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Investigation After Texas Sheriff Allegedly Regularly Seized Money From Undocumented Immigrants

REAL COUNTY, Texas (CBSDFW.COM/CNN) - A rural Texas sheriff near the Mexican border is under investigation for allegedly illegally seizing money from undocumented immigrants during traffic stops.

Last month, the Texas Rangers and the Texas attorney general's office conducted search warrants as part of an ongoing investigation into Real County Sheriff Nathan Johnson, according to the Texas Department of Public Safety. Real County is northwest of San Antonio, about 100 miles from the US-Mexico border.

The warrants, which were first reported on by the Texas Tribune, include details of traffic stops where currency was taken from undocumented immigrants. Computers, digital storage devices and electric communications are among the items listed for seizure under the warrant, according to the records.

Johnson has not been charged. The Texas attorney general's office did not return a request for comment.

Johnson, who's served as sheriff since 2017, acknowledged the investigation in a December Facebook post, saying: "We really don't know who or what prompted the investigation by the Ranger Service and Office of Attorney General, but neither I nor my officers have been arrested and we will continue to faithfully serve as your Sheriff's Office day in and day out."

Serving as your Sheriff in Real County is one of the greatest honors of my life and I have done so to the best of my...

Posted by Sheriff Nathan T. Johnson on Monday, December 20, 2021

Johnson could not be reached for comment.

Immigration has been a politically contentious issue in Texas where Republican Gov. Greg Abbott has repeatedly sparred with the Biden administration over its handling of the US-Mexico border.

Law enforcement can take cash and property if it's believed to be linked to a criminal activity, but the evidence should bear that out at the time of the seizure, according to Erin Thorn Vela, senior attorney at Texas Civil Rights Project.

"Being undocumented and having money in your possession is not a crime," Thorn Vela said.

In a May 2021 traffic stop, for example, Johnson directed his deputies to seize a 2008 Toyota Tundra truck and money from the undocumented immigrants, according to the warrant.

"Sheriff Nathan Johnson acknowledges the currency seized will be filed under abandoned cash and deposited into the Real County General Fund after a disposition order is obtained," the warrant says. Johnson said he'll attempt to identify the registered owners of the car and notify them to claim it within 30 days, after which it's considered abandoned, according to the warrant.

The warrants also cite an October traffic stop where $2,742 was seized from undocumented immigrants, one of whom was arrested and two others released to US Border Patrol. The stop stemmed from a report of a suspicious vehicle in the area and no insurance, the warrant says.

The investigating officer, Ricardo Guajardo, interviewed Johnson last November about the money seized in October and Johnson stated "currency and vehicles are held as evidence due to trafficking crimes."

Guajardo concluded, per the records: "I believe Nathan Todd Johnson is committing felony offenses of theft by public servant, abuse of official capacity and other possible criminal offenses."

(© Copyright 2022 CBS Broadcasting Inc. All Rights Reserved. The CNN Wire™ & © 2022 Cable News Network, Inc., a Time Warner Company contributed to this report.)

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