By HEATHER C. COX
Special to the PRESS
Seven individuals associated with a boat called Nice Tails face third-degree felony charges for alleged fraud in the Ladies Kingfish Tournament, hosted by the South Padre Island Chamber of Commerce on August 11.
According to Texas Parks and Wildlife, the team’s winning flounder was not reported in the Nice Tails boat at a regulated checkpoint, just one hour before the tournament’s end. A Texas Parks and Wildlife Report states, “The team and their guide were contacted by game wardens in Port Mansfield for a compliance check. The group was observed to have spotted sea trout and red drum in their possession… Suspicious marks on several of the trout led the wardens on that scene to contact wardens that were at the weigh-in. No flounder were observed at this time.”
Some minutes later, wardens at the weigh-in received “a tip that the father of the guide and one participant were seen receiving a flounder from another individual in Arroyo City. Approximately an hour after leaving Port Mansfield the group submitted their catch to tournament personnel for weigh-in,” indicating a flounder as part of their catch which placed second at the tournament.
An individual came forward after the tournament and provided a statement which indicated that he supplied a flounder to the father and another man for use in the tournament. Texas Parks and Wildlife Game Warden Jason Duke said, “He also indicated that the guide for the party called him several times requesting his assistance with the scheme.”
Justice of the Peace Bennie Ochoa III issued warrants of arrest for the following individuals, for submitting the fraudulent flounder to judges: Nice Tails’ captain Jose Manuel Cavasos (Manuel), 32, with Stacy McMillen, Judith Schroder, Jose Cavasos, David Garcia, Andrina Cavasos and Ada Guijardo; all are reportedly related and/or otherwise connected.
Duke explained the connections as follows: “Manuel and his father, Jose, were arrested (for fraud) in the Lady Kingfish Tournament. The father was arrested along with Manuel’s sister, aunt and other family members. They were all related to Manuel Cavasos.”
This was not Manuel’s first fishy situation, in which tournament fraud was involved. In an unrelated incident, Manuel was accused of and disqualified for cheating in a September 2010 fishing tournament at Parrot Eyes, also located on South Padre Island.
Owner of Parrot Eyes, Ron Guillot, explained, “When they cut Manuel’s fish open, all this water came out, not from the stomach but the stomach cavity. Marine biologists and parks and wildlife said [the water] was put in there somehow by someone. The fish’s weight changed by half a pound after the water escaped.”
Duke explains, “It’s physiologically impossible for a fish to have water in its stomach cavity unless it was injected.”
In an October 1 article in the New York Times, Manuel Cavasos’ mother, alderwoman E. G. Cavasos of Combes, claims her son is a perpetuated target of racism. She said, “They just happened to hate him from the first time he entered [a fishing tournament] because he’s a Hispanic. It’s discrimination.”
Guillot refuted the woman’s claim, stating, “I’m half Hispanic, and at least half of the people who enter these fishing tournaments are Hispanic.”
After Manuel was discovered allegedly cheating at the 2010 Parrot Eyes tournament, he was asked to leave the premises. Additionally, Guillot alleges that E.G. and Manuel’s wife Patricia – who were in his restaurant, dining – were approached by representatives of Parrot Eyes for being rowdy. “Manuel’s mother was starting to cause a scene after her son was disqualified. She got a little loud. We asked her to leave the restaurant. There was really no reason for them to be there, anyway. We told her we’d take care of her bill and we did,” said Guillot.
At a later date, a comment surfaced on the Parrot Eyes Facebook page, labeling Manuel a cheater.
Duke said, “Manuel sued [Parrot Eyes] for defamation of character. Manuel’s wife, Patricia Cavasos, is stating that she was caused embarrassment when she was asked to leave Parrot Eyes.”
Brownsville attorney Gilberto Hinojosa is not only the Combes town attorney and the chairman of the Texas Democratic Party but is also Manuel’s legal representation in his suit against Guillot. “Why is this high-price attorney taking this lawsuit? The reason,” Guillot poses, “is the guy’s mother signs his paycheck in the city of Combes.”
He continued, “It’s quite a coincidence that his attorney happens to be the attorney for the City of Combes when his mother is a city commissioner.”
“I have nothing to do with that case,” said Hinojosa of the Ladies Kingfish Tournament proceedings. “I’m representing my client in a lawsuit against individuals on the Island, involving slander.” Hinojosa was referencing Manuel’s lawsuit against Parrot Eyes.
Duke said, “Mr. Cavasos is suing for defamation of character. Mrs. Patricia Cavasos is claiming that [Parrot Eyes] caused a scene of embarrassment when asking her to leave.” Subsequently, Guillot said he did not feel the need to press charges on these individuals at the time of said occurrence.
Texas is the only state which has a tournament fishing fraud law. Cheating offenses at tournaments with prizes exceeding $10,000 are considered a third-degree felony and are punishable by up to 10 years in state prison and fines not to exceed $10,000.
According to the Cameron County District Attorney’s office, the case of alleged fraud in the Kingfish Tournament has been received and is being reviewed by an assistant district attorney. It is still pending at the intake level.
For decades, fishing tournaments have meant tourism, camaraderie and revenue to South Padre Island and in its surrounding bay areas. Fishermen and women travel across the nation and even internationally to enter what were once-friendly competitions. According to Duke, “People who would normally want to enter tournaments are losing interest because they fear cheating. I didn’t really know anything about people cheating until we had our first tournament. It seems like people enter these tournaments and they win money by cheating…or if someone accuses them of cheating, they file a lawsuit and win money.”
The Texas Parks and Wildlife Game Warden sighed, saying, “Now, it’s all about winning money.”
Read this story in the October 15 edition of the Port Isabel-South Padre Press, or subscribe to our E-Edition by clicking here.