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Judge delays former La Joya police chief’s trial on drug trafficking charges

The drug trafficking case against former La Joya police Chief Geovani Hernandez may head to trial in February.

During a hearing on Wednesday morning, U.S. District Judge Randy Crane bumped jury selection from January to February.

20181219 GeovaniHernandezThe delay will allow McAllen-based attorney David Acosta, who represents Hernandez, to review key information released by the government, including the names of a confidential informant and a cooperating defendant.

“They’ve had months to conduct an investigation,” Acosta said, adding that prosecutors didn’t identify the individuals and provide related documents until mid-December. “I’m asking for a fair chance.”

Federal agents arrested Geovani V. Hernandez, 44, of McAllen — a well-known Hidalgo County lawman who mounted unsuccessful campaigns for sheriff and spent 10 months as the La Joya police chief — in August 2017, when he worked for the Progreso Police Department.

Fellow cops had complained about him for years.

Hernandez bounced between eight police departments during the past two decades, according to Texas Commission on Law Enforcement records. He first made headlines in December 2002, when Mexican newspapers reported that Hernandez had been kidnapped, shot in the buttocks and unceremoniously abandoned by his abductors.

The federal investigation apparently started in August 2016, when Homeland Security Investigations, a division of U.S. Immigration and Customs Enforcement, received a tip about Hernandez.

Agents sent an informant to meet with him.

Hernandez bragged that he knew Juan Manuel “El Toro” Loza-Salinas, the Gulf Cartel plaza boss in Reynosa, and asked the informant for campaign cash, claiming he wanted to run for constable, according to the criminal complaint against him. Hernandez also claimed he knew cartel leaders and could travel through Tamaulipas without any problems.

While the informant developed a relationship with Hernandez, agents started planning a sting operation.

The informant asked Hernandez to provide security for drug shipments, according to the criminal complaint. He accepted cash on several occasions, including $5,000 to shepherd 10 kilograms of cocaine through Progreso.

To build trust with the informant, Hernandez handed over his Progreso police badge, according to an agent who testified during a hearing last year. He also played narcocorridos when they met, which made recording the conversations difficult.

Prosecutors secured a two-count indictment against Hernandez on drug trafficking charges. If convicted, he faces 10 years to life in federal prison.

Acosta, though, said information released by the government revealed problems with a potential witness.

“This is a source that is deeply flawed,” Acosta said, adding that the source confessed to lying on several occasions.

Assistant U.S. Attorney Kristen Rees, who is prosecuting the case, said the individual in question admitted to conduct that resulted in criminal charges.

Attorneys didn’t identify the confidential informant or the cooperating defendant by name Wednesday.

Acosta also walked the judge through a laundry list of other problems, including surveillance video he wanted and transcripts he needed to request.

“I don’t see this getting done,” Crane said, adding that he would reschedule jury selection because the case clearly wasn’t ready for trial. “So we’ll bump it a month.”

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