A former Santa Maria school board trustee pleaded not guilty to federal drug trafficking charges on Tuesday.
Oscar Saldivar Jr., 56, of Weslaco appeared before U.S. Magistrate Judge J. Scott Hacker by videoconference on Tuesday afternoon. Wearing an orange jail uniform, Saldivar said he understood the charges and wanted to plead not guilty.
“His only encounter with law enforcement was about 38 years ago,” said attorney Ruben J. Luna of Pharr, who represents Saldivar. “He received pretty much probation — a couple days in jail.”
Saldivar joined the Santa Maria school board in the mid-2000s and served for at least six years, according to a report published by the Legislative Budget Board in 2012. His brother-in-law, Rambaldo “Ram” Rivera Jr., also served on the school board.
“He did look up to my uncle a lot,” said Saldivar’s daughter, Naydean. “He was really close to him.”
Saldivar worked in sales and marketing, Naydean said, providing services to local restaurants.
Mostly, though, Naydean described her father as a devoted family man who always had time for his three daughters and four grandsons.
“He’s a good man. He’s a really good man,” Naydean said. “He’s a good father. He’s a good grandfather.”
During the past decade, Saldivar separated from his wife and went through a divorce. Luna said Saldivar had about $5,000 and a car but few other assets he could use to post bond.
“It’s a tough spot for him to be in,” Luna said.
Few details emerged Tuesday about what, exactly, Saldivar allegedly did.
The indictment charged Saldivar with possession of about 24.5 kilograms of cocaine and about 6 kilograms of heroin with intent to distribute.
Both incidents took place on Oct. 2, 2019.
The indictment also charged Saldivar and 15 other people with participating in a conspiracy to possess cocaine, methamphetamine and heroin with intent to distribute.
According to the indictment, the conspiracy started in approximately March 2018 and continued for nearly five years.
Other people charged with participating in the conspiracy include a woman known as “La Bruja,” a truck driver from Mexico, the owner of a small car lot in McAllen, a mechanic from Edinburg and a father of four accused of buying guns for a high-ranking member of a drug cartel.
The indictment links them to a man named Ivan Ornelas-Pio, who the government arrested on Jan. 17 in Campbell, California.
Along with smuggling drugs, Ornelas-Pio is accused of attempting to transport cash from Dallas and San Manuel to Mexico. He pleaded not guilty.
Agents with the U.S. Drug Enforcement Administration and the U.S. Bureau of Alcohol, Tobacco, Firearms and Explosives participated in the investigation. Assistant U.S. Attorney Patricia Cook Profit is prosecuting the case.
While the charges are serious, Luna said, Saldivar deserves the presumption of innocence.
“It’s their burden to prove he did whatever they’re saying beyond a reasonable doubt,” Luna said.
If convicted on the conspiracy charge, Saldivar faces 10 years to life in federal prison.