Judge sets bond at $75,000 for Peñitas chief of staff

A judge set bond at $75,000 for Peñitas Chief of Staff Andy Morales on Thursday — two days after the federal Bureau of Alcohol, Tobacco, Firearms and Explosives arrested him.

During a hearing on Thursday afternoon, U.S. Magistrate Judge J. Scott Hacker set bond at $75,000 with a $3,500 cash deposit.

Morales, who is jailed at the East Hidalgo Detention Center in La Villa, may be released on Friday.

“Mr. Morales, like I said, I’m going to remand you back into custody,” Hacker said. “And we’ll try to get you released tomorrow.”

Andy Morales

Andres “Andy” Morales, 42, of Mission. (Photo via Facebook.)

Andres “Andy” Morales, 42, of Mission was arrested on Tuesday morning. He’s charged with making false statements on ATF forms when he purchased firearms in 2017.

The forms included a question that asked: “Have you ever been convicted in any court of a felony, or any other crime for which the judge could have imprisoned you for more than one year, even if you received a shorter sentence including probation?”

Morales, who was convicted of a felony in August 2006, answered “No” anyway, according to the criminal complaint against him.

What prompted the ATF to review the four-year-old forms remains unclear. The criminal complaint against Morales states only that ATF agents obtained and reviewed the forms “in connection with an investigation.”

Morales appeared in federal court by videoconference Thursday afternoon for his detention hearing.

Assistant U.S. Attorney Roberto “Bobby” Lopez Jr., who is prosecuting the case, requested that Hacker either increase the cash deposit or the bond amount because Morales had significant assets.

“One of the government’s concerns was a large amount of cash that was found at Mr. Morales’ residence during the search conducted by ATF,” Lopez said.

Agents observed $30,000 to $40,000 in cash, Lopez said, but didn’t count or seize the money.

“But what has been also brought to the government’s attention is the significant amount of assets possessed by Mr. Morales,” Lopez said. “Specifically claiming approximately $580,000 made last year. As well as over $200,000 in assets in bank accounts. And probably making about $40,000 per month.”

Morales is employed by the city of Peñitas, which pays him an annual salary of $65,999.96, according to documents released under the Texas Public Information Act. He also owns a company, RGV Redlight LLC, that provides consulting and fleet management services to local governments.

“It wasn’t as if Mr. Morales was hiding the money,” said attorney Ricardo “Rick” Montalvo of McAllen, who represents Morales. “In fact, he himself advised the agents of the funds. Mr. Morales has also provided tax returns for the last two years.”

Morales provides consulting services, Montalvo said, and owns two business entities.

“In other words, your honor, there is nothing questionable about those funds,” Montalvo said. “He has been completely open and disclosed everything with regards to his income and the sources of income.”

When they set bond, federal magistrate judges consider whether the defendant is a danger to the community or might abscond to avoid the charges.

Lopez suggested that Hacker set a higher cash deposit — perhaps an additional $10,000 — but didn’t present any evidence that Morales would flee or pose a danger to other people.

Hacker decided to set bond at $75,000 with a $3,500 cash deposit.

“I mean, with the assets he’s disclosed, I don’t see where $10,000 is going to make a hill of beans if he’s got intent to run or not,” Hacker said. “So I don’t see, really, what that adds to the equation.”

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