The Hidalgo County bailiff accused of working with drug traffickers didn’t act alone — and prosecutors anticipate another arrest.
Tantalizing new details about the corruption case surfaced Tuesday, when Hidalgo County Court at Law #6 Bailiff Oscar De La Cruz appeared before U.S. Magistrate Judge J. Scott Hacker for a detention hearing.
Before they discussed bond, the judge warned De La Cruz about a potential conflict of interest.
The U.S. Attorney’s Office for the Southern District of Texas believes De La Cruz’s attorney, Santos Maldonado, represents a potential codefendant in the case.
“I’m not saying at this time there is a conflict of interest. I don’t know enough facts to say that,” Hacker said. “But what little information I know: Apparently there is a situation where the government may indict the case where there is a codefendant.”
Hacker turned to Assistant U.S. Attorney Roberto “Bobby” Lopez Jr.
“You say it’s going to be indicted in the same case?” Hacker said.
“It’s going to be superseded into the same case, your honor, and Mr. Maldonado is currently representing that codefendant,” Lopez said.
Lopez appeared to stammer after finishing the sentence. An awkward 14-second silence fell over the courtroom.
“It’s hard for me to see, if that occurs, that there’s not going to be a serious risk or a conflict of interest coming down the pike,” Hacker said.
De La Cruz decided to stick with Maldonado for the detention hearing anyway.
The judge set bond at $200,000, but rejected a request for GPS monitoring. De La Cruz posted a $5,000 deposit and left the courthouse hours later.
After the hearing, Maldonado said the U.S. Attorney’s Office didn’t provide him with any details about the potential conflict of interest, including the name of the other person he represents.
“I don’t know who that person could be,” Maldonado said. “I’ve been in practice almost 30 years. It could be unlimited persons. I don’t know the name.”
FBI agents arrested De La Cruz on May 4.
The criminal complaint against him details a scheme to steal cocaine and cover up the thefts with fake court documents.
Agents started investigating De La Cruz in October, when an informant said an intermediary told him “Oscar” at the Hidalgo County Courthouse could make fake documents.
The following month, FBI agents obtained a copy of one of the fake documents.
“The document lists a case number and states that it corresponds to a search allegedly conducted at an address in Edcouch, Texas on March 5, 2017,” according to the criminal complaint. “According to the document, the search resulted in the seizure of six kilograms of cocaine by the Drug Enforcement Administration.”
FBI agents met with the intermediary in March 2018.
The intermediary said he paid Oscar De La Cruz for fake documents on several occasions.
While FBI agents searched the Hidalgo County Courthouse on Friday, the criminal complaint doesn’t include any explicit link to De La Cruz’s day job at County Court at Law #6.
During the detention hearing, though, Lopez said De La Cruz also shared law enforcement information.
“And in addition to creating fraudulent documents, particularly federal search warrants, this defendant was also obtaining law enforcement sensitive information from his position as a bailiff within the Hidalgo County courthouse system,” Lopez said.
The scheme described in the criminal complaint is relatively common in the Rio Grande Valley.
Depending on the purity, a kilogram of cocaine is worth roughly $23,000 to $27,000 in the Valley, according to a U.S. Drug Enforcement Administration agent who testified in federal court during December.
Smugglers who want to steal cocaine from their suppliers — and sell the cocaine to someone else, potentially pocketing six figures — sometimes claim law enforcement seized the drugs.
To document the bogus drug busts, they provide the supplier with fake police reports, search warrants or court records.
It’s unclear how many fake documents De La Cruz is accused of providing to drug smugglers.
The informant said he dealt with De La Cruz through the intermediary, according to the criminal complaint. The informant would pay the intermediary, who passed the money to De La Cruz.
In exchange, De La Cruz provided “multiple false documents” to the intermediary, who passed them to the informant, according to the criminal complaint.
The criminal complaint doesn’t name the informant or the intermediary, identifying them only as “Confidential Source 1” and “Confidential Source 2.”
De La Cruz is charged with conspiracy to possess with intent to distribute more than 5 kilograms of cocaine, a felony punishable by at least 10 years in federal prison.