regulated by CBP, he could be considered a “prohibited source” of the gifts, according to sources. The code of conduct gifts “entertainment, hospitality…transportation, local travel, lodging and meals.

Sources said Garza introduced Owens and Chavez to tequila maker Francisco Javier Gonzalez.

As NBC News previously reported, Owens and Chavez are already under investigation by CBP’s Office of Professional Responsibility for their contacts with Gonzalez, who wanted to make Border Patrol-branded tequila to celebrate the agency’s 100th anniversary this month.

Garza and the Border Patrol

Garza is popular in Laredo, Texas, a border town of more than 250,000 on the Rio Grande. He sponsored the city’s baseball stadium, named Uni-Trade. He has As the governor of the Mexican state of Tamaulipas, he received foreign officials in his home and received the keys to the city of Laredo.

He’s also politically active, giving thousands of dollars to city and county officials, according to an affidavit stemming from his 2013 defamation lawsuit. Published by the Laredo newspaper. In the deposition, Garza also revealed that he flew local elected officials on the company plane several times.

In July 2023, Garza hosted an event with Border Patrol agents at his Laredo ranch following a change of command ceremony at the Border Patrol’s Laredo office, sources said.

border patrol investigation
Dinner in Laredo, Texas at the home of Uni-Trade CEO Eduardo Garza in December. At left are Rio Grande Valley Sector Chief Gloria Chavez; US Border Patrol Chief Jason Owens, seated third from left; Eduardo Garza is the man sitting on the far right.Retrieved by NBC News

Three months later, in October 2023, event registration for a summit bringing together Border Patrol leaders from the Laredo and Rio Grande Valley Border Patrol sectors took place at the Garza ranch, according to a copy of the agenda. The participants then partied at the ranch. They were shuttled to the ranch, heard Garza speak, had lunch “sponsored by Uni-Trade” and were entertained by a comedian hired by Garza.

In December, after a four-day conference for Border Patrol sector chiefs in Laredo, Garza hosted chiefs from around the country, as well as staff traveling with them, for dinner at his ranch, according to a copy of the diary. and photos obtained by NBC News. The dinner, which lasted from 19.00 to 23.00, was marked on the agenda as “Uni-Trade dinner”.

Photos of the dinner show Garza at a table with Owens, Chavez and the former Laredo sector chief. Joel Martinez, who soon left the agencyward after allegations of sexual abuse attracts subordinate women. (Martinez did not comment on the allegations.) An eight-piece mariachi band entertained diners, as seen in cellphone video obtained by NBC News.

border patrol investigation
Mariachis perform at a dinner party at Garza’s residence in Laredo in December.Retrieved by NBC News

Internal investigators are also looking into allegations that Chavez traveled with Garza to Guadalajara, Mexico in November 2023 and whether he or Garza paid for travel and ground transportation.

This February, Owens, Chavez and Garza traveled to Jalisco, Mexico, and were among a group hosted by Gonzalez, who distills at Tequila Casa de los Gonzalez, his family’s distillery, where they celebrated Owens’ birthday.

In one photo from the February gathering, Owens sits in front of what appears to be a birthday cake, holding a cigar. Garza sits right next to him. Gonzalez, the tequila master, stands up as if to propose a toast.

Gonzalez also attended at least one of the parties Garza hosted in Laredo.

Through his attorney, Garza said he “never paid for any travel or transportation for Gloria Chavez or Jason Owens.” When asked about the purpose of the social events organized for Border Patrol Service officers, Garza said that he “had a number of parties at his home for various reasons, but the purpose was[s] these celebrations included family, friends or sporting events.”

CBP’s Office of Professional Responsibility is investigating whether Owens and Chavez disclosed their relationship with Garza and what Garza or Gonzalez provided on the trip to Jalisco.

The Border Patrol tequila plot has been suspended amid an ongoing investigation. On Thursday, Owens said on social media platform X: “A gala event planned for May 25th in El Paso to celebrate 100 years of Border Patrol has been canceled. All other events will continue as planned.” A schedule posted online listed two golf tournaments, a parade and a black-tie gala.

Reached for comment, a CBP spokesperson referred NBC News to a May 10 statement CBP provided in the original story involving Border Patrol agents and the tequila maker: “CBP trusts our senior leaders and holds them to the highest standards of integrity and honesty. . professionalism. Consistent with our commitment to accountability, we thoroughly investigate all allegations and take appropriate action to address any issues identified during our investigations. “CBP will continue to strengthen our commitment to the agency’s standards at all levels.”

‘Embarrassing’

Border Patrol officials are now being told to complete mandatory ethics training before attending any centennial celebrations planned for next week and to avoid certain activities, such as a golf tournament sponsored by companies seeking or seeking contracts with CBP. Sources told NBC News about it.

After NBC’s initial report on the family’s visit to the distillery, Gonzalez told NBC News that he first met Chavez at a private event in Guadalajara in November and then Owens at a party in Laredo in December.

It was through these meetings, he said, that they began discussing the idea of ​​a limited special release of his tequila brand, Reserva de Los Gonzalez, to be used for the Border Patrol’s centennial.

According to him, the Border Patrol’s presence at the Jalisco plant on February 2nd was arranged for Border Patrol agents to see the operation of the plant, select the type of tequila and “see all the legal formalities that need to be done.”

Gonzalez said he didn’t pay for the trip and that Border Patrol agents don’t know how he got to the distillery.

Gonzalez did not comment on why Garza and the other people in the photos from Jalisco were involved.

Although the tequila project was eventually scrapped, he said he never planned to trademark the Border Patrol tequila brand or sell his special edition commercially.

Meanwhile, several rank-and-file Border Patrol agents expressed concern over revelations about Owens and Chavez’s trip to the tequila distillery.

“We don’t know if this was done on duty or off-duty,” Hector Garza, president of the Border Patrol Association in Laredo, told local station KGNS after the NBC News report. “It’s still under investigation, but I believe the taxpayer doesn’t expect us to travel internationally for tequila projects.”

Another Border Patrol agent, who spoke on condition of anonymity, said the allegations under investigation were embarrassing for the agency.

“The way these individuals behave is shameful and they are letting their guard down,” the agent said. “It’s frustrating.”



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By 37ci3

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