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After arrest on gun charge, Peñitas chief of staff makes first appearance in federal court

Peñitas Chief of Staff Andy Morales made his first appearance in federal court Wednesday after spending the night in jail on a gun charge.

Andres “Andy” Morales, 42, of Mission — who is jailed at the East Hidalgo Detention Center in La Villa — appeared before U.S. Magistrate Judge J. Scott Hacker by videoconference on Wednesday morning. He wore an orange prison uniform and a blue surgical mask.

Agents with the Bureau of Alcohol, Tobacco, Firearms and Explosives had arrested Morales on Tuesday.

Hacker walked Morales through the charge against him.

“Sir, you’re here on a criminal complaint signed by ATF Special Agent Leal,” Hacker said. “And what they’re alleging in the criminal complaint — they’re alleging that on or about Jan. 19, 2017, and July 13, 2017, in Hidalgo County in the Southern District of Texas that you violated Title 18 United States Code Section 922(a)(6) and that you made materially false statements in connection with the acquisition or purchase of a firearm from a federally licensed firearm dealer.”

Andy Morales

Andres “Andy” Morales, 42, of Mission. (Photo via Facebook.)

When he purchased the guns, Morales made false statements on ATF forms, according to the criminal complaint against him.

“They’re saying on each occasion, in connection with those purchases, you answered and indicated ‘no’ when you were asked: ‘Have you been convicted in any court of a felony or any other crime for which the judge could have imprisoned you for more than one year — even if you received a shorter sentence, including probation?’”

Morales, however, had been convicted of a felony in 2006.

“Now, Mr. Morales, I’m not saying this charge is true or the allegations are true. I’m not asking you to comment on the veracity of them or whether you’re guilty or not. That’s for another time and place in court. I’m just asking you: ‘Do you understand the charge and allegations against you, sir?’”

Morales said he understood.

Attorney Ricardo “Rick” Montalvo of McAllen represented Morales during the hearing.

Montalvo said they would waive the preliminary examination hearing, where the government would be required to demonstrate probable cause, and requested the court hold a detention hearing, where the judge would set bond, as soon as possible.

Assistant U.S. Attorney Roberto “Bobby” Lopez Jr., who is prosecuting the case, said the government is waiting for a pretrial services report on Morales.

“However, I anticipate that there may be some issues in relation to that report that the government may want to have addressed before the court,” Lopez said.

Hacker said he didn’t see any reason to delay the detention hearing more than a day or two.

“Here’s the thing. This isn’t, like, a reactionary case, it doesn’t seem like,” Hacker said. “And so I don’t know why we can’t have the bond hearing sooner than later.”

Hacker scheduled the preliminary examination and detention hearings for Thursday afternoon.

“If it came back and it looked like your client had absolutely no criminal history or something like that, I’d probably have the hearing this afternoon,” Hacker said. “But, I’m just saying, under the nature of the charge and your client — there is some potential that he has some criminal history out there — I’m going to give pretrial one day to get that report finished.”

Morales will remain in custody until Thursday. Reached after the hearing, Montalvo declined to comment.

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