New U.S. marshal touts cooperation with Austin-area law enforcement, hopes to expand task force
In his short tenure as the U.S. marshal for the Western District of Texas, which includes Austin, Robert Almonte said he has been impressed with the relationships forged between the U.S. Marshals Service fugitive-hunting specialists and local law enforcement officials.
That cooperation has been especially strong in Austin, where the work of a marshal-led task force that includes Austin police and Travis County sheriff’s deputies has led to the capture of some of the most notorious local criminals in recent years, including now- convicted killers Colton Pitonyak and Paul Devoe.
Almonte, a former El Paso deputy police chief, wants to expand the reach of the task force and convince the law enforcement agencies in his district that marshals are very good at hunting bad guys and that they have the personnel to find them quickly.
That’s one of the goals he is pitching while he visits Austin this week to meet some of the people working for him, as well as officials from other police agencies.
“We are ready. We’ve got the manpower, and they are really good at finding people,” Almonte said during an interview at the downtown Austin federal courthouse. “I want that to continue.”
Almonte, 53, is an appointee of President Barack Obama. He was confirmed by the U.S. Senate in March and sworn into office in June.
Almonte worked for the El Paso Police Department for 25 years, more than half of it as a narcotics detective or supervisor, before retiring in 2003.
He then trained narcotics officers and served as executive director of the Texas Narcotics Officers Association before his phone rang last year and he was informed that Obama wanted to nominate him for the federal post, previously held by LaFayette Collins.
“I never imagined this would happen,” Almonte said. “If I did anything right, I think I had a knack of surrounding myself with great people. They made me look good, and me getting this job is a tribute to them.”
Almonte and his wife recently moved from his lifelong home in El Paso to San Antonio, where the district headquarters are located.
They have two grown children — a son who is a prosecutor in El Paso and a daughter who is a doctor in McAllen.
In addition to hunting fugitives, the Marshals Service protects federal judges and courthouses, transports federal prisoners and seizes property illegally acquired by criminals.
The Western District, where Almonte commands 195 deputies, covers 91,531 square miles and 68 Texas counties in Central, South and West Texas.
Almonte said he is looking forward to consolidating the Lone Star Fugitive Task Force in Austin at the new federal courthouse downtown when it opens in fall 2012. Segments of the task force are currently housed at Austin police or Travis County facilities.
“The best way to address criminal activity is to work together,” Almonte said.
Robert Almonte Marshal appointed by Obama was confirmed in March, sworn into office last month.