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      Surprise guilty plea by deputy in Panama Unit scandal

      James Phil Flores // Hidalgo County Sheriff's Office Photo

      A former Hidalgo County Sheriff's Office deputy has pleaded guilty to his role in the Panama Unit scandal in a surprise move just two weeks ahead of his trial.

      James Phil "JP" Flores appeared before U.S. District Court Judge Randy Crane in McAllen on Thursday morning.

      Flores pleaded guilty to abusing his post with Hidalgo County Crime Stoppers to help drug traffickers.

      A sentencing date for Flores was not immediately available but seven suspects, including the son of Hidalgo County Sheriff Lupe Trevio, are scheduled to be sentenced for their roles in the corruption scandal on September 10th.

      Accused drug trafficker father-and-son team Fernando Guerra, Sr. and Fernando Guerra, Jr. are expected to plead guilty on July 18th.

      Out of the 12 suspects in the case, only former law enforcement officials Jorge Garza and Alexis Espinoza are expected to go to trial at the end of the month.