Corrupt informant could complicate case against former La Joya police chief

A corrupt informant may complicate the federal drug trafficking case against former La Joya police Chief Geovani Hernandez.

During a sting conducted by U.S. Immigration and Customs Enforcement, federal agents provided the informant with cash to pay Hernandez. The informant, though, kept part of the money — and claimed that Hernandez accepted all the cash.

Geovani Hernandez Photo via FacebookFederal agents caught the informant, Hector Obed Saucedo-Rodriguez, pocketing money in July 2017. Assistant U.S. Attorney Kristen Rees summarized what happened on Dec. 10, 2018, when Saucedo-Rodriguez pleaded guilty to stealing from the government.

“Between June 2, 2017, and July 31, 2017, defendant worked with agents from Homeland Security Investigations during a covert operation involving drug trafficking,” Rees said. “As part of this operation, agents provided the defendant with several sums of money to pay the target of the operation for the target’s illegal activity. Of the money the defendant was entrusted with, the defendant took approximately $5,000 and did not pay the target.”

Attorney David L. Flores of Edinburg, who represents Saucedo-Rodriguez, didn’t respond to requests for comment.

Why the government started working with Saucedo-Rodriguez remains unclear.

Court records don’t reveal any prior encounters between Saucedo-Rodriguez and law enforcement, other than a drunken driving arrest in July 2014. Records from that arrest describe him as a self-employed Mexican citizen from Pharr.

At some point, Saucedo-Rodriguez became an informant for Homeland Security Investigations, a division of Immigration and Customs Enforcement.

Federal agents sent Saucedo-Rodriguez to meet with Hernandez in May 2017.

Hernandez, who worked for the Progreso Police Department at the time, bragged about knowing Gulf Cartel boss Juan Manuel “El Toro” Loza-Salinas and claimed he needed money to campaign for Hidalgo County constable, according to court records.

Federal agents provided Saucedo-Rodriguez with cash and instructed him to pay Hernandez as part of the sting operation.

Saucedo-Rodriguez confessed to pocketing the money on three occasions, according to court records and discussion during the plea hearing.

On June 2, 2017, federal agents asked Saucedo-Rodriguez to show Hernandez a license plate number and ask him to conduct a records check, which would reveal who owned the corresponding vehicle.

The agents provided Saucedo-Rodriguez with $1,000 to pay Hernandez. He confessed to keeping $500 for himself, Rees said.

Saucedo-Rodriguez pocketed money again on June 26.

Federal agents handed $2,000 to Saucedo-Rodriguez, which would pay for Hernandez to conduct a background check on someone suspected of working for the government.

Saucedo-Rodriguez, however, didn’t pay Hernandez and kept all the money for himself, Rees said.

Federal agents didn’t catch Saucedo-Rodriguez until July 31, when they provided him with $5,000 to pay Hernandez for protecting a cocaine shipment. When he returned from the meeting, agents discovered that Saucedo-Rodriguez still had $2,500.

“The defendant was supposed to turn all $5,000 over, as part of the covert operation, to the target,” Rees said during the plea hearing. “And he was not authorized to keep any of it. But he kept $2,500.”

A grand jury indicted Saucedo-Rodriguez for theft of government money on Aug. 29, 2017, roughly two weeks after federal agents arrested Hernandez.

Saucedo-Rodriguez pleaded guilty in December 2018.

“It is true that $5,000 I did not give to the target,” Saucedo-Rodriguez said at the plea hearing, speaking through a translator.

Hernandez referenced the situation in several Facebook posts.

“It is public that District Attorney Reese admitted that Criminal informant committed felonious criminal acts throughout the case and was subsequently arrested,” Hernandez posted on Facebook, misspelling the federal prosecutor’s name and misstating her position. “It is public that the informant also lied to federal agents throughout the case in multiple occasions.”

Attorney David Acosta, who represents Hernandez, didn’t respond to requests for comment.

The missing money may complicate the drug trafficking case against Hernandez, who is scheduled for trial on March 4.

James Sturgis, the assistant U.S. attorney in charge for the McAllen Division of the Southern District of Texas, said it’s improper for prosecutors to discuss the facts of a case or what they expect witnesses to testify before trial.

“Our job is to present the facts to the jury,” Sturgis said. “And argue based on those facts.”

Prosecutors routinely handle informants with credibility problems.

“Typically, the person has some involvement in criminal activity,” said attorney Carlos A. Garcia of Mission.

Garcia, who spoke generally about the problems posed by informants, didn’t comment on the Hernandez case.

“They’re not doing it out of some sort of civic or civil duty,” Garcia said. “They’re doing it to get a reduction in their own sentence. Or to keep them from being prosecuted. Or for money.”

Many informants start working for the government after they’re arrested for criminal activity, said attorney Al Alvarez of McAllen. On occasion, informants double-cross federal agents and keep committing crimes while working for the government.

“That is more common than you think,” Alvarez said. “The government recruits them, they give them money and they continue their criminal activities, thinking — wrongly, I think — that they have some kind of protection from the government because they’re working as a CI.”

Jury selection is scheduled for Tuesday.

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