Published February 15, 2012
A former Mexican government official wanted for embezzling millions was arrested in Texas this month, then promptly ordered released by the State Department in a case that has one lawmaker demanding answers.
A day after pulling rank on Smith County, Texas, law enforcement officials, the State Department rescinded the order. But Hector Hernandez Javier Villarreal was gone by then. Now Rep. Louie Gohmert is calling for congressional hearings to find out what happened.
"That's the question: What are the federal officials thinking? The State Department is screwing up by ordering locals to release these fugitives," Gohmert, R-Texas, told FoxNews.com. "I don't know if it's corruption or incompetence, but it's one or the other and in my experience with federal government, I'm guessing it's incompetence."
Villarreal, the former secretary executive of the Tax Administration Service of Coahulia, Mexico, was arrested there in November on charges relating to an alleged scheme involving embezzling millions of dollars from the Mexican government. He posted $1 million cash bond, got himself a U.S. visa and then skipped town.
Villarreal surfaced in Tyler, Texas, on Feb. 1, when he, his wife Maria Teresita Botello and another man were pulled over for a routine stop. The couple's two children were also in the car and were turned over to child protective services.
"All we did was make a traffic stop; they didn't have a front license plate," Smith County Sheriff J.B. Smith told FoxNews.com.
Police were given permission to search the vehicle and found $67,000 in cash and a shotgun, Smith said.
"When we ran the check on the shotgun, then all of a sudden everyone in federal government became interested -- ATF, (the Bureau of Alcohol, Tobacco, Firearms and Explosives), FBI, Homeland Security, Immigration (and Customs Enforcement) all showed up," Smith said.
He said Homeland Security officials had told his department that Villarreal was a high-profile and wanted fugitive.
"We placed them in jail on money-laundering charges, seized the vehicle and the money, ICE came and picked them up from our jail and took them to Dallas and that's the last we've seen or heard of them," Smith said.
Villarreal and Botello posted bond, and on Feb. 6 were released into the custody of Homeland Security and ICE officers. They were taken to a Dallas detention center for deportation.
That's when the State Department intervened, according to Smith. He said Homeland Security officials called to tell him the federal diplomatic agency had ordered Villarreal and his wife released.
Neither State Department nor ICE officials responded to FoxNews.com's request for comment.
Gohmert, who sits on the House Judiciary Immigration Policy and Enforcement Subcommittee, said he'll be calling for congressional hearings to look into who exactly ordered the fugitive's release.
Gohmert said he had been told that State Department officials released Villarreal because he entered the country on a valid U.S. visa, even though as an international fugitive, he should have been deported. Gohmert said he also wants to know why Villarreal was granted a visa days after posting $1 million bond following his arrest in Mexico. The visa Villarreal was granted was an EB-5, which is given to foreigners who invest at least $500,000 in a business venture.
"We need to look at the visa program that allows foreigners to simply invest $500,000 in a venture and we give them a visa," he said. "This is allowing wealthy foreigners to buy a visa."
One day after ordering Villarreal's release, State Department officials referenced the Mexican warrant and asked for local authorities to re-arrest the couple. But by then, it was too late.
"Hopefully we can pursue the matter and get some answers," he said.
Smith said he was waiting to see what happens next. The suspects are supposed to appear at an as-yet unscheduled arraignment on the local charges. Although they have hired attorneys, Smith said he has his doubts that they will appear.
"If I was a betting man, I'd say no," Smith said.