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In the case against former La Joya police Chief Geovani Hernandez, life imitated art

In November 2016, a narcocorrido music video appeared on Facebook.

Titled “Los 6000 Kilos,” the video featured amateur actors who played drug kingpins and cops. For a narcotics trafficker named Arturo Cuellar Jr. and former La Joya police Chief Geovani Hernandez, who both appeared in the music video, life imitated art.

20190306 GeovaniHernandezRoughly a month after they appeared in the music video together, Cuellar — a career criminal with “CDG,” the acronym for Cartel Del Golfo, tattooed across the back of his neck — hired Hernandez to help him steal marijuana.

Cuellar made money by stealing drugs from smugglers. He hijacked drug shipments, raided stash houses and conducted home invasion-style robberies.

“Really, that’s what I am,” said Cuellar, who testified against Hernandez on Wednesday in federal court. “I’m a home invader. I’m a rat.”

Wednesday marked the third day of trial for Geovani V. Hernandez, 44, of McAllen, who is accused of working with drug traffickers.

Hector Obed Saucedo-Rodriguez, a government informant, testified about paying Hernandez to protect drug shipments. Special Agent Antonio Perez, who works for Homeland Security Investigations, a division of U.S. Immigration and Customs Enforcement, testified that La Joya police officers contacted him in 2014, concerned Hernandez had drug trafficking connections. And Cuellar, who confessed to stealing thousands of pounds of marijuana from smugglers during more than 70 heists, said he worked with Hernandez on several occasions.

“I would not be able to pinpoint the exact date, but it was after making the movie,” Cuellar said through a translator.

Cuellar, 31, of Mission said he met Hernandez as a child. Hernandez would visit his father, Arturo Cuellar Sr., at the family compound.

They struck up a conversation in 2016, when Cuellar and Hernandez appeared in the music video.

Hernandez played a cop. Cuellar had a couple brief cameos. They started talking about business, Cuellar said, and he asked Hernandez to help steal a drug shipment.

About a month later, Hernandez stopped a car on La Homa Road near Mission, Cuellar said. Hernandez drove a black Dodge Charger with police lights, which wasn’t actually a law enforcement vehicle.

The fake traffic stop scared away scouts assigned to watch the drug shipment, Cuellar said. They snatched 200 to 300 pounds of marijuana.

Cuellar said he paid $5,000 to Hernandez.

A couple months later, Cuellar asked Hernandez to conduct another fake traffic stop. They walked away with 20 kilograms of heroin. Hernandez made $10,000, a relatively small amount considering the kilogram bricks went for $38,000 apiece, Cuellar said.

They worked together again on Jan. 20, 2017, when Hernandez conducted a fake traffic stop in Pharr, according to Cuellar. Prosecutors showed the jury phone records from that day, which included calls between Cuellar and Hernandez.

Cuellar said they stole about 320 pounds of marijuana from the smugglers. They paid $1,200 to Hernandez and promised another $4,200 later, Cuellar said, adding wryly that he never paid the remaining money.

Prosecutors also showed the jury Facebook messages between Hernandez and Cuellar in July 2017.

At the time, federal agents had just paid Hernandez to protect a cocaine shipment during a sting operation. Cuellar said they talked about the cocaine shipment on the phone.

“Since I’m a person who steals drugs, I proposed to him ‘Let’s steal those squares,’” Cuellar said, referring to kilogram bricks of cocaine.

Miriam Ayala, an attorney who represents Hernandez, quizzed Cuellar on cross-examination.

She suggested that Hernandez had arrested members of the Cuellar family in September 2002, when he worked for the Pharr Police Department.

If he arrested members of the family, Ayala asked, why would Hernandez spend time with Cuellar’s father?

Cuellar said he didn’t know anything about the arrest. All kinds of people visited his father, Cuellar said, from drug traffickers to politicians.

“Even Lupe Treviño would go hang out there,” Cuellar said, referring to the former Hidalgo County sheriff.

Treviño pleaded guilty to accepting money from a drug trafficker in a separate case and received a five-year prison sentence.

After the music video, Hernandez reconnected with Cuellar family.

Hernandez’s wife and son testified that Cuellar, his wife, his children and his mother-in-law visited them for a barbecue. Geovani V. Hernandez Jr., 17, entertained Cuellar’s children while the adults talked.

Following the testimony from Hernandez’s wife and son, who said they didn’t know about any illegal activity, the defense attorneys rested their case.

Prosecutors may call a rebuttal witness Thursday before closing arguments begin.

If convicted on the drug trafficking charges, Hernandez faces 10 years to life in prison.

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