Edinburg, TX – Investigators have long been trying to find organizers of the widespread illicit activity, and they allege that Guadalupe Herrera, a local businessman who investigators called a "kingpin" on the South Texas cockfighting circuit, collected all the money from and organized the fights and even raised fighting cocks. Herrera turned himself in and is facing one count of cockfighting and one count of engaging in organized criminal activity
Herrera was slapped with a $1.25 million bond on Thursday even though he isn't suspected in the fatal shootings at a cockfight last week that helped lead authorities to his doorstep.
Herrera owns a local chain of transmission shops.
"This is the person that we have identified as one of the Hidalgo County kingpins of cockfighting," said Sheriff Lupe Trevino. "He is instrumental in setting up the derbies, the tournaments. ... This is big, big business for him."
Determining that Herrera could be a flight risk, a Hidalgo County justice of the peace set bond for the 41-year-old at $1.25 million during an arraignment hearing. The same judge set bonds at $1 million for three others charged with the same counts last week.
None are accused of being among the masked gunmen who ambushed a cockfight early April 19, fatally shooting three men and injuring eight others. Trevino said two brothers who were killed were the likely targets.
The gunmen remained at large. There was no suggestion that Herrera was involved in the murders, which Herrera's attorney noted during the arraignment hearing. Defense attorney Terry Canales also appealed to Justice of the Peace Homer Jasso by noting that his client had turned himself in.
Canales called the bonds "exorbitant" and "disheartening" after the hearing. He planned to file a motion for a reduction.
Canales said investigators notified his client Wednesday afternoon that there were warrants for his arrest. He negotiated his surrender and turned himself in early Thursday.
"He's got no knowledge as to the shooting or the shooters as to who they were, and he's got no knowledge as to why it transpired," Canales said.
Asked about the allegation that Herrera organized cockfights, Canales said, "whether that allegation is true or not, it definitely doesn't implicate him in the murders."
"Cockfighting is a widespread 'sport' in the state of Texas and it's prevalent throughout the Mexican-American or Hispanic community," Canales added. "The fact that there was an act of violence in this particular gathering I don't think is indicative of the entire group of people that do this."
That differed from Trevino's view of the activity, which is illegal in all 50 U.S. states. Last week, he called it "a magnet for criminality," noting that the three men killed in the attack all had criminal pasts.
Trevino estimated between 150 and 200 people were in attendance when gunfire erupted just after midnight on the small ranch near Edcouch, about 15 miles northeast of McAllen.
Trevino said Thursday that investigators still had two other high-level participants in their sights. The fallout from the violence turned out to be a break on a long-time target for law enforcement. It yielded witnesses familiar with the upper echelon of the operation.
Still, Trevino was pessimistic on the potential impact of the arrests.
"It is culturally accepted, but nonetheless it is against state law," he said. "People don't see it as a crime. They see it as a blood sport."
Based on reporting by Christopher Sherman and the Associated Press.