The former police chief of Jarrell pleaded guilty Friday to federal fraud charges, admitting he accepted bribes from undocumented workers to help them obtain temporary immigration status.
Appearing before a U.S. magistrate judge in Austin, Andres Tomas Gutierrez answered a series of mostly yes-or-no questions during the 40-minute hearing. The former small-town police chief admitted to a single charge of wire fraud/theft of honest services stemming from a federal investigation that alleged he took payments from several people to give them immigration benefits for helping with bogus police investigations.
“Most men and women involved in law enforcement are drawn to that job because they have a sense of duty and public service,” U.S. Attorney Robert Pitman told reporters after the hearing. “When we find one that has violated that trust, then we pledge to the public that we’ll be aggressive in the investigation and prosecution.”
Gutierrez, 51, faces up to 20 years in federal prison and a $250,000 fine. Prosecutors said Gutierrez will cooperate with authorities in an ongoing investigation with the FBI and the U.S. Department of Homeland Security. He has been released on bail until sentencing. That hearing, before U.S. District Judge Lee Yeakel, has not been set.
From the fall of 2011 to November 2013, Gutierrez took payments ranging from $10,000 to $40,000 from residents who are in the country illegally, prosecutors and a federal indictment said. In exchange, documents say, Gutierrez falsified paperwork saying those individuals were helping the Jarrell Police Department with narcotics trafficking and human trafficking investigations. That qualified them to obtain temporary immigration status under a program called “Significant Public Benefit Parole.”
Two alleged accomplices who were not named in documents and did not work for the city of Jarrell introduced Gutierrez to undocumented workers who had money to pay for immigration benefits, the documents said. The workers would then pay one of the unnamed people or that person’s company, Assistant U.S. Attorney Gregg Sofer said.
Authorities said little else beyond what was in federal charging documents filed Wednesday and did not elaborate on the status of the two alleged accomplices, how many people were involved in the scheme, how many people were illegally given temporary legal residency or how much money Gutierrez made.
Gutierrez, hired in 2006 as Jarrell’s first police chief, stepped down Oct. 31, saying he wanted to pursue his education and other law enforcement opportunities. City officials said they had no idea anything was amiss.
Jarrell, a city with about 1,000 residents in northern Williamson County, has been searching for a police chief since November and has narrowed the list of more than 70 applicants to eight candidates, said Larry Bush, the mayor pro tem. The search was temporarily slowed after federal agents raided City Hall in December, he said.
“We didn’t know what was going to happen,” Bush said.
Jarrell resumed the search two weeks ago after getting federal assurances that the raid had nothing to do with the city’s government, Bush said Friday.
Lt. Roger Thompson has been serving as Jarrell’s interim police chief since Gutierrez resigned; the city has one other police officer, Bush said. The Williamson County sheriff’s office also promised to help the city if any major criminal issues arise, he said. “We’ve lost no service because of problems with the chief,” Bush said.
As for the undocumented workers caught in the scam, Pitman said those victims “at no point presented a public safety threat,” and they will remain in the country for the time being. They now legitimately qualify for the temporary immigration status available to people cooperating with a criminal investigation, he said.