A Texas sheriff is under criminal probe for allegedly having his deputies illegally seize cash and a truck from undocumented immigrants during traffic stops.

According to search warrants recently obtained by The Texas Tribune, investigators with the Texas Ranger and the Texas Attorney General's Office raided four Real County Sheriff's Office locations last month as part of an investigation into Real County Sheriff Nathan Johnson.

Texas Ranger's investigators said Johnson acknowledged regularly collecting money from undocumented immigrants during traffic stops, even though they were not charged with any state crime, before handing them over to U.S. Border Patrol officers.

Texas Sheriff Charged with Felony-level Theft by a Public Servant

Texas Ranger Ricardo Guajardo wrote in the warrant requests that a sheriff's deputy told investigators that seizing money "from undocumented immigrants and the driver has been the standard operating procedure for as long as he has been employed by the Real County Sheriff's Office."

Guajardo accused Johnson of felony-level theft by a public servant. Guajardo also accused Johnson of abusing official capacity, alleging that the sheriff's cash and car seizures violated the state's civil asset forfeiture laws.

Johnson declined to answer specific questions on Monday, saying that he and the county attorneys were reviewing the newly disclosed affidavit.

According to Guajardo, Johnson told investigators in November that money and cars were occasionally held as evidence for possible criminal cases.

After the accused sheriff's offices were searched in December, Johnson said in a Facebook post that he didn't know what prompted the inquiry, had not been apprehended, and would continue to serve the public. 

"I have taken a strong stand against human smuggling, drug smuggling, and illegal alien traffic in our community and will continue to do so," Johnson noted in the post. 

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Texas Sheriff Faces Possible Criminal Charges

 According to Arif Panju, the managing attorney for the Texas office of the Institute for Justice, aside from potential criminal charges, avoiding the state's forfeiture laws creates constitutional concerns and bad perceptions.

In Texas, even if the person involved is never charged with a crime, police have the authority to seize cash and property believed to be linked to illegal conduct. However, such seizures demand a complex forfeiture process in which prosecutors must file a civil case against the property in order for police to keep it.

According to the warrant, Johnson assured Guajardo in November that he did not initiate such proceedings. Instead, the Texas sheriff classified confiscated property as abandoned or labeled it as evidence for possible charges in two instances when neighboring law enforcement agencies assisted Real County.

The warrant said Guajardo started investigating Johnson in October after discussions with the attorney general's office focusing on the two traffic stops.

A May 2021 traffic stop footage taken by a sheriff's deputy from Edwards County showed Johnson directing his deputies to seize money and a truck from undocumented immigrants.

In another traffic stop in October, more than $2,700 cash were taken from three immigrants and was said to be marked as evidence while waiting to see if the driver's human smuggling charges would stick.  

According to Guajardo, the seizing deputy could not say under what authority the money was taken, only that Johnson told him to take it.

The probe against the Republican sheriff is underway as a political controversy raging over immigration policy, with the state and country facing record-high levels of southern border crossings. 

Texas Governor Greg Abbott has already dispatched thousands of state police and military troops to arrest and jail those suspected of crossing the border illegally.

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This article is owned by Latin Post.

Written by: Jess Smith

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