McALLEN — Former La Joya police chief Geovani Hernandez was accused Wednesday of helping local criminals in drug rips on several occasions, according to testimony.
Arturo Cuellar Zavala Jr., a Valluco gang member, testified during the third day of Hernandez’s drug trafficking trial that on at least two occasions, in 2016 and once in early 2017, the ex-lawman used his authority to help Cuellar and his gang of drug load thieves make off with marijuana, and on one occasion, nearly $800,000 worth of heroin.
In another apparent blow to the defense, the government called Cuellar — a Mission native with ties to a family known to run in nefarious circles — to the stand. Cuellar testified about his father, the elder Arturo Cuellar, and former Hidalgo County Sheriff Lupe Treviño, who he said was a friend of his father’s dating back to the early 2000s.
Government prosecutors allege that despite Hernandez’s long career in law enforcement, he was working with the source who claimed he was moving drugs for the Gulf Cartel — aiding him in the movement of illicit drugs in exchange for money — and potential allies in Mexico who could fund his political aspirations.
The former police chief 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.
During Cuellar’s testimony, he recalled a time in mid-2016, sometime after Hernandez appeared in a music video with Cuellar’s associates, in which Hernandez agreed to provide his services to intercept a vehicle loaded with drugs — allowing Cuellar and his gang to steal the narcotics inside.
Cuellar testified he would pay Hernandez a portion of his cut in cash for pulling up behind vehicles Cuellar knew were carrying drugs; then after the vehicle was pulled over, Cuellar would take the drugs and resell them for a profit.
The defense’s argument throughout the trial has centered on the credibility of the government’s witnesses, specifically the informant used to implicate Hernandez in the movement of cocaine from Progreso to Pharr in July 2017
The Mission man’s time on the stand comes after two days of testimony from another man, Hector Obed Saucedo-Rodriguez, of Pharr, who testified about the two incidents in July 2017 that the government eventually used to charge Hernandez with federal drug crimes.
Saucedo-Rodriguez became an informant for the government because his wife, Maritza Salinas, was facing serious drug charges in Houston in connection with an unrelated federal case and sought to help her by cooperating with the government to get information on Hernandez’s dealings — which had been rumored to be illegal in nature dating back to 2014.
Saucedo-Rodriguez testified that Hernandez would constantly brag about connections he had with the cartel, and those who worked for the criminal organization.
Before the day’s testimony ended, and after Hernandez’s defense counsel had called to the stand Hernandez’s wife Francis and his young son Geovani Hernandez Jr., the defense rested. Hernandez opted not to testify in his own case.
The prosecution, which has scheduled one rebuttal witness for Thursday morning, also rested its case in chief earlier Wednesday afternoon.
Both defense counsel and prosecutors are expected to begin closing arguments Thursday morning with jurors set for deliberations right after.