Laredo Football Coach’s Home in Illegal Gambling Raid

Joel Lopez Illegal Gambling Raid

Joel Lopez did not appear to be living at the residence, so he might not have known illegal gambling was taking place on-site.

Police raided the home of a high school football coach in Laredo, Texas to gather evidence of an illegal gambling operation. Laredo Police say the home owned by Coach Joel Lopez is connected to an illegal “manquita” ring and money laundering operation.

In connection to the raid, police arrested Rebecca Lopez-Villareal, age 49. They alleged Lopez-Villareal maintained a gambling den, engaging in organized crime from the location. It is unknown what connection there is between Rebecca Lopez-Villareal and Joel Lopez.

At this time, investigators have not alleged any wrongdoing on the part of Joel Lopez, who was chosen as the 2017 Morning Times All-City co-Coach of the Year. It is possible the alleged maquita is a second home or a rental home, so that Joel Lopez might not know that illegal gaming activities were taking place in the residence.

Joel Lopez has coached the Alexander Bulldogs, a part of the Laredo United Independent School District (UISD), since 2006. He coached the Nixon Mustangs from 1998 to 2005 in the UISD before that.

UISD Public Statement

Joel Lopez has not released a public statement. David Garcia, the UISD’s Human Resources Assistant Director, said in a public statement, “We do not have the facts related to the law enforcement visit or the details. As soon as the facts are received by the school district, the district will take whatever action is necessary.”

The raid on the Lopez home was part of a wider set of raids. Investigators raided three maquinitas in Laredo, two in nearby Zapata, and one in Falcon Heights (about 30 miles from Zapata). Police also had a search warrant for a home in Zapata County.

Investigation and Maquinita Raids

Webb County District Attorney Isidro Alaniz said the main target of the raids was Hilda Villareal and her family. Alaniz said that police have conducted a 6-month investigation into Hilda Villareal’s various illegal gambling operations. Presumably, Rebecca Lopez-Villareal is related to Hilda Villareal through marriage.

Three people have been arrested in the raids so far: Miriam Morayma Sanchez, 55, Lucio Saldivar, 76, and Rebecca Lopez-Villarreal. Miriam Sanchez and Lucio Saldivar were each charged with one felony count, organized criminal activity, and one misdemeanor count, gambling promotion. Police said charges are pending on others involved in the case.

The term “maquinitas” refers to locations which house gambling machines, such as 8-Liners. While 8-Liners are legal in many Texas cities, they are illegal if the proprietor pays cash to winners. When housed in a convenience store, maquita owners are supposed to pay in gas, lottery tickets, or groceries.

Joel Lopez Coaching Legacy

Joel Lopez is a respected coach in Texas football. Among his coaching colleagues is Sam Harrell, the 3-time state title winner and father of Texas Tech’s Graham Harrell. Coach Harrell said of his interactions with Coach Lopez, “He was looking at our offense. He came at a time when we were on a good run and doing things well. We really spent time together. We’d never coached together, but it almost felt like we had.”

For his part, Joel Lopez said he learned a lot from Sam Harrell’s coaching style. Lopez joked, “What I learned from him is that as long as you’re a great role model to your kids, you don’t have to be a drill sergeant to get your program going where you want it to be. I wish I could call all my (previous) kids and say I’m sorry.”

In 12 seasons with Alexander High, Joel Lopez compiled a 78-64 mark and a 10-10 record in the 6A playoffs. Lopez’s team was a maintstay in the playoffs, reaching the third round of the playoffs every year between 2008 and 2013.