By LYNN BREZOSKY
Associated Press Writer
BROWNSVILLE, Texas- A former sheriff was sentenced Tuesday to more than 24 years in federal prison for extorting money from drug dealers and tipping off criminals about investigations.Conrado Cantu, the former sheriff of Cameron County along the Texas-Mexico border, apologized before sentencing, saying he had broken under the pressure of the job and hated drugs.
But U.S. District Judge Hilda Tagle was curt in her response.
"You used your charisma to betray your community," she told Cantu, 50. "For somebody who hates drugs, you certainly did a lot to help the drug trafficking trade."
She said people in the community would long wonder if the police officer in the patrol car next to them was escorting a drug dealer, one of the offenses described in the indictment.
Assistant U.S. Attorney Rick Lara said prosecutors were pleased with the sentence.
"It sends a good message to the community," he said. "You're going to sell your badge in Cameron County or anywhere, we're going to prosecute you to the full extent of the law."
Cantu pleaded guilty in July to heading a criminal enterprise engaged in extortion, drug trafficking, obstruction of state and local law enforcement efforts, witness tampering and bribery. In exchange, prosecutors agreed to drop other charges against him.
Also sentenced Tuesday was Hector Solis, who had pleaded guilty to helping Cantu tip off owners of gambling dens to law enforcement raids. He received six months in prison.
Rumaldo Rodriguez, Cantu's former captain, was sentenced to 14 months. Reynaldo Uribe, who admitted taking $2,000 to transport two loads of drug cash, was sentenced to one year and four months.
Geronimo Garcia, who ran the county jail commissary and was the "idea man" of the enterprise, was sentenced to nine years and six months.