He started as a Cameron County constable who became widely popular.
With his catchphrase “Animo,” or move forward, the charismatic and popular constable won election as sheriff in 2001 after only a few years working in law enforcement.
But a short four years later, Conrado Cantu shocked Cameron County and the Rio Grande Valley after federal law enforcement officers arrested him on charges levied in a 45-page indictment alleging he took bribes to protect drug traffickers and covered up for a friend and political supporter who shot at deputies during a domestic disturbance.
Now, Cantu is out of a federal prison in Lexington, Kentucky. Prison records show he was released sometime last Tuesday.
Nearly 15 years ago, Cantu admitted to protecting drug traffickers while serving as sheriff from January 2001 until December 2004.
He entered a guilty plea in December 2005 to a single count of racketeering.
In a plea deal, Cantu said he worked with a former captain and former jailer to solicit and extort bribes from drug traffickers, including a $10,000 bribe just one month after he took office.
Cantu also admitted to protecting illegal video gamblers and confessed to covering up a March 2004 shootout between one of his political supporters and deputies.
The former sheriff is being released under the First Step Act, which President Donald Trump signed into law on Dec. 21, 2018.
The legislation allows inmates who are 60-years-old and older who have served two-thirds of their sentence to apply for early release.
Cantu, who was scheduled for release on April 1, 2020, was still incarcerated at a prison in Lexington, Kentucky, as of Tuesday afternoon, according to the Bureau of Prisons.
Upon release, he will live with his son in Corpus Christi.
The Bureau of Prisons did not immediately answer an inquiry sent to a press email address monitored by the Bureau of Prisons asking when Cantu would be released.
In a one-page letter to U.S. District Judge Marina Garcia Marmolejo dated March 5, a contrite Cantu asked the federal judge for mercy.
“Judge, I want you to know that I apologize for my past transgressions against the law,” Cantu wrote. “For many years, those selfish choices that separated me from my family have been a heavy burden on my heart.”
The former sheriff also promised to never break the law again and expressed an eagerness to be present in the lives of his children and grandchildren.
“I want to be a father and grandfather that my children, and grandchildren admire. I know that there is nothing more important in life than God first, and then family,” Cantu wrote. “I can assure you that when I leave prison I will be living a law-abiding life because I appreciate my freedom. My hope is that
you will find me worth of a second chance to reclaim my life a little bit earlier than expected.”
The motion for early release that accompanied Cantu’s letter states that the hardest part of his incarceration was the death of his daughter, who died at 35 from an illness, and the death of his mother.
“In 2017, I lost my beloved daughter Beverly, and it hurt me deep inside because when she was sick I should have been there to comfort her in her last days,” Cantu wrote.
That motion also states that Cantu took numerous steps to improve himself, including enrolling in life skill training programs like family reunification, employment after prison, people management, computer vocational training and key boarding.
He also became a certifi ed chef while in prison and upon release, hopes to find a job with a kitchen hospital.
A correctional counselor at a federal prison in Littleton, Colorado, where Cantu did some time, submitted a letter on his behalf, calling him a model of prisoner rehabilitation— particularly because of his work with incarcerated veterans.
“Mr. Cantu has been a vital part of our Veterans Group since it was started,” the counselor wrote. “He has helped establish our criteria and volunteers his time in leading group meetings.”
The counselor said that Cantu, who was honorably discharged from the military, represented 60 veteran inmates, who receive re-entry assistance and access to outside agencies in preparation for eventual release.
The counselor also said Cantu worked with other inmates as well.“While incarcerated, Mr. Cantu has made very good use of his time giving back to his family and fellow inmates,” the counselor wrote. “Often, he has been seen providing positive solutions to other inmates who have personal conflicts within prison and at home.”
Cantu’s home confinement is scheduled to end on April 1, 2020. After that, he will serve five years of supervised release.