The culture of bribery is quietly seeping into new realms of government, from school districts to municipal court, experts say.
Proximity to Mexico is at least partly to blame, said Anthony Knopp, a professor who teaches border history at the University of Texas at Brownsville.
"What we're dealing with is a Third World country on the other side of the border where there is a culture of corruption ... corruption will show up here, naturally."
And show up, it has.
Since March 2004, 19 public officials including former Cameron County Sheriff Conrado Cantu, a city manager, several county commissioners, a school superintendent and several school trustees have been convicted of taking kickbacks and bribes.
Some pocketed wads of cash. Others accepted new tires for their cars or extensive remodeling jobs on their homes and businesses. Some even partied with prostitutes. In return, some allegedly awarded lucrative contracts to build or furnish new schools and public buildings. Or they looked the other way as traffickers hauled drugs across the border.
"Bribery is happening down here," said Israel Pacheco, a veteran Texas Ranger in McAllen. "To say it's not happening is to bury your head in the sand."
We've noticed this phenomenon before, with respect to law enforcement. And there's no reason to think it's going to be limited to the Southwest. Immigration is everywhere in America, much of it from Mexico, but some from other countries where bribery is the normal way to do business.