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This Border Dem Represented Drug Smugglers and Gang Leaders. Now, He Preaches ‘Law and Order.’

Vicente Gonzalez's South Texas district has long history of cartel activity

Rep. Vicente Gonzales (WikiMedia Commons)
• July 14, 2022 5:00 am

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Before joining Congress, Vicente Gonzalez agreed to legally represent drug smugglers and gang leaders who flooded his border community with illegal drugs. Now, the Texas Democrat stresses the need to stop the flow of drugs and maintain "law and order."

In 1997, Gonzalez founded his law firm, V. Gonzalez and Associates, through which the multimillionaire Democrat still earns tens of thousands of dollars a year. One year later, Gonzalez was retained to represent Richard Contreras, who pleaded guilty to federal charges after he conspired to import more than 2,200 pounds of marijuana from Mexico, court documents show.

In 1999, meanwhile, Gonzalez was retained to defend Frank Tijerina, the leader of a Texas street gang called the "Corrupt Criminal Mob." Tijerina was sentenced to 30 months in prison on federal drug charges after conspiring to distribute nearly $420,000 worth of marijuana. Tijerina later pleaded guilty to selling large quantities of meth in a scheme that also started in the late 1990s. In total, Gonzalez agreed to represent an array of felony drug dealers who conspired to distribute eight pounds of MDMA, nearly half a pound of cocaine, and more than 4,000 pounds of marijuana, easily worth millions of dollars.

Gonzalez's decision to represent high-level drug dealers in his South Texas border community—long a hotspot for Mexican cartels working to traffic narcotics into the United States—is at odds with the Democrat's rhetoric as a member of Congress. In June 2018, Gonzalez called himself a "law and order member" who "believe[s] in strict border security." Two months later, the Democrat said he was working to "bring security to our border" and ensure "drugs are not coming across as freely as they are now." The issue could haunt his campaign as voters sour on President Joe Biden's border policies amid record-high illegal immigrant encounters—according to a February Harvard CAPS-Harris poll, just 32 percent of voters approve of Biden's handling of immigration.

A former Border Patrol agent who served in the Lower Rio Grande Valley, which Gonzalez represents, criticized the Democrat for the "stark inconsistencies" between "where he's at today versus what he did before." "Most South Texas Democrats act as if they're not threatened to lose their jobs," the former agent told the Washington Free Beacon. "[Gonzalez] is on that list—he's been very comfortable, at least until now."

Gonzalez's campaign, which touts his record as an attorney, did not return a request for comment. 

McAllen, Texas, where Gonzalez lives, is no stranger to cartel activity. The city borders the Mexican city of Reynosa, which is known as a "key trafficking point" for "cartel violence." As a result, the New York Post reported in 2019, McAllen is "‘ground zero' in the border crisis between the U.S. and Mexico" and even features "a new Maserati dealership and ads for Rolex and Cartier watches" as cartel traffickers look to launder their cash. Roughly two decades earlier—as Gonzalez defended drug dealers in the area—federal agents arrested individuals in McAllen and nearby Brownsville who were implicated in a Mexican trafficking ring that held more than 5,200 kilograms of cocaine, nearly 10,000 pounds of marijuana, and roughly $11 million in cash, according to a Drug Enforcement Administration press release.

Despite the long-standing flow of cartel drugs into McAllen, Gonzalez has criticized former president Donald Trump's border wall, which he called "useless" and "wasteful." Instead of funding the wall, the Democrat argued, Congress should send billions of dollars to Central American countries to slow illegal immigration. Gonzalez also said the idea that the wall would "stop illegal drugs from coming to our country" is a "myth." Former U.S. Immigration and Customs Enforcement acting director Ronald Vitiello disputed that claim, calling the wall an "important" tool that "makes the work of agents safer."

"It provides an anchor for the operation, it provides an anchor for technology, and it makes the agents safer, because they have the ability to slow people down and have this base of operations," Vitiello told the Free Beacon. "So saying that doesn't work is not an informed opinion. It doesn't comport with my experience and wisdom."

Gonzalez made big money from his legal career, his financial disclosures show. The Democrat owns an array of rental properties—his latest disclosure lists eight in McAllen, two in Washington, D.C., one in Monterrey, Mexico, and one in Madrid, Spain. Those properties earned Gonzalez at least $235,000 in 2020. Gonzalez also earned a combined $280,000 in "attorney fees" income from his law firm in 2019 and 2020, according to his disclosures.

Gonzalez in 2020 narrowly defeated Republican challenger Monica De La Cruz in Texas's 15th Congressional District. One year later, he announced his decision to run in the 34th Congressional District in 2022, as the state's redistricting process made that area considerably more blue. Still, Republicans are hopeful that Republican congresswoman Mayra Flores can give Gonzalez a run for his money in November. 

Flores in June became both the first Mexican-born woman elected to Congress and the first Republican to represent parts of the 34th Congressional District since 1870 after she won a special election against Democrat Dan Sanchez. That race saw Flores best Sanchez in historical Democratic strongholds—the Republican, for example, won in Cameron County, which is 90 percent Hispanic and voted for Biden by double digits less than two years ago. After her win, the New York Times said Flores's win marked "the rise of the far-right Latina," citing the Republican's support for religiosity, strong borders, and traditional values.