Rarely Quoted Sheriffs: Mexican Cartels Do Operate in and Around Controversial Texas Illegal Immigrant Community

And federal law enforcement won’t go near the region surrounding the Colony Ridge Development of Liberty County, Texas

By Todd Bensman on October 5, 2023
Liberty County Sheriff Bobby Rader  and San Jacinto County Sheriff Greg Capers
Liberty County Sheriff Bobby Rader (left) and San Jacinto County Sheriff Greg Capers (right) are high-credibility law enforcement professionals who openly proclaim that a booming community of 75,000 foreign nationals brought cartels and crime with them that federal law enforcement has ignored and current policing levels are incapable of managing.

AUSTIN, Texas — Gov. Greg Abbott’s recent promises to commit significant political and law enforcement capital to address the booming and controversial “Colony Ridge” housing development in Liberty County has provoked a counter-campaign from its developer to dispute various claims about the community that drove the governor’s decisions.

The governor recently promised a special legislative session and ordered a Texas Department of Public Safety trooper surge into Liberty County in response to published reports that illegal immigrants have flooded into Colony Ridge and surrounding counties, and that dangerous Mexican cartels have taken root there because federal law enforcement has neglected the rapidly booming town. An estimated 50,000-75,000 people live in Colony Ridge after responding to internet ads promising that they can “own land in the United States”, and can buy through unconventional, high-interest, owner-to-buyer loans ranging as high as 15 percent.

In recent weeks, local, state, and national media have descended on the controversy to quote the developers, brothers Trey and John Harris and their Terrenos Houston company, insisting that illegal immigrants are no more numerous in Colony Ridge than anywhere else, that there is little if any Mexican cartel activity or crime there, and that the region is not a “no-go” zone for federal, state, and local law enforcement.

Missing from most, if not all, of the refuting media coverage, however, is what the region’s two most knowledgeable law enforcement sources think about the claims about cartel activity, higher-than-normal concentrations of illegal immigrants, and current policing levels.

They are Liberty County Sheriff Bobby Rader and San Jacinto County Sheriff Greg Capers, whose office is handling the case of a murder of five Honduran nationals in May by a multiply-deported Mexican neighbor.

Despite the dearth of media requests for their input on these three main controversies, both sheriffs did give interviews about these questions on two podcasts that have drawn no known reportorial interest. To inform the public debate about the new Texas DPS surge in Liberty County, the Center for Immigration Studies has transcribed extended excerpts from both podcast interviews.

The excerpts are derived from Houston-based Michael Berry Show’s September 27, 2023, podcast and radio show titled: “Liberty County Sheriff, Bobby Rader, Calls Colony Ridge a Big Problem” and from this author, Todd Bensman, hosting CIS’s Parsing Immigration Policy, Episode 121, on September 8, 2023, titled “Policing in Rural Texas: San Jacinto County Sheriff Addresses the Open Border’s Strain on Enforcement”.

They follow now, edited to address the three main disputed questions: Are Mexican cartels a problem in the vicinity? Is Liberty County and its immediate environs a law enforcement “no-go” zone? Do more illegal immigrants live in this area than in most communities?

Are Mexican Cartels Present and Operating in Liberty County and Surrounding Areas?

“Liberty County Sheriff, Bobby Rader, Calls Colony Ridge a Big Problem”

Host Michael Berry to Sheriff Rader: Sheriff Rader, I see a story in the Bluebonnet News, headline: weapons, drugs seized during raid at Colony Ridge area; Liberty County sheriff’s office narcotics unit recently received information referencing distribution of narcotics from a residence there. It talks about the weapons that have been found there. It sounds like more than just a guy who is up to no good. I hear people in the area and people who come in and out of the community, different service providers and different things, I hear that this is a hotbed of cartel activity, that there’s trafficking going on. If 10 percent of what I hear is true, that’s some really bad stuff. But I’m guessing you have a whole lot better knowledge than most people because you’re the office that’s getting the call. How concerned should people be with what’s going on here. Is this just a poor trailer park ...

Sheriff Rader: No sir.

Berry: ... with your usual criminal activity, or is this way worse than that, way more concerning?

Sheriff Rader: It’s way more concerning. In fact, several years ago, an investigation that involved the DEA [Drug Enforcement Administration] in Miami-Dade [Fla.] — that area, they had the biggest bust, drug bust, ever. It still holds the record as the biggest drug bust of meth and things that came from the Colony Ridge subdivision. We didn’t have the resources or anything else to knock it down to track it when it got down to Florida, but it did have warehouses and everything, and they got it. It’s continually — I was talking to a Texas Ranger Monday, and he said that in his 10 years of investigation of crimes, of things that he’d investigated, the defendant, the victim, the weapon, or the vehicle used came from the subdivisions [of Colony Ridge].

Berry: What percentage?

Sheriff Rader: He said everyone that he had investigated in the 10 years came from that area.

Berry: Wow. So, look, every community has — especially when you get out into an unincorporated area — you’ve got a trailer park or you’ve got that area there that everybody kind of knows about and people are fussy and you’ve got the Hatfields and McCoys, and you’ve got stray dogs and you’ve got cars on blocks and you might have a meth head here or there. But this appears to be a level of criminality and a level of sophistication to arrange this and make money off of it and make use of these people far in excess of random people making bad decisions. This would suggest sort of a hand above this that’s making this happen. Is that fair?

Sheriff Rader: That’s fair. That’s the biggest area of the subdivisions [Colony Ridge] — I’ll say the subdivision — more people in it than any of our other subdivisions. And you are correct. In every subdivision in the rural areas, there are people that we’ve arrested for drugs. There’s people we’ve arrested for family violence.

I know that just the statistics that have been given to me from the subdivisions, there’s an increase in overdoses among juveniles, thefts, burglaries, robberies, or an increase, and we have a lot of runaways up there. We have a lot of probably juveniles that -- I know a caller called in talking about stray dogs. Yeah, that’s a problem. It is a problem. Liberty County does not have an animal shelter, so the dogs are everywhere. Not only in that subdivision but because there are so many people in that subdivision there’s more dogs running around loose than the other subdivisions. So there’s a lot of problems that need to be addressed.

Berry: I think what scares people the most is that this is a potential cartel activity for people that are doing more than — who are both in the country illegally and in addition to that could potentially be involved in violent crime, sexual crimes, drug trafficking, and those sorts of things. Do you get the sense that that is happening?

Sheriff Rader: Yes sir, that’s happening. I want to kind of brag and say we have one of the best interdiction teams in the state. A lot of people come trade with our guys. And, of course, when you have an interdiction team you have undercover work and do things like that. And we had many of the gang members identified there. But people have to realize in other subdivisions we have gang members, not necessarily MS-13 or the Tango Blast or the Terrenos or whatever group the cartel names are. But you might have the Aryan Brotherhood or Aryan Circle. You’ve got prison gang people that are all over Liberty County. But there’s a bigger concentration of them in this subdivision because there’s so many more people up there. And yes, it is a concern.

“Policing in Rural Texas: San Jacinto County Sheriff Addresses the Open Border’s Strain on Enforcement”

Bensman: Right next door is Liberty County, which has been gaining a lot of renown lately as a location of maybe the largest community of illegal immigrants in the United States, 75,000, they say, in a community called Colony Ridge right next door there. But also expanding fast in an unprecedented kind of boom. So in terms of crime and law enforcement, how in your mind has that population explosion impacted on the broader region that would include your own county of San Jacinto?

Sheriff Capers: Well, I don’t want to say anything about Liberty County because I don’t work over there. I control San Jacinto County in the law enforcement that’s done here with my guys. But yeah there are a vast number of illegal immigrants living within five miles of my jurisdiction. We also have an influence of four cartels in my county. They live in four different areas, and we have had nine murders this year alone.

Bensman: In June, the San Jacinto County Commissioner’s Court approved a declaration of local disaster. You were a prime proponent of this. You cited increased drug smuggling and some other things. Can you provide more detail and context about why you pursued this declaration of local disaster so far from the border?

Sheriff Capers: Well, I did all this based off of our governor’s plea to Texas and the rest of the world that every county is now a border county. And when he did that, I and my county, with my crime rate, which has spiked this year ... with those murders, a meth lab, had [marijuana] grow houses ... had a Pakistani air force officer murder one woman and cripple another in my county ... and I’ve had a cock-fighting ring in my county that was all done by Vietnamese nationals where the cartel has provided security for that cockfighting ring.

Bensman: Well you did mention earlier that cartels were active there. How do you really know and which cartels would you say they are?

Sheriff Capers: Because they actually had signs going in through their areas. The cartels are the Jalisco New Generation cartel, the Gulf Cartel, the Los Zetas, and the Sinaloa cartel.

Bensman: What are they involved in?

Sheriff Capers: They do cock fighting. They do dog fighting. They do grow houses, meth labs, so on and so forth. Prostitution.

Bensman: By prostitution, do you mean anything that has to do ... that could be called sex trafficking?

Sheriff Capers: There is probably sex trafficking going on in my county. There is gambling going on in my county. There are safe houses that I know of in my county. We’re currently working online cases of sex trafficking with the cartels.

Bensman: Are the activities actually in your county?

Sheriff Capers: Yes, they are. These are ongoing cases. They meet each other on the Internet. They pay online to meet for sex acts. That is how they’re sex trafficking.

Bensman: You also mentioned a grow house, or grow operation that you broke up recently? Can you talk a little bit about that?

Sheriff Capers: It was run by Cuban nationals. They had probably two or four acres. They had two houses sitting on it. They were stealing electricity and had it plugged into the main house from three different areas. From that raid, we seized over 400 pounds and I believe 159 trees that ranged anywhere for three or four feet all the way to up to almost nine feet tall.

Bensman: What would you say the value was of all that dope?

Sheriff Capers: Probably $700,000 easy. It was premium pot. It’d been going on for at least a couple of years.

Is Liberty County a Law Enforcement ‘No-Go’ Zone?

“Liberty County Sheriff, Bobby Rader, Calls Colony Ridge a Big Problem”

Berry to Sheriff Rader: Are you surprised by all of this attention to Colony Ridge because you’ve been making a lot of arrests there for a while, and I’m guessing you saw what was going on and tried to explain it to people, and now all of a sudden everyone’s paying attention?

Sheriff Rader: Some reporter reported that we had a no-go zone, which was not true. We have actually 10 deputies to work that subdivision and we just added what we call a rover from another one, so we have 11 deputies that work that. Now, I think if you said, “not enough to go” zone, it would be accurate. It is a big problem that I don’t think anybody was prepared to handle, including the Liberty County Sheriff’s Office.

Berry: How many deputies do you have total?

Sheriff Rader: Counting sergeants and corporals, 50.

Berry: And how many are on patrol or on duty at any given time?

Sheriff Rader: That’s a good question. I have kind of broken that out. The most I’ll ever have on duty is 13. And based on the population, that’s one deputy per 7,902 people. But the problem that we have is that we have those 10 deputies assigned to the subdivision [Colony Ridge] and defining what the population is — some people say 50,000. Some people say 75,000. If you want to base it on the 50,000, the most that I have at one time is three deputies so I have one deputy for every 16,700 people based on the 50,000. If it’s 75,000, I’ve got one deputy for every 25,000 people.

I’ve heard rumors that the cartel is buying up these houses and they’re doing all this stuff — we don’t have any access to homeowners, you know, who’s doing this or that, if they’re not breaking the law. We don’t know about it. We can’t go knock on doors and ask people if they’re doing it but yeah, it’s a problem. A big problem. And we don’t have the resources to address it. The federal government’s not going to send us anybody; that’s why we’re relying on Governor Abbott to help us out.

“Policing in Rural Texas: San Jacinto County Sheriff Addresses the Open Border’s Strain on Enforcement”

Bensman: Let me ask you this just for a little bit of background. Would you say it’s true what people like me and some others say about that area, which is that it is something of a law enforcement no-go zone, or like a sanctuary from federal law enforcement for sure and even state law enforcement in terms of policing such large numbers of illegal immigrants in that area. Is it?

Sheriff Capers: You talking about the Colony?

Bensman: The Colony and the whole area around it.

Sheriff Capers: We patrol our area, and I applaud anybody that has a badge and a gun and if they want to come into my area — if it’s the feds, if it’s the state, if it’s the local policeman, if it’s the school district policeman. I’ve been brought up that way, that we are a brotherhood, and I will allow whoever to come into my county to work whatever kind of legal investigation they have to work. I know we have called ICE [U.S. Immigration and Customs Enforcement] several times for crimes that were federal crimes that we had no stake to put on a person. And we got no help from the ICE office.

Bensman: Did they just not answer the calls? Or do you get some kind of an explanation?

Sheriff Capers: Here’s normally what happens. We’ll call and get ahold of someone and then they say if it runs through their computer system or whatever, they will call us right back and get to us, but if we don’t hear from them within X number of minutes then there’s nothing that they can do for us.

Bensman: So then I guess after some time you stop calling?

Sheriff Capers: No sir. We call every time. Every time we have an incident that requires federal help, we call. We just don’t get a lot of response from the federal government. The [911 and 311] call load in our area has picked up to deal with this problem [of growing numbers of illegal immigrants moving to San Jacinto County], and I still today have the same number of patrolmen that I had nine years ago working the street on a daily basis.

Bensman: So what’s the silver bullet to slow or impede the fast growth of illegal aliens in interior counties like Liberty and San Jacinto?

Sheriff Capers: More manpower! We need more policemen. We need more deputy sheriffs. We need help from the federal government, from the state of Texas because, in my opinion, that is why the cartels — that is why the illegal immigration is moving from the southern border up to an area like my county, like what is in other counties.

It’s simply because, when they get there, they don’t have to worry about law enforcement because they’ve moved out into the rural where we’re not 4,000 deputies strong. We’re not 6,000 policemen strong. In my county, we have three policemen working at any time during a 24-hour period. There’s only two ways to patrol. You either reactive-patrol or you proactive-patrol. We are so short we just have reactive. We just don’t have that luxury because of the funding here in our county.

Do More Illegal Immigrants Move to Liberty and San Jacinto Counties?

“Policing in Rural Texas: San Jacinto County Sheriff Addresses the Open Border’s Strain on Enforcement”

Bensman: One thing I noticed in local media accounts when you declared this disaster is that you had hundreds of local citizens turn out in support of it. What does that tell you, that so many people in your county showed up in favor of this thing?

Sheriff Capers: Well, we’re tired of it. Three months ago, I was in El Paso and I heard from a very high ranking U.S. Customs and Border Protection official. And he stated that unless we do something right now, by this time next year there will be 4.8 million new residents here within America. My county, we’re tired of it. But on the other hand, I am 100 percent in favor of legal immigration. It’s just illegal that I have a problem with. The masses that are coming across the southern border, in my opinion, the federal government is doing nothing other than bumping their gums talking a bunch of trash and doing nothing to stop the illegal flow of immigrants across the southern border.

“Liberty County Sheriff, Bobby Rader, Calls Colony Ridge a Big Problem”

Berry to Sheriff Rader: A land man who’s done work in the area tells me that, quote, almost all that development is in the flood plain; that’s how they bought it so cheap. It’s eventually going to get a bad flood and that’s going to cost the taxpayers dearly to clean it all up, rebuild, re-locate ...

Sheriff Rader: As you know, federal law doesn’t have anything stopping a non-native from purchasing land in the United States and that includes Texas. And you know we can’t trump federal law in a lot of things. But yeah, they’re moving in.