McALLEN — Minutes before he learned how long he will spend in federal prison, a disgraced and convicted former Hidalgo County sheriff’s investigator maintained he was innocent.
Twelve members of a jury and a federal judge disagreed with Heriberto Diaz, who was sentenced to 11 years in prison for his role in a drug conspiracy busted in 2009.
Diaz, 43, made his claim at a sentencing hearing before U.S. District Judge Randy Crane on Wednesday in federal court in McAllen. Diaz alluded to the notion that his former partner at the Sheriff’s Office and in crime, Omar Salazar, had set him up and that he was the victim.
“I know what I did was right and what happened was the opposite,” Diaz said.
Crane did not believe Diaz, whose statements to state and federal investigators conflicted with testimony he gave at trial in October 2011.
“I know you still proclaim your innocence, but the jury unanimously found things differently,” Crane said.
Alongside Salazar, the former sheriff’s investigators met at a Stripes convenience store in Mission, where they acted on a tip that a nearby house was filled with marijuana.
Diaz threatened to arrest a resident at the house if she did not let the investigators search the home, where they found about 354 pounds of marijuana inside.
Salazar testified at trial that he contacted Joel Duncan — an informant with ties to the drug trade — to help move the pot from the house.
A Mission police officer responded to radio traffic from the house and found Duncan alongside his son, Jorge, removing the marijuana bundles from the property.
The officer took Duncan and his son into custody. But Salazar told the officer to release them, saying they were informants in a drug investigation.
Former Mission police Chief Leo Longoria had been listening to the radio traffic exchanged from the house and told Hidalgo County Sheriff Lupe Treviño to investigate the situation.
That ultimately led to Diaz lying to investigators on official offense reports in an attempt to cover up his illegal activity.
Salazar and Joel Duncan both have been charged and have pleaded guilty in the case. Both men are set to be sentenced before Chief U.S. District Judge Ricardo Hinojosa in May.
Treviño said Wednesday that Salazar “got what he deserved.”
“Nobody is above the law and policemen are held to a much higher standard than the ordinary citizen,” the sheriff said.
Crane told Diaz he did not find pleasure in sending Diaz to prison, saying any time he sends a former officer to prison, it is a “sad day” for the community.
“It causes people to lose confidence in those institutions in their community, like the criminal justice system, and that’s why the punishment is significant,” Crane said.
Jared Taylor covers courts and general assignments for The Monitor. He can be reached at email@example.com and (956) 683-4439.
Follow Jared Taylor on Twitter: @jaredataylor
An earlier chapter in this story: