I-TEAM: Convicted felon one step from becoming Edwards County judge

ROCKSPRINGS, Texas -- A former detention officer remains on the November ballot for justice of the peace in Edwards County, despite a felony drug conviction.

In September 1999, 44-year-old Ramiro Gonzales, Jr., pleaded guilty in a Del Rio federal court to one count of conspiracy to possess with intent to distribute a quantity of cocaine -- a felony charge.

Gonzales, who worked as a jailer for the Edwards County Detention Center admitted to approaching a federal inmate who was being housed at the facility about moving drugs.

In the amount of 10 to 12 kilos of cocaine, explained Edwards County Sheriff Pam Elliott.

Gonzales was sentenced to five years of probation and 500 hours of community service.

A letter from the U.S. Probation Office states Gonzales completed the terms of his probation in 2004.

In December, Gonzales signed an application to be on the democratic primary ballot.

The ballot included the line: I have not been finally convicted of a felony for which I have not been pardoned or had my full rights of citizenship restored ...

Andrew Barnebey, chairman of the Edwards County Democratic Party, told the I-Team he has known about Gonzales' criminal history for months.
Barnebey claims he decided not to pursue the removal of Gonzales from the ballot after speaking with other members of the Texas Democratic Party and Gonzales' attorney.

Barnebey explained over the phone that letters from a federal probation officer confirm that Gonzales' rights to seek public office were restored.

They need to know the truth. That whatever he's telling them, that he's been exonerated or whatever, no he has not, said Sheriff Elliott.

Elliott recently filed a felony charge of tampering with a governmental record against Gonzales, in connection to the signed ballot application.

It's frustrating for the people here. I've had complaint after complaint after complaint. The phone just keeps ringing, added Elliott.

The district attorney for Edwards County, Tonya Ahlschwede, told the I-Team on Wednesday that she is still investigating the case. When asked how long it would take, Ahlschwede pointed out that she oversees five counties and does not have a designated investigator in her office.

Despite the conviction, and despite questions about whether he is even eligible to run for office, Gonzales beat justice of the peace incumbent Joe Baker in March's democratic primary.

Gonzales' opponent in November's election, Republican Tommy Walker, filed a complaint with the Texas Secretary of State back in April.

A secretary of state spokesman declined to discuss the complaint Friday, but indicated that the state attorney general, or a state district judge, has the power to remove Gonzales from the ballot.

In 2007, the Texas Supreme Court ruled that the state cannot forgive felonies committed by people while holding a political office.

KENS 5 could not find a record of anyone in Texas being elected to political office after being convicted of a felony prior to seeking office.

Felons can apply to run for office in Texas, if given a presidential pardon or a judicial release.


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