La Villa alderman heads to trial

A La Villa alderman is headed to court next week to stand trial for allegedly stealing a load of caliche from Hidalgo County in 2016.

Jose Lupe Contreras, alderman and former Hidalgo County Precinct 1 employee, stands charged with one count of theft by a public servant, and one count of abuse of official capacity, both Class B misdemeanors.

Contreras has opted for a bench trial on the two charges, meaning his fate will be decided by a judge, rather than a jury of his peers. The trial is set to begin at 2 p.m. Sept. 23 in County Court at Law No. 5.

Contreras is accused of using county-owned equipment to steal the load of caliche, which was also owned by the county, in September 2016. He allegedly did so with the aid of his cousin, Derick Palomin, who was also employed by the county at the time.

According to a copy of the criminal complaint filed against Contreras, he got access to the caliche and the dump truck used to transport it while he was “a county employee on county time.” The complaint further alleges that the total value of the caliche, the use of the truck and its fuel, and the labor of the driver amounted to more than $100 but less than $750.

The trial has been delayed for more than two years, with court records showing that a pretrial hearing initially slated for August 2017 was postponed to October of that year before being rescheduled another five times in 2018, then four more times this year.

The case against Contreras’ alleged partner in the scheme, Derick Palomin, was dismissed in August 2018 because Palomin was by then in federal custody, county court records show.

According to a February 2018 superseding federal indictment, Palomin was charged with one count of possessing with intent to distribute a controlled substance.

In March 2018, Palomin pleaded guilty to having approximately 5 kilograms of cocaine in his vehicle, which was discovered by Border Patrol agents when he tried to pass through the Sarita checkpoint in December 2017, court records show.

Palomin told agents “he was transporting the narcotics to the Corpus Christi, Texas area” area to pay off a debt, the federal complaint reads.

Editor’s note: This story was updated to reflect accurate court date.