The Rookie and the Zetas: How the Feds Took Down a Drug Cartel's Horse-Racing Empire

Categories: Cover Story

Associated Press

It was a matter of seconds, closer to six than seven, before what was happening became obvious, the colt masked in pink kicking up clouds of red on its way into the lead. It was late November, 2009. This race, the Texas Classic Futurity, was among the last of the year at Lone Star Park, the last chance to watch the 2-year-olds run. The last chance at a payday: $1.1 million up for grabs, a half million to the winning owner.

All eyes were on that horse in pink. The muscular sorrel colt, with a white racing stripe tracing the bridge of its nose, had first edged into the lead several weeks earlier, catching many in the crowd off guard. It had never raced in the United States, let alone placed. But it won that first race, and the next, and the next, and by the time it burst from the gates of the Classic, it was the odds-on favorite.

"Tempting Dash has been invincible!" the announcer bellowed as the horse cruised to the finish line, winning by three lengths and breaking its own track record. "Untouchable!"

More »

The Takeaway: Texas' Lax Civil Forfeiture Laws Make It Easy for Cops to Take Your Stuff

Categories: Cover Story

Brian Stauffer

Yiliana Perez was midway through her shift at the Southwestern Women's Surgery Center when her boyfriend showed up. It was a surprise visit. He had dropped her off at the Greenville Avenue abortion clinic, where she works as a medical assistant, at 6:45 that morning, and he wasn't scheduled to pick her up until mid-afternoon. Yet, just before noon, here he was hurrying into the lobby, saying they needed to talk.

She took him into the employee break room and closed the door. He had "got into some stuff," he told her, but before he could explain exactly what, they were interrupted by a Dallas police officer who had walked into the clinic just behind him.

Perez didn't piece together the details until later. A half hour before, she learned, plainclothes Dallas police officers monitoring a parking lot in downtown Dallas had watched her boyfriend, Eliberto Deavila, and his friend remove a tailgate from a parked pickup, slide it into the bed of her 2005 Chevrolet Silverado and drive away. The undercover cops called in some colleagues in a marked squad car, who pulled behind Deavila as he drove north on Routh Street, passing under Woodall Rodgers Freeway toward Uptown. Deavila pulled into the parking lot of a Shell gas station on McKinney Avenue. The officers turned on their lights and siren, and he slowed as if to stop. Instead of stopping, though, Deavila made a break for it.

More »

The Other American Sniper

Categories: Cover Story



Maria Esparza awoke to what she thought was the sound of her husband cooking -- the hiss and pop of fresh vegetables dropped into a pan of hot oil. Reality set in when Roy Esparza told her to keep her head down as bullets cracked and whizzed through their two-story home in the Texas Hill Country.

"There's something going on," he told her. "I think it's your son."

Roy dialed 911 and reached a Comal County dispatcher just before 4 a.m. on May 27, 2011. Somebody had just sprayed the house with bullets, he told the dispatcher, who told him to stay put inside. The dispatcher asked if anyone had recently threatened them. "Yes, our son," Roy said before hesitating.

"I don't know...I don't want to say it was him. He's paranoid schizophrenic. He's been diagnosed. He came from Iraq."

Roy handed the phone to his wife, who gave the dispatcher a stripped-down version of Adan CastaƱeda's steep mental decline since he'd returned from war three years earlier. Sounding more exhausted than frightened, Maria told the officer her 25-year-old son had been in and out of psychiatric treatment. He's mentally ill, she said. She told the dispatcher about the bizarre text messages she'd received from CastaƱeda that had only grown more violent and disturbing in recent weeks.

He's been to the local U.S. Department of Veterans Affairs hospital -- many times, she stressed -- but they won't keep him.

More »

An Advocate for the Sexually Abused Demands Answers from Prestonwood Baptist Church

Categories: Cover Story

Dylan Hollingsworth
Amy Smith, an advocate for the sexually abused, wants Prestonwood Baptist Church to open up about a case involving a former minister there.

The letter was anonymous, just like other warnings that came before it. In late January, it arrived in the mailboxes of advocates who work on behalf of Christian sex-abuse victims. For 26 pages, it offered a rambling defense of a place that shouldn't need one — Prestonwood Baptist Church, a Plano mega-church with 37,000 members, three campuses, decades of mostly good publicity and a celebrity pastor named Jack Graham.

But for the last several years, the church has come under scrutiny from a small, vocal group of Christian critics for its handling of child sexual abuse. None of the critics has been more effective than Amy Smith, the daughter of a former Prestonwood deacon. Five years ago, Smith alerted a church in Mississippi that a pastor on its staff had been quietly accused of child molestation at Prestonwood decades before.

More »

Across the Calatrava, David Jensen Learns Just How Dirty a Fight with Dallas City Hall Can Get

Mark Graham
David Jensen outside his West Dallas property, next to the dotted line where it will likely be taken for a street widening, though the city won't tell him as much.
The city calls its plan for street improvements in West Dallas "The Three-Hole Punch." But for David Jensen, who owns a warehouse on those streets, it's a sucker punch.

Three years ago Jensen, a 62-year-old Harley-riding semi-retired fine-art handler, started seeing plans for a major rebuilding of the streets all around his small warehouse at Herbert and Bedford streets, four blocks west of the Margaret Hunt Hill Bridge. He lives in the 52-year-old structure and had planned on spending his golden years there. The new street maps caught his eye.

"Ever since I started seeing these plans," he says, "I have been asking people to keep me in the loop."

Nobody kept him in the loop. There was no loop. Even though the public process prescribed by law for the closing and realignment of streets has never been launched, Jensen already has a bureaucratic knife in his back -- a shiv with no prints.

That's how City Hall rolls.

More »

After a Teen's Overdose, the Hunt for Someone to Hold Responsible: Her Heroin Dealer

Categories: Cover Story

Dylan Hollingswoth
Suzanne Seward with a photo of her daughter, Cassidy.

Rebecca Graves, a detective with the Grapevine police, was driving back to the station one day in 2012 when she heard the call from dispatch: Possible overdose off Holly Street, officer assistance requested. Graves, an eight-year veteran of the force, usually worked violent crimes. But Holly was just a few blocks away, so she steered her cruiser in that direction.

The victim, an 18-year-old woman named Cassidy Seward, was already in the back of an ambulance. Paramedics had found her in the bathroom, the shower still running, her body turning blue. They'd loaded her onto the stretcher and, after Graves arrived, continued trying to revive her. Her 21-year-old sister Samantha was standing outside, weeping into the phone. Their mother, Suzanne, was on the other end.

More »

Self-Driving Cars, Robotic Medicine and Big, Big Data. Welcome to Tomorrow, Texas.

Categories: Cover Story

Matt Chase

A healthy lung lives in a bottle at the University of Texas Medical Branch in Galveston. It's the rather extraordinary brainchild of Dr. Joan Nichols, who accomplished the bioengineering feat without any grants because everyone doubted it could be done.

Nichols is the associate director of research at the University of Texas Medical Branch, where she leads a 15-person team experimenting on a living lung created from human tissue. They used lungs that were from a pair of children who died of trauma and unsuitable for transplant. Nichols' team stripped cells from one lung, leaving behind a scaffolding of the lung's collagen and elastin. Then they reseeded it with cells salvaged from the other lung and immersed it in a nutrient solution.

More »

The Wheels Keep Spinning for the Last of Dallas' Bike Messengers

Categories: Cover Story

Can Turkyilmaz
Bike courier Christina Jones

In the elevator of a sleek Dallas office building indistinguishable from any other downtown or uptown, an elderly businesswoman with a head of teased blond hair stares at Christina Jones. Dressed in jeans, with her hair pulled back in a no-frills ponytail and a bicycle helmet in hand, Jones looks like an athlete who took a wrong turn into the stuffy corporate building. "Are y'all on bikes?" the woman asks. Jones has been riding around in the misty cold since 8 a.m., first commuting to get her morning coffee and then making 13 stops in a three-hour stretch. The rides started relatively short, a mile or less, but long elevator trips, searches for the right employee for delivery or pickup, and even locking and unlocking her bike, soak up time. By 1 p.m. she still hasn't eaten lunch.

"You're crazy," the woman in the elevator says, before paying Jones what sounds like a compliment: At least the cycling is keeping her fit. Jones thanks her and says that she looks trim, too. The woman says nothing, so Jones repeats herself. The woman still says nothing.

"I have a health issue," the businesswoman finally responds, coldly, breaking an awkward silence as the elevator doors open.

More »

Former Hutchins Mayor Artis Johnson Is Clear of Criminal Charges, but Their Damage Lingers

Dylan Hollingsworth
Former Hutchins Mayor Artis Johnson

The legal event called criminal indictment is a familiar theme in the news of any given day: It's the step where a grand jury formally accuses a person of a crime and thereby launches the process that will lead either to a trial or a plea of guilty in some kind of bargain. But what is it like to be indicted? What is it like to be indicted if you believe you are innocent?

This cavernous place with shades drawn against the winter sun is the living room of Artis Johnson, 64-year-old former mayor of Hutchins, a hamlet on the southern cuff of Dallas County. His house, small and tidy, reflects the masculine tastes of its bachelor owner. On the wall directly in front of me is a flat-screen television, just above a desk carrying a computer and various cable TV boxes. Behind me is a small cast-iron wood stove, the source of heat on this cold slate-gray afternoon.

Johnson sits on a sofa to my left, a solid man in a black three-piece suit. I am here to talk with him about his indictment last March on charges of criminal conspiracy and abuse of official capacity. The original charges returned by a grand jury were for felony offenses, eventually knocked down to misdemeanors. At the end of last year, in the waning hours of Dallas County District Attorney Craig Watkins' tenure in office, all charges against Johnson and nine other Hutchins city employees were dropped.

I have no idea what the truth was or is about the other employees. I never believed the charges against Johnson — a two-bit opinion on my part except that I am familiar with the political context. At one point Johnson was at the center of the "Inland Port" controversy about a huge and star-crossed shipping and warehousing project that I have followed closely for the better part of a decade. We'll come back to that.

More »

Anita Connally Got Dallas ISD to Crack Down on Sports Corruption, and Then She Got Fired

Categories: Cover Story

Sebron Snyder
"I didn't wait for Brett Shipp," Anita Conally says.

One night in early March, Anita Connally was at home in Waxahachie, watching the 10 o'clock news, when a story struck her cold. Troy Causey, a standout basketball player at Wilmer-Hutchins High School, had been beaten to death in front of his house in Southeast Oak Cliff. Motive was anyone's guess; his attackers – a neighbor had spotted three – had disappeared into an alley while Causey's blood pooled on Cinnamon Oaks Drive.

There was no escaping the stupid tragedy of it: a young man, barely 18, his life snuffed out before it could really begin. Connally, a mother and grandmother herself, felt a surge of maternal sorrow as Causey's mother, Tammy Simpson, appeared on the TV screen, grieving for her son and pleading for his killers to be brought to justice. But then the mom made a passing reference to Causey's enrolling at Wilmer-Hutchins to play basketball, and Connally's sorrow quickly yielded to professional instinct.

"When I got to work the next day," Connally says, "I didn't wait for Brett Shipp." (Shipp is a WFAA reporter known for feasting on high school sports malfeasance.) "I was already on it."

More »

Now Trending