Neighbors say a Crosby-area racetrack had been operating for at least two years before the weekend arrests of nine people, including six law enforcement officers, on charges of operating an unlicensed, illegal race track.
A sign on the gate to Rancho El Herradero reads "training center," but the 70-acre property did not seem like one to neighbors, who reported heavy littering, loud music and other nuisances at the 70-acre property off Sralla Road.
"The music was so loud that I couldn't even watch TV," said Rebekah Scott, who lives near the track.
Neighbors said that trucks pulling horse trailers streamed into the property on Saturday mornings, and nearby residents reported live bands played throughout the afternoons, with crowds leaving after midnight. Scott said roadside ditches would be filled with beer cans on Sunday mornings.
Scott said she filed a complaint with the Texas Alcoholic Beverage Commission but saw no immediate changes.
A 2008 investigation of the property found no criminal or administrative violations, according to agency records. Rancho El Herradero held a beer and wine license with the commission since the same year.
A sign near grandstands at the track said gambling, firearms and outside food were prohibited.
"You saw police officers at the gate when there was a game," said Robert Rodriguez, another neighbor. "You would think it is legal."
Six of the nine people arrested Saturday were licensed police officers who provided security for the races where authorities reported illegal gambling was taking place.
The Texas Racing Commission, which oversees horse and dog tracks, acknowledges in its latest strategic plan that it struggles to enforce state laws regulating horse and greyhound tracks because of limited resources and complex relationships with law enforcement agencies.
Standards of practice
According to the report, the commission staff estimated there are 25 to 50 unregulated tracks across Texas.
A statewide referendum in 1987 made the races one of the state's few forms of legal gambling.
The base annual fee to license a track ranges from $70,000 to $500,000. The Texas Racing Commission also administers dozens of mandatory professional licenses for raceway staff, oversees race horse training and sets veterinary standards to protect animal welfare.
Texas Department of Safety started its investigation of Rancho El Herradero in November 2012 and coordinated several undercover surveillance operations, according to a news release from Terese Buess, the head of the Harris County District Attorney's public integrity division. The district attorney's office became involved in the investigation after DPS learned licensed police officers were involved.
In addition to DPS and the district attorney's office, agencies involved in the investigation included the Harris County Sheriff's Office, Texas Racing Commission, Homeland Security Investigations, Texas Alcoholic Beverage Commission, Texas Department of Criminal Justice's Office of the Inspector General and the Texas Board of Veterinary Medical Examiners.
The six officers arrested were identified as Secar Guadelupe Rangel, 34, and Joel Garcia, 31, deputy constables in Harris County Precinct 1; Richard Rene Rivera, 57, a Department of Public Safety trooper; David Green, 37, and Edward Scott, 34, reserve deputy constables in Fort Bend County Precinct 2; and Carlos Garza, 64, a reserve sheriff's deputy in Maverick County in Southwest Texas.
The two officers from Fort Bend County Constable Precinct 2 were fired.
'Uphold the law'
"All law enforcement officers are expected to uphold the law, not break the law," said Fort Bend Precinct 2 Constable Ruben Davis.
Attempts to determine the job status of the others on Sunday were unsuccessful.
Three civilians - Cosuelo Rivera, 61; Reginaldo Mandujano, 53; and Diana Marie Salinas,19 - also were arrested. Mandujano is the registered owner of the ranch property, according to Harris County Appraisal District records.
All nine were charged with racing without a license, a felony punishable by two to 10 years in prison and a fine of up to $10,000. Cosuelo Rivera, identified as the wife of Richard Rene Rivera, also was charged with impersonating a peace officer.
All those charged were freed on bail, according to court records.