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Judge sentences former La Joya police chief to 20 years in prison

A judge sentenced former La Joya police Chief Geovani Hernandez to 20 years in federal prison Thursday for drug trafficking.

U.S. District Judge Randy Crane sentenced Geovani V. Hernandez, 45, of McAllen — a career cop who campaigned for Hidalgo County sheriff and served as police chief in La Joya — on Thursday morning.

Geovani HernandezHomeland Security Investigations, a division of U.S. Immigration and Customs Enforcement, arrested Hernandez in 2017. Hernandez pleaded not guilty, but a jury convicted him at trial.

“I never understood why you didn’t plead guilty,” Crane said, adding that prosecutors had a strong case against Hernandez.

During the past two decades, Hernandez worked for police departments across the Rio Grande Valley, the U.S. Border Patrol and the Hidalgo County Sheriff’s Office.

He also challenged former Sheriff Guadalupe “Lupe” Treviño in the March 2012 Democratic Party primary. Treviño crushed him, winning more than 80 percent of the vote.

Hernandez reached the peak of his law enforcement career in March 2014, when La Joya hired him as police chief. He lasted less than a year.

By the time Homeland Security Investigations arrested Hernandez in August 2017, he’d taken a low-paying job with the Progreso Police Department.

A federal informant approached Hernandez and requested help. Hernandez agreed to provide security for drug shipments and accepted cash from the informant.

Prosecutors said Hernandez didn’t just betray the badge, he also allowed the informant to borrow it.

“He offered me a T-shirt showing ‘drug police.’ To show that I had done my job and that I had been with him,” said the informant, Hector Obed Saucedo-Rodriguez, when he testified at trial. “But I didn’t want to accept it and I told him ‘No.’”

When he rejected the shirt, Hernandez had another suggestion.

“But he gave me, instead, his police officer badge,” Saucedo-Rodriguez said.

The jury convicted Hernandez on two counts of attempting to aid and abet possession with intent to distribute 5 kilograms or more of a mixture or substance containing a detectable amount of cocaine.

Hernandez returned to court Thursday wearing black leather shoes, dark blue jeans and a wrinkled shirt. After four months in jail, he looked slightly thinner but appeared nonplussed by the prospect of a lengthy prison sentence.

When the judge asked whether or not he wanted to say anything, Hernandez thanked the court for considering the case and his family members for their support.

He didn’t apologize or acknowledge any wrongdoing.

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