In Border Town Criminal Cases, Close Ties Complicate

September 26, 2013

The intricate relationships of small town residents are complicating major drug and gun investigations in two border cities.

In New Mexico, a retired educator just wrapped up testifying on his own behalf in a 2011 Columbus gun-smuggling case. Danny Burnett, the husband of a U.S. Attorney, denies that he leaked wiretap information to Angelo Vega, who was Columbus' police chief at the time.

In the case, the former Columbus village trustee Blas "Woody" Gutierrez testified that the Juárez Cartel was paying Vega $2,000 a month in protection money.

According to the Albuquerque Journal, Gutierrez told the court that Vega told him he had a friend whose wife worked in the U.S. Attorney's Office and that friend told Vega the phones were tapped.

Meanwhile, in Nogales, Ariz., the Santa Cruz County Attorney asked a judge to dismiss felony drug charges against a Nogales public works employee, citing the discrediting of a local Immigration and Customs Enforcement agent. 

The ICE agent, Eduardo Cota, was the lead investigator in the city employee drug ring scandal. Prosecutors now say that he withheld crucial evidence against the key defendant and contradicted himself in his testimony about the defendant's actions. 

Cota's discrediting may even tangle older cases where he was the lead investigator.

As for the New Mexico case, it is expected to go to jury Thursday.