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Former Hidalgo Co. Constable Deputy Charged with Illegal Weapons Sales

2 months 2 weeks 5 days ago Wednesday, January 08 2020 Jan 8, 2020 January 08, 2020 9:20 PM January 08, 2020 in Investigations

MCALLEN – A former reserve deputy for a Rio Grande Valley constable was arrested and charged with selling weapons illegally while he was employed at a McAllen gun store. Jose Cruz was arrested by ATF agents in Dec. 2019. He was a manager at the Gun Rack, a small gun shop on Business 83 in McAllen.

In late-October, he gave CHANNEL 5 NEWS an interview describing the lethal power of weapons recently seized from cartel operatives by Tamaulipas authorities. He described the magnitude of damage caused by M2s, hand grenades, an RPG launcher and a .50 Barrett caliber sniper rifle. The sale of various rifles led to his arrest and subsequent indictment.

The month following the KRGV interview, Cruz was formally interviewed by agents from the Bureau of Alcohol, Tobacco, Firearms, and Explosives, or ATF. According to the federal criminal complaint, Cruz admitted to falsely adding the purchase of a second weapon to a customer's form, ATF Form 4473. He then reportedly sold and delivered the weapon to someone else which is a federal crime not to record the transaction. By Dec. 5, 2019, Jose Cruz was arrested and eventually released after paying a bond requiring a $3,000 deposit.

The indictment recently released on Jan. 2, 2020 is alleging from April 2018 through Nov. 2019. Cruz illegally sold 38 rifles and a pistol without keeping the required federal records for those sales. Six rifles were smuggled from the United States. He is facing a charge for failure by a federally licensed dealer to keep proper records and another count for smuggling goods from the United States. The first charge has a potential of a sentence of up to five years and could include a fine of up to $250,000. A stiffer sentence of up to 10 years and a fine of the same amount is possible for the smuggling charge.

Cruz grew up in Pharr though his parents are from Reynosa, Tamaulipas, according to his birth certificate. His 22-year career in Texas law enforcement began with the Hidalgo County Precinct 3 Constable's Office in 1993, according to records kept by the Texas Commission on Law Enforcement, or TCOLE. He later became a police officer at the Palmview Police Department in 1996 and later with Hidalgo Police Department in 1998. That same year he married. For a period of two years, Cruz worked as a border officer for the United Nations Mission in Kosovo, from 2000 to 2001. He was stationed in Prizern, Kosovo Yugoslavia. By the time he returned he had a child when he applied to work for the Mission Police Department in 2002. He served the longest time with that agency and resigned from the department in Feb. 2012 to start a business. Seven months later, the Attorney General's Office began inquiries into his employment status. The request was signed by a child support officer with the division by the same name.

Cruz began working as a civilian after his service with Mission police, but returned to work for the Hidalgo County Pct 3 Constable's Office as a reserve deputy. These deputies are brought in to work on a voluntary, or uncompensated, basis to help assist deputies who have acquired too much overtime, explained Hidalgo County Pct 3 Constable Larry Gallardo. He said when he took Cruz on to work as a reserve deputy he considered his work history. Judging from his experience, Cruz was an "outstanding individual, as far as law enforcement is concerned. He's received numerous awards."

In total, TCOLE records show is credited with 1653 hours of training from 1993 to 2019. Some of those courses included tactical training, Terrorism & Homeland Security, and Spanish for Law Enforcement. He also acquired intelligence gathering skills while in Kosovo. Throughout his career, Cruz is praised as a patient officer. His UNMIK report described his performance as "strict but using common sense and humanity." A review of his performance while working with Mission police in 2010 stated he has "good upright morality." However, it also stated he failed to turn in reports on time and needed to improve the "implementation of records for the submissions of those reports."

Gallardo says he was surprised when he heard of the investigation involving Cruz, but did not hesitate to take action.

"As soon as we got information that he may be investigated for possibly the firearms trade, or something, we immediately terminated him as our reserve deputy," stated Gallardo.

Five days after his termination, he gave an interview to ATF agents that would set his court proceedings into motion.

Cruz attended his initial appearance in federal court Wednesday morning before Judge Scott Hacker in McAllen. He entered a plea of not guilty on all charges. He was previously released on bond before the indictment under conditions that prevent him from traveling to Mexico, possessing a firearm or dangerous weapon. He is also not allowed to have employment dealings with firearms.

As of the start of this week, the McAllen gun store, the Gun Rack, was no longer open and all signage was stripped from the building.

According to a check of its FFL license under the ATF's website, its expiration date is still listed as May 2022. Jury selection is scheduled to start Feb. 4, 2020.

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