On a cold December night in December 1991, a band of men from the Juarez Cartel gathered on the Mexican side of the Rio Grande near Candelaria, in far West Texas. Waiting for them across a shallow portion of the river was Robert Chambers, a native of the area who had positioned himself to be the key player in facilitating the smuggling of cocaine into the U.S.
The men carried the 2,400 pounds of cocaine across the river and loaded it into Chamber’s truck to transport to his nearby ranch, with the plan being to send it into Houston and Dallas and eventually for distribution across the country. Accompanying Chambers that night was a right-hand man who–unbeknownst to his boss–also was an informant for the DEA. Over the next two days, the threat of a DEA bust would spur an unlikely figure, Presidio County Sheriff Rick Thompson, to haul the cocaine in three trips 60 miles to the north, where he stored it in a horse trailer at the county fairgrounds in Marfa. The DEA raided the trailer, busted Chambers and eventually arrested the sheriff.
The arrest and conviction of Sheriff Rick Thompson–a four-term sheriff who portrayed himself as a champion of the war on drugs–shocked the small community of Marfa and made headlines across the nation. Both men received sentences of life in prison. Chambers, who cooperated quickly with federal authorities, achieved a reduced sentence and served 13 years. The sheriff served 26 years and was released in April of 2018.
This podcast will explore the amazing story of how an icon of West Texas law transformed into “La Puerta,” the door for tons of cocaine to enter the U.S., and of the infamous exploits of his friend Chambers as he worked his way up to be both an informant for the authorities and a kingpin for the Mexican cartels. We’ll hear about their motivations, allegations cast against them, and how their corruption dealt a blow to the notion of right and wrong for the residents of small-town Marfa and the lawmen who called Thompson their friend. (Read more about Who’s Who.)