DALLAS — A former Dallas police officer was sentenced to 30 months in federal prison for lying to federal agents about his role in obstructing an FBI investigation into a nightclub magnate later convicted of a drug conspiracy, U.S. Attorney for the Northern District of Texas Chad E. Meacham announced Friday.
Eddie Villarreal, 53, pleaded guilty in January 2018 to making a false statement to the FBI.
U.S. District Judge Sam A. Lindsay sentenced Villarreal on Thursday and ordered him to pay a fine of $10,000.
“This is not what a police officer is supposed to do” Lindsay said at sentencing. “It is the opposite. When that trust is broken, a police officer must be held accountable. That’s the bottom line.”
According to his plea papers, during Villarreal's tenure as a Dallas police officer, he also served as head of security for Alfredo Hinojosa, the owner of a string of nightclubs including Ok Corral and Far West.
Villarreal also regularly helped Hinojosa and his employees with criminal matters, according to the U.S. Attorney's Office.
On April 14, 2014, Villarreal admitted he answered a call from club promoter Martin “Chava” Rodriguez, who told Villarreal that he suspected he was being followed by law enforcement. Rodriguez was, in fact, being tailed by the FBI, the U.S. Attorney's Office said. Villarreal told Rodriguez to pull over before driving out to meet him.
When he got there, Villarreal pulled up behind the FBI vehicle and activated his red and blue emergency lights. After confirming the people in the vehicle were FBI agents, he introduced himself as an officer with the Dallas Police Department and offered to help them with their investigation into Rodriguez.
However, Villarreal later admitted he never intended to assist the FBI but wanted to learn more about the investigations in order to pass the information along to Hinojosa and Rodriguez, officials said.
Soon after, Villarreal called one of the agents and provided information about a target who he said was dealing cocaine out of nightclub bathrooms. The U.S. Attorney's Office said he later admitted he did so in order to deflect attention from Hinojosa.
The next day, FBI agents called Villarreal to make him aware of a grand jury investigation into Rodriguez and others.
After that conversation, Villarreal admitted he visited Hinojosa at his office and told him about the investigation and its targets, telling Hinojosa, “You got detectives that don’t know anything about you... I can get in trouble if they think I’m warning you," according to the U.S. Attorney's Office.
Upon learning the FBI might be surveilling his nightclubs, Hinojosa said he wanted to “tighten down” on drug sales in club bathrooms, officials said.
On May 7, 2015, FBI agents reached out to Villarreal to ask if he had informed anyone of the Rodriguez stop or grand jury investigation. Villarreal denied any such disclosures.
He resigned from the police department five months later, in October 2015, according to officials.
“By alerting his clients to an ongoing investigation, Mr. Villarreal undermined the hard work of his law enforcement colleagues and sullied his badge,” U.S. Attorney Meacham said. “He took an oath to serve and protect – and promptly did the opposite. The Justice Department will not allow this kind of misconduct to go unpunished.”
FBI Dallas Special Agent in Charge Matthew DeSarno said the public expects officers to be "honest" and "trustworthy" and to prioritize protecting their communities from dangerous people.
"The defendant not only failed to protect his community but also lied to a fellow law enforcement officer," DeSarno said. "He provided sensitive information that could have jeopardized the outcome of a criminal investigation. The FBI and our law enforcement partners will hold accountable any officer that breaks the law and endangers the lives of others."
Hinojosa and Rodriguez were later convicted at trial of managing drug premises, conspiracy to manage drug premises, and conspiracy to possess with intent to distribute cocaine. Multiple witnesses testified that Hinojosa and Rodriguez knew drug trafficking was occurring on the premises of Hinojosa's clubs and openly ordered security personnel to allow it. They are now facing up to life in federal prison, and their sentencing has been set for June 3 and July 22, respectively.
More than 30 defendants – including Villarreal’s former Dallas Police colleague, Craig Woods – have been convicted in connection with the case.
The Federal Bureau of Investigation’s Dallas Field Office conducted the investigation, referred to as “Operation Closing Time,” with the assistance of the Dallas Police Department. The Texas Alcoholic Beverage Commission's Enforcement Division provided help as well. Assistant U.S. Attorneys P.J. Meitl, Errin Martin, Nicole Dana, and Melanie Smith prosecuted the case.