McALLEN — A former police officer here pleaded not guilty to five federal charges he is facing related to the seizure of a San Juan man’s car last year.
Ricardo Ruiz stood before U.S. Magistrate Peter E. Ormsby on Thursday for his formal arraignment hearing, days after the same judge granted him a $50,000 bond.
Ruiz and three others face conspiracy charges in connection with the May 2017 seizure of a 2013 Cadillac ATS from an unnamed San Juan resident, according to a partially redacted indictment.
The five charges Ruiz faces include: two counts of interference with commerce by threat or violence, one count of impersonating an officer, and two counts of making false statements to federal agents, court records show.
Ruiz, who spent all 12 years of his law enforcement career with the McAllen Police Department, is accused of using his position as an officer, and as a former task force officer assigned to the Drug Enforcement Administration, to help a tow truck driver seize a vehicle from a San Juan man.
He’s also accused of then lying to federal agents about the May 2017 seizure.
Also man named in the indictment was Juan Alberto Gonzalez-Valdez, Fabian Jesus Muñoz, and a man whose name was redacted from the document.
Gonzalez, Muñoz and the third man were listed in the partially unsealed indictment accusing them of playing a role in the conspiracy to take the Cadillac from a San Juan man under the guise that it was part of a federal criminal investigation, the court record states.
The indictment alleges that the conspiracy began in October 2016, when Muñoz spoke with Gonzalez, a truck driver for a wrecker service named Hnos Rodriguez Guros Inc., and told him he knew a police officer who worked with the DEA and who could assist Gonzalez if he ever needed help doing his job, the court record states.
The government says it wasn’t much later, on April 27, 2017, that the unnamed defendant asked Gonzalez to recover a 2013 Cadillac ATS, which he claimed was his, with the help of his police officer contact, from a man whose name was not revealed but identified as “S.R.” in the indictment.
“On or about the same date, Gonzalez contacted Muñoz and asked to obtain the assistance of Muñoz’s law enforcement friend in connection with the acquisition of the vehicle for (information redacted),” the indictment states.
Muñoz told Gonzalez it would cost him $1,100 for Ruiz’s services. Gonzalez in turn told the unnamed defendant it would cost him $1,800 since he needed help from Ruiz.
A few days later, on May 1, 2017, the indictment alleges the unnamed defendant gave Gonzalez the $1,800 fee to get S.R.’s Cadillac.
“ On or about May 5, 2017, Gonzalez met with Muñoz and his law enforcement friend, (Ruiz), regarding the acquisition of the 2013 Cadillac ATS from S.R.,” the court document states. “On that date, Muñoz and Ruiz accompanied Gonzalez to S.R.’s residence located in San Juan, Texas, in order to obtain the vehicle.”
The indictment alleges that Ruiz, who was wearing clothing with the word “police” on the front, as well wearing a holstered gun and badge, told S.R. that he was a police officer and that Gonzalez, the truck driver, needed to take his Cadillac.
“ … Ruiz advised S.R., the owner of the 2013 Cadillac ATS, that Ruiz was with the police, specifically the DEA, and that the vehicle was going to be towed because of a law enforcement investigation,” the court record shows. “… S.R. voluntarily consented to the vehicle being removed from his residence by Gonzalez due to Ruiz being a law enforcement official and Ruiz advising him that the vehicle was the subject of law enforcement investigation.”
Ruiz faces an additional charge related to his encounter with the owner of the Cadillac, specifically one count of impersonating an officer. This stems from Ruiz telling S.R. he was with the DEA despite no longer being a task force officer with the agency.
According to records, Ruiz worked as a task force officer with the DEA for about three years, from April 19, 2014 to April 11, 2017. He also faces two counts of making “a materially false, fictitious and fraudulent statement and representation” in connection with statements he made to federal agents July 26, 2017.
During that interview, Ruiz told federal agents he had not participated in the seizure of the Cadillac and that he had not identified himself as an agent with the DEA, court records show.
The government claims Ruiz, who worked with the McAllen Police Department from May 2005 to July 27, 2017, the day after his interview with federal agents, lied in both instances.
Subsequent to the vehicle’s seizure, “Gonzalez met with Ruiz and Muñoz and paid Ruiz and Muñoz $1,100 for their assistance,” the court record states.
The following day, the unnamed man demanded Gonzalez and Ruiz return the $1,100 because San Juan police officers had taken possession of the Cadillac from Gonzalez and returned it to S.R., the complaint states.
Gonzalez, who was arrested in March in connection with this conspiracy, pleaded not guilty to the conspiracy charges May 2 and remains free on a bond, court records show.
Muñoz, who was arrested last Thursday and granted bond the following day, is scheduled to be arraigned today, court records show.
Ormsby scheduled jury selection in Ruiz’s case for early July.