AUSTIN -- Gov. Rick Perry sent nearly $5 million in border security grants during the last three years to two border sheriffs' departments in which officers were recently indicted on federal drug trafficking charges.

Starr County Sheriff Reymundo Guerra and Hidalgo County sheriff's Deputy Emmanuel Sanchez last month became the latest in a long history of border law enforcement officers accused of aiding and abetting the criminals they are supposed to fight.

Those two departments were among the many that have received money from Perry to participate in state-led border security efforts that began in 2005. Records the El Paso Times obtained under the Texas Freedom of Information Act the two counties received more than $4.8 million in state and federal grants from Perry from 2005 to 2008.

Critics of the operations say there are too few accountability measures attached to the border crime funds and worry that corrupt officers could use taxpayer money to help drug traffickers.

"We may as well just send it directly to drug dealers," said state Rep. Jessica Farrar, D-Houston, long a critic of Perry's border operations. "We've been spending money against our own interests."

But Perry and the sheriffs said border efforts are working well, crime has dropped in Texas border counties and the money is accounted for.

The latest corruption charges are a black eye on the law enforcement community, said Don Reay, executive director of the Texas Border Sheriff's Coalition, but little


can be done to thwart wayward cops.

"It is something you're ever-vigilant on, but some people slip through the cracks," Reay said. "Some people are straight and then they go bad for whatever reason."

The U.S. Department of Justice last month handed down a 19-count indictment against Sheriff Guerra, accusing the lawman of conspiring with drug traffickers to move and sell marijuana and cocaine.

He faces 10 years to life in prison and up to $4 million in fines if he's convicted.

Guerra was a member of the Texas Border Sheriff's Coalition, which the late El Paso Sheriff Leo Samaniego helped create. The group has lobbied hard for money from state and federal officials to help combat border crime.

Records the El Paso Times obtained show that Starr County received more than $4.4 million in state and federal grants from Perry's office since 2005.

Reay said he was shocked to learn of Guerra's arrest.

"When one of ours is taken down, that hurts all of us," he said.

After the arrest, Reay said he froze funding from the Sheriff's Coalition to Starr County and requested audits to ensure the money was spent appropriately.

Hidalgo County sheriff's deputy Sanchez resigned last month and fled to Mexico after he was arrested in Georgia with nearly $1 million in alleged drug money, said Sheriff Guadalupe "Lupe" Treviño.

U.S. attorneys accuse Sanchez of participating in a large-scale drug distribution and money-laundering scheme.

Records show Hidalgo County received more than $400,000 for border operations from Perry since 2005.

University of Texas at El Paso sociology and anthropology professor Howard Campbell said his research has shown that border corruption cases are on the rise.

"The billions of dollars available to traffickers are such that they'll inevitably find the right price to bribe officials on the border," Campbell said.

It's not only local law-enforcement officials that become involved.

In 2006, El Paso FBI special agent-in-charge Hardrick Crawford was sentenced to six months in prison, convicted of making false statements about gifts he received and of concealing information about his friendship with a Juárez racetrack owner suspected of drug trafficking and money laundering.

A Laredo senior U.S. Border Patrol agent and his brother pleaded guilty in 2005 to taking bribes to allow drugs to pass through border checkpoints.

Perry is confident the millions he has doled out to local border officials for border security operations in the last three years have been used to fight crime, said spokeswoman Allison Castle.

A thorough auditing process, she said, ensures the dollars are used appropriately.

"State lawmakers stepped up and provided funding to help secure our border with Mexico, and that's what these funds are being used for," she said.

Cameron County Judge Carlos Cascos, chairman of the Texas Border Security Council, said audits alone wouldn't catch corrupt cops.

That doesn't mean, though, that funding to local sheriffs should be cut, Cascos said. Cutting money to law enforcement, he said, would unfairly punish border communities.

"We have to assume that everybody's honest," he said.

State Sen. John Carona, R-Dallas, has proposed creating a unit within the Texas Attorney General's Office that would investigate border corruption. The measure failed in the 2007 Legislature, but spokesman Steven Polunsky said Carona plans to try again in 2009.

While he is confident border security funds are adequately accounted for, he said, any corruption of public officials is an abuse of taxpayer dollars.

As transnational gangs become more aggressive on both sides of the border, Polunsky said he expects criminals to make more attempts to influence law enforcement officers.

"Tragically and unfortunately, people do things they shouldn't do, and that's a problem," he said.