Testimony: Ex-police chief helped cartel to fund campaign

McALLEN — An ex-police chief from the Rio Grande Valley worked for Gulf Cartel associates in part to fund a campaign to become a Hidalgo County constable, according to testimony from Hector Obed Saucedo-Rodriguez during the ex-lawman’s first day of trial.

Former La Joya police chief Geovani Hernandez is accused of helping drug cartel associates move cocaine through the county in exchange for money, some of which he was using to fund a run to become a county constable.

A known drug cartel associate and the government’s star witness, Saucedo-Rodriguez spoke at length for nearly five hours on the witness stand Monday as Hernandez’s trial began.

Saucedo-Rodriguez testified he was a Mexican citizen who was self-employed, dabbling in illicit activities such as running an 8-liner business in the Valley.

Hernandez was arrested in early August 2017 in connection with a drug conspiracy case in which the government alleges he served as a go-between contact for an unidentified drug trafficking organization.

In September of that year, the now 44-year-old Weslaco native pleaded not guilty to two charges of conspiracy to distribute a controlled substance and was subsequently granted a $100,000 bond.

Government prosecutors allege that despite Hernandez’s long career in law enforcement, he was working with the Gulf Cartel — helping them facilitate the movement of illicit drugs in exchange for money — and potential allies in Mexico who could fund his political aspirations.

Special agents with Homeland Security Investigations in McAllen received word in August 2016 that Hernandez was helping move drugs as a member of the cartel, the complaint stated.

On May 30, 2017, prosecutors allege Hernandez met with a confidential informant, later identified as Saucedo-Rodriguez, to discuss an “illegal business venture.”

During the meeting Hernandez allegedly told Saucedo-Rodriguez that he needed money for his campaign bid for a Hidalgo County constable post. He also told Saucedo-Rodriguez that he was a close friend of Gulf Cartel Plaza boss Juan Manuel Loza-Salinas, aka “El Toro,” who ran a plaza in Reynosa, Mexico, the complaint stated.

“(The confidential informant) told Hernandez that his organization was sending vehicles north and that they needed to run record checks on vehicles. Hernandez told the government informant to find him the vehicles’ identifiers and that he would get him the information they needed in exchange for $1,000,” the complaint stated.

Saucedo-Rodriguez, of Pharr, testified that Hernandez would constantly brag about connections he had with the cartel, and those he knew of that worked for them.

Hernandez met with Saucedo-Rodriguez days later and handed the person a document that contained detailed information regarding the vehicle license plate.

The prosecution, represented by Assistant U.S. Attorneys Kristen Rees and James Sturgis, in its opening statement, told jurors the evidence they were going to introduce — the multiple recordings of their informant, Saucedo-Rodriguez, and Hernandez discussing payments in exchange for sensitive information regarding licenses, and payments to help facilitate the movement of drugs — would prove the former lawman was guilty of the drug trafficking charges he faces.

The defense attorneys, McAllen-based David Acosta and Miriam Ayala, contend they can show that the government’s main witness, Saucedo-Rodriguez, is not credible and stole money from Hernandez and the government during the time of the investigation.

Saucedo-Rodriguez testified he stole from the government agents with whom he was trying to cooperate and admitted on the stand that he agreed to be an informant for the government to try to help his wife, who was facing her own federal drug charges in a separate case.

The first day of testimony moved at a slow pace, with the government first calling to the stand a U.S. Homeland Security Investigations agent, who testified to his role in the investigation, and then Saucedo-Rodriguez, who remained on the stand for the majority of the day.

Hernandez’s trial is set to resume Tuesday morning with Saucedo-Rodriguez still on the stand.