Drugs, Guns and Money: Federal Law Vs. the Wild West in Texas's Big Bend

February 13, 2011

There are few areas in Texas that recall the dusty romance and brutal violence of the Old West quite like the Bend Bend. Named for a glittering switchback in the mighty Rio Grande between El Paso and Del Rio, this storied region has long been considered something of a latter day wilderness, hard to tame and nearly impossible to police.

But that hasn't stopped the Feds from trying.

I spend a lot of time defending clients who have gotten tangled up in the disjointed net of enforcement our Feds have thrown across the Big Bend. Today this battle has grown to include high tech toys such as night vision and GPS, but ultimately it's just another front in the age old shootouts of the Wild West, where drugs, guns and money drove men to risk life and limb for lucre.

Start with the drugs. The Big Bend is home to Sierra Blanca, an infamous border checkpoint manned by Border Patrol and ICE for the express purpose of stemming the tide of illegal narcotics that enter this nation from Mexico. Never mind the fact that most drug runners wouldn't think of broaching a checkpoint; the real issue is how many otherwise harmless folks get caught up in this net and forced to pay with their freedom. Even though the Big Bend sees its share of major Federal drug busts, the utter uniformity of its enforcement policies leaves many wondering where the priorities truly lie -- in grabbing headlines or making progress?

Guns represent another front in our quixotic fight against smuggling. Despite millions USD spent annually on stopping illegal border crossings, the Big Bend remains a fairly easy waypoint for gun smugglers looking to sell their wares in nearby Alpine, Fort Davis, and points north. The FBI and ATF get into the mix with countless traffic stops and arrests all along I-10, but the most effective and dangerous arms smugglers continue to find clever ways through this porous border -- and embarrass law enforcement in the process.

Which brings us to the money. The cynic in you might be forgiven for wondering if this is what actually drives the other efforts -- after all, where there is smuggling, there is cash, and lots of it. Enormous sums of money can arise in cases where contraband is being shunted to middlemen and civilians, but the problem for law enforcement is how to police the vast underground economy that has arisen to launder all that money. As a federal criminal attorney in the Big Bend, I see plenty of fraud, bankruptcy and white collar cases that ultimately owe their origins to the lure of easy cash on the border.

There are trade-offs all around us. The Big Bend is a stunning landscape, but just beneath its otherworldly beauty lies a thriving underworld of corruption and contraband. Our law enforcement machinery has expanded in recent years to exact maximum penalties from anyone caught breaking the law in this region, but there are some good ways to fight back. A Texas criminal attorney can work the system to protect you from the clumsy hammer of Federal law enforcement.