Conrado Cantu became county sheriff in Brownsville, Tx., in 2001. Last December, he admitted leading an extortion and drug trafficking ring at the U.S.-Mexico border. He was sentenced to 24 years in prison. Drug traffickers “put so much pressure on me,” he told the Los Angeles Times in his first interview at the U.S. penitentiary in Talladega, Al. He once ran a $12-million-a-year sheriff’s budget and supervised 96 deputies. Today he works in the prison cabinet shop.
The Times say Cantu’s story “is emblematic of the corruption that increasingly straddles the border.” Like other officials, Cantu succumbed to the lure of la mordida, the bribe. “It’s a border town and you have people coming in from all over, through Mexico, a lot of people always trying to tempt you,” Cantu said. “They knew I was real popular. They knew I was getting stronger. They looked at me like a prizefighter with whom they can make some money.” Said Jon Brooks, a lawyer for Cantu: “The U.S. Attorney’s office wants to send a message to other elected officials throughout the Rio Grande Valley that they are watching.”