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Nearly 20 months after federal agents arrested him on drug trafficking charges, former La Joya police Chief Geovani Hernandez will face a jury today… via @ProgressTimes #rgv
.@ICEgov agents arrested Hernandez on Aug 12, 2017, as part of "Operation Blue Shame."…
According to the criminal complaint against Hernandez, he accepted cash to protect cocaine shipments during an @ICEgov sting operation.
Several parts of the criminal complaint, though, were false.

The government informant, Hector Obed Saucedo-Rodriguez, didn't always pay Hernandez — he pocketed some or all of the money on three occasions.

How that will impact the case remains unclear.

Hernandez isn't charged with accepting cash; he's charged with aiding and abetting possession with intent to distribute more than 5 kilograms of cocaine.

If convicted, he faces 10 years to life in prison.
.@JudgeRandyCrane will preside over the trial, which is scheduled for 9:30 a.m. today.
(Barring any technical difficulties, I'll be tweeting from the trial today. No phones or photography allowed in the courtroom, but judges sometimes allow laptops and wireless internet devices.)
Geovani Hernandez and his attorneys, David Acosta and Miriam Ayala, have arrived in court.

Hernandez is wearing jeans and a blue suit jacket.
James Sturgis, the assistant U.S. attorney in charge for the McAllen Division of @USAO_SDTX, and Assistant U.S. Attorney Kristen Rees just arrived in court.

Rees is prosecuting the case.
Judge Crane just took the bench.
David Acosta, who represents Hernandez, wants to delay the trial. He wants more time to review evidence and investigate the case.
Acosta said discovery didn't really start until December, and some evidence was turned over to the defense during the past two weeks.
Kristen Rees, the prosecutor, says the government provided information as soon as it became available.

The government turned over changes to witness statements and new information that surfaced during trial preparation.
Crane denies Acosta's request to delay the trial: "Your oral request for a continuance is overruled."
Acosta says he's also concerned about a witness who may testify that Hernandez stole drug from someone during a carjacking.

(Hernandez isn't charged with that.)

Prosecutors will notify the court before that testimony occurs.
Judge Crane will allow the prosecution and the defense about 5 to 7 minutes apiece for opening statements.
Rees says the government anticipates that its evidence will take about two days to present.
Court is in recess. Judge Crane will be back in a bit.
We're back. The jury is being sworn in.

The jury consists of 12 jurors and two alternates. Eight women and six men.
Judge Crane is explaining the trial process to the jury.

Ex: Jurors may not discuss the case, even among themselves, until deliberations begin. Don't talk to the attorneys. Don't do any independent investigation. Don't read the newspaper or watch TV coverage of the case.
Rees is starting her opening statement.
Rees says the jury will hear testimony about drug trafficking and illegal gambling.

They'll also hear about how Hernandez and an informant discussed their connections to the Gulf Cartel.
Miriam Ayala will deliver the defense's opening statement.
Ayala says the informant in the case against Hernandez (Hector Obed Saucedo-Rodriguez) worked with the government because his wife was indicted in a major drug trafficking case.

Ayala says the informant, Saucedo-Rodriguez, used drugs and stole money.
Miriam Ayala, the attorney who represents Hernandez, says the informant manipulated audio recordings.

"He chose what was recorded and what was not."
Government calls its first witness: Raul Garza Jr., a special agent with Homeland Security Investigations, which is part of U.S. Immigration and Customs Enforcement.
SA Garza says he's worked for Homeland Security Investigations for eight years. Previously worked for McAllen PD.
SA Garza assisted Homeland Security Investigations Special Agent Antonio Perez. They were co-case agents.
AUSA in Charge James Sturgis is handling the direct examination of SA Garza.

Sturgis asks about how people become informants. SA Garza says forms must be filled out before people become "confidential sources." They run background checks. Explain the rules.
SA Garza says that Hector Obed Saucedo-Rodriguez, the informant in the case against Geovani Hernandez, is/was involved with Maritssa Salinas, a defendant in the Dimas De Leon drug trafficking case. (A major public corruption case.)

SA Garza says that on June 2, 2017, the informant (Saucedo-Rodriguez) met with Hernandez at a Walmart in Weslaco. The informant provided Hernandez with license plates to run.
SA Garza says that on July 17, 2017, the informant (Saucedo-Rodriguez) met with Hernandez at the flea market in San Juan.
SA Garza says the meeting took place at the flea market in San Juan / Alamo.

The informant (Saucedo-Rodriguez) met with Hernandez there. SA Antonio Perez provided the informant with a recording device to tape the conversation.
Hernandez had met SA Antonio Perez before, so the agents kept their distance. They didn't observe the meeting.
SA Garza says on July 31, 2017, agents provided the informant with $5,000 to pay Hernandez for "scouting" the Progreso area to protect a drug shipment from law enforcement.

The drug shipment was what the agents call a "controlled delivery" AKA a sting operation.
SA Garza says Hernandez scouted the area and conducted traffic stops to make sure the area was clear.
After the operation, SA Garza says that SA Antonio Perez asked the informant (Saucedo-Rodriguez) if he gave Hernandez all the money.

"And Mr. Saucedo said 'No, I actually kept $2,500 of it.'"
SA Garza says agents became suspicious. Why? During a meeting on July 17, Hernandez had complained that he didn't get all the money.

So agents confronted Saucedo-Rodriguez (the informant) after the July 31 operation. And that's when he admitted to stealing part of the money.
AUSA in Charge James Sturgis also asked SA Garza if he knows whether or not Saucedo-Rodriguez (the informant) used drugs during the operation.

SA Garza says he doesn't know.
Geovani Hernandez's attorney, David Acosta, is starting his cross-examination.
Acosta asks SA Garza about the vetting process for Homeland Security Investigations informants.
Acosta asks SA Garza about whether or not he would include a source's motivation (In this case, Hector Saucedo-Rodriguez's desire to assist his "wife") on the form.

SA Garza says it would depend on what, exactly, the source said. But they do include information about motivation.
SA Garza says he doesn't know whether or not the fact that Hector Saucedo-Rodriguez used drugs was indicated on the informant paperwork.

SA Antonio Perez filled out the forms. Not SA Garza.
David Acosta, who represents Geovani Hernandez, is walking SA Garza through the informant paperwork.

Would he document violent behavior on the paperwork? Danger to the public? Etc. (Acosta references DWI. Saucedo-Rodriguez was arrested by McAllen PD on a DWI charge.)
Acosta asks if agents always pat down / search informants before and after they handle money.

SA Garza says no, not always. It depends on the circumstances.
SA Garza says Saucedo-Rodriguez had denied stealing any money after the July 17 meeting.

SA Garza says Saucedo-Rodriguez confessed on July 31, when they caught him with $2,500.
Acosta is done with cross-examination. AUSA in Charge Sturgis starts re-direct.
SA Garza says that Saucedo-Rodriguez received a notice to appear, which granted him temporary status to remain in the United States, when he became a government informant.
AUSA in Charge Sturgis points out that assisting drug traffickers is a crime — period.

SA Garza says that regardless of how Hernandez provided vehicle information to the informant (private license plate database, law enforcement database, etc.) it's illegal.
SA Garza is done testifying.

Judge Crane calls a 10-minute break.
While we wait, here's some background on Geovani.

Geovani V. Hernandez, 44, was born in Weslaco. After graduating from high school, he worked as a security guard at Rio Grande Regional Hospital.
Hernandez started his law enforcement career as a jailer at @HidalgoCountySO in 1995.

Over the years, he worked for eight Rio Grande Valley police departments and the U.S. Border Patrol.
Hernandez also worked as a private security contractor in Afghanistan and Kosovo.
Hernandez, though, is best known for 1) briefly serving as the La Joya police chief and 2) running against Hidalgo County Sheriff Lupe Treviño in the March 2012 Democratic Party primary.
Lupe Treviño won the primary, but he later pleaded guilty to accepting cash from a drug trafficker and received a five-year prison sentence.
And we're back. Next witness: Hector Obed Saucedo-Rodriguez, the informant.
Saucedo-Rodriguez will testify in Spanish.

Judge Crane asks how many jurors are fluent in Spanish. All 14 jurors raise their hands.
Saucedo-Rodriguez said he married Maritssa Salinas in August 2015.
In 2017, Saucedo-Rodriguez said he owned illegal casinos. (Sometimes calls maquinitas or game rooms.)

He previously worked for members of the Gulf Cartel, helping cartel members register home under other names and acquire vehicles.
In February/March 2017, Saucedo-Rodriguez said he tried to set up game rooms with Hernandez.

They had a mutual acquaintance called "Mario."
Saucedo-Rodriguez went with Mario and another guy to meet with Hernandez in March 2017.

They met at Hernandez's "ranch" in/near Weslaco.
Saucedo-Rodriguez said he'd heard about Hernandez before.

How? Saucedo-Rodriguez said he heard that Hernandez collected the "quota" from eight-liners in La Joya.
(Back in 2015, the city of La Joya started issuing permits to game rooms.)
When he arrived at Hernandez's home, they drank and started BBQing.

Mario introduced Saucedo-Rodriguez to Hernandez. They talked about setting up game rooms.
Saucedo-Rodriguez said he and Hernandez talked about their mutual friends.

They both knew Commandant Toro, the Gulf Cartel boss in Reynosa, and a Zetas cartel operative who went to prison.
Saucedo-Rodriguez said he never actually met Commandante Toro personally. Hernandez brought him up.
When he got home, Saucedo-Rodriguez told his wife, Maritssa Salinas, what happened.

Maritssa Salinas said that Hernandez was under investigation, and maybe Saucedo-Rodriguez could provide information on him to ICE Special Agent Antonio "Tony" Perez.
They went to meet SA Tony Perez.

Saucedo-Rodriguez agreed to work with ICE agents to help his wife.
Saucedo-Rodriguez agreed to record conversations with Hernandez for ICE. Saucedo-Rodriguez said the recording device looked like a USB "chip."

They met at the movie theater near the intersection of Trenton Road and Sugar Road in Edinburg.
(The Gulf Cartel boss that Saucedo-Rodriguez said that Hernandez talked about during their initial meeting was Comandante Juan Manuel "El Toro" Loza-Salinas, the plaza boss for Reynosa. The Zetas operative was "Comandante Tomate.")
AUSA Rees is about to play an audio recording of a meeting between Hernandez and Saucedo-Rodriguez.
Saucedo-Rodriguez says their mutual friend "Mario" was also present during the conversation.
Attorneys are now trying to figure out how to display the Spanish transcript and English translation while the audio recording plays.
Judge Crane dismissed the jury for lunch. Asked jurors to return at 1:20 p.m.

Judge Crane is now talking with the attorneys about how to play the audio and handle the live transcript / translation.
And that's it.

We'll be back after lunch.
Former La Joya police Chief Geovani Hernandez just returned to the federal courthouse #rgv
And we're back.

AUSA Kristeen Rees, Geovani Hernandez and his mother are in the courtroom, waiting for Judge Crane and the jury to return from lunch.
Another interesting aside about former La Joya police Chief Geovani Hernandez.

In December 2002, when Hernandez worked for the Pharr Police Department, gunmen kidnapped him in Reynosa. He escaped, but they shot him in the buttocks.
The Weslaco Police Department asked about the shooting in 2008, when Hernandez applied for a job.
Hernandez wasn't punished as a result of the incident, which didn't appear to cause him any problems when he applied for law enforcement jobs.
The Weslaco Police Department hired Hernandez after completing the background check.

Hernandez resigned just a few months later to join the U.S. Border Patrol.
Hernandez worked in the Laredo Border Patrol Sector.

Details about the work Hernandez did for Border Patrol (and why he left) aren't public.

The U.S. Department of Homeland Security refused to release the any documents without Hernandez's permission.
Assistant U.S. Attorney in Charge James Sturgis and both of Hernandez's attorneys are back in the courtroom.

Still waiting for Judge Crane and the jury.
Judge Crane and the jury are back.

Hector Obed Saucedo-Rodriguez, the informant, is returning to the stand. They're preparing to play the audio recording again.
AUSA Rees asks Saucedo-Rodriguez to identify the voices on the tape. He identifies his voice, "Mario" and Hernandez.
On the tape, they're talking about visiting people in Reynosa and setting up games rooms with slot machines.
Saucedo-Rodriguez said that Hernandez previously offered to provide him with slot machines that were rigged — so they wouldn't have to pay out.
On the tape, they also talked about undercover cops.

Saucedo-Rodriguez said that Hernandez offered to take photos of undercover police vehicles and send the photos to him — so they could spot undercover cops.
The conversation between "Mario," Saucedo-Rodriguez and Hernandez took place on March 27, 2017.

After the meeting, Saucedo-Rodriguez gave the recording device to HSI Special Agent Antonio "Tony" Perez.
At that point, Saucedo-Rodriguez said he signed some paperwork to help Homeland Security Investigations.

Agents gave him "papers" that would stop him from being deported.
Saucedo-Rodriguez said he signed the paperwork. He agreed not to use drugs or commit crimes.

But Saucedo-Rodriguez didn't tell the agents that he used cocaine.
Saucedo-Rodriguez said he didn't tell anyone about helping Homeland Security Investigations.

Why? He feared that members of the Gulf Cartel would kill him.
Saucedo-Rodriguez met with Hernandez again on May 30, 2017. He recorded the conversation, but the audio quality is poor.

Why? Hernandez played loud music during the meeting.
The government is about to play the May 30, 2017, audio recording for the jury.
They met at Hernandez's "ranch" in Weslaco. They sat outside near two trailers.
On the tape, they're talking about cartel bosses killing each other in Mexico. As a result, it's not clear who's running things over there.

They laugh and say that, regardless, they're fine on the U.S. side of the border.
They're also talking about how to avoid getting busted for running game rooms. Which people to let inside. Which people to turn away.
After a few minutes, someone started playing music.

At that point, Saucedo Rodriguez said that Hernandez started telling him "El Toro," the Gulf Cartel boss in Reynosa, had been killed.

Hernandez said "El Toro" was his compadre, Saucedo-Rodriguez said.
(Large parts of the audio recording are unintelligible because of the music.)
Saucedo-Rodriguez said they discussed how to get information on cars and drivers for drug smuggling.

Saucedo-Rodriguez needed information about the cars, arrest warrants, etc., to make sure the cars and drivers were "clean."
During the meeting, a guy named "Pepe" took a photo of Hernandez and Saucedo-Rodriguez together. AUSA Rees shows the photo to the jury.

In the photo, Hernandez is holding a rifle.
They also discussed starting a tow truck business.

Saucedo-Rodriguez said that Hernandez wanted him to invest $100,000.

Hernandez suggested that Saucedo-Rodriguez find a "Padrino" to help him make the investment.
Saucedo-Rodriguez said he considered asking Sergio Almanza (sp?), a former federal police officer in Mexico who became a drug trafficker and kidnapper.
Hernandez told a wild story about Sergio Almanza trying to escape from Mexican cops in a truck loaded with cocaine. The truck crashed and everyone was covered in cocaine.
As Saucedo-Rodriguez left, Hernandez asked him for money. (In exchange for providing information on the cars and drivers for drug smuggling.)

Hernandez said he would charge $1,000 for information on two license plates and serial numbers.
Saucedo-Rodriguez said that Hernandez asked for the money immediately because he "wanted a whore."
On the tape, Hernadez says he knows all the "Metros" commanders. (The Metros are faction of the Gulf Cartel.)
Saucedo-Rodriguez says Homeland Security Investigations SA Tony Perez provided him with $1,000 to pay Hernandez for the license plate information.

Saucedo-Rodriguez: "I stole $500 and I gave Mr. Geovani Hernandez the other $500."
Saucedo-Rodriguez met with Hernandez again on June 2, 2017.

They met at the Walmart in Weslaco. Saucedo-Rodriguez got into Hernandez's car and they started talking.
AUSA Rees is now showing the jury what appears to be an aerial video showing the Walmart parking lot on Jan. 2, 2017, when Saucedo-Rodriguez met with Hernandez.
The video shows Saucedo-Rodriguez getting into Hernandez's vehicle.
Saucedo-Rodriguez said he provided Hernandez with the vehicle information on June 2, 2017.

They met again on June 4 at the "Stripes" at U.S. 281 and Nolana Loop.
AUSA Rees plays the tape from the June 4 meeting.

On the tape, Hernandez is reading the vehicle information that Saucedo-Rodriguez requested.
On the tape, Hernandez says it will cost $500 for "each one." (Referring to the vehicle information.)
Hernandez provided Saucedo-Rodriguez with a copy of the information.

AUSA Rees puts the copy of the information on the courtroom projector.

It's a printout from (Hernandez is charging Saucedo-Rodriguez wayyy more than PublicData searches cost.)
Saucedo-Rodriguez and Hernandez met again on June 9.

At the meeting, Hernandez said he had a way to "check" people with the "DHS," which apparently was a reference to the U.S. Department of Homeland Security.
After the meeting, Saucedo-Rodriguez turned over the recording to SA Tony Perez.

Saucedo-Rodriguez said he would meet with Hernandez again on June 26. The agents gave him $2,000 to pay Hernandez.
The government informant, Hector Saucedo-Rodriguez said he faked the June 26 meeting with Geovani Hernandez and kept the $2,000 payment.
Saucedo-Rodriguez: "I told them that I had seen him and that I had given him the money. But I did not meet with him. And I did not give him the money."
The Homeland Security Investigations agents, though, didn't know that Saucedo-Rodriguez had stolen the money.

They let Saucedo-Rodriguez meet with Hernandez again on July 11, 2017.
From the transcript:

Saucedo-Rodriguez: "Man they want the car to get to Pharr. Escorted if possible ..."


Saucedo-Rodriguez: "I'm supposedly going to get to a warehouse, and that's where they're going to give me the items, it's a little warehouse there in ..."
Hernandez responded: "Buddy this smells like DEA. This smells like DEA or ICE."

Saucedo-Rodriguez offered to call Sergio Almanza's people. "You want me to put him on? I'll put him on for you."

Hernandez: "This sounds like a federal ambush to me."
*** Apparently Saucedo-Rodriguez meant Sergio Martinez, not Sergio Almanza. ***

The transcript reads: "Sergio Almanza Sergio Martinez, his people. You want me to put him on? I'll put him on for you."
At this point, Saucedo-Rodriguez said he became concerned that Hernandez was becoming suspicious.

So he backtracked and said "they" didn't actually want an escort. "They" just wanted the drug load to get to Pharr.
Saucedo-Rodriguez said he wanted Hernandez to keep an eye on FM 1015, which runs from the Progreso bridge to Expressway 83. Watch out for cops, etc.
Hernandez asked what they were transporting.

Hernandez: "You don't know what's in it."

Saucedo-Rodriguez: "Yes, I do know what's in it."

Hernandez: "Don't say anything."

Saucedo-Rodriguez: "Okay."

Hernandez: "Tomatoes."

Saucedo-Rodriguez: "Tomatoes. (Laughs)."
Saucedo-Rodriguez said they were speaking in code, and they both knew they were transporting drugs.

Saucedo-Rodriguez: "You're not going to get paid $5,000 to move tomatoes from Progreso to Pharr."
During the conversation, Saucedo-Rodriguez said that Hernandez also bragged about tipping off a drug trafficker that the DEA was after her.
Judge Crane just called a 10-15 minute break.
And we're back.

The informant, Hector Obed Saucedo-Rodriguez, is still on the witness stand.
The government is now playing an audio recording from July 15, 2017, the day they planned to move the drugs from Progreso to Pharr.

(It was, of course, really a government sting operation.)
They talked about how they would "clean" FM 1015 and make sure no police cars were nearby.

Hernandez suggested that he would throw a BBQ at Progreso PD and make sure everyone went. That would keep officers off the road.
Hernandez also wanted to be paid right away. When Saucedo-Rodriguez couldn't pay right away, Hernandez became upset.
Saucedo-Rodriguez said that Hernandez drove up and down FM 1015, looking for cops, while they waited for the drug load to cross the bridge.
Saucedo-Rodriguez said he pretended not to know the woman driving the load vehicle. (The vehicle supposedly loaded with drugs.)

In reality, he knew the woman driving the load vehicle was his wife, Maritssa Salinas.
Saucedo-Rodriguez said that, at one point, Hernandez said he wanted to do "this type of work" once a week.

Hernandez kept referring to the work they were doing as an "investigation."
Hernandez also said he needed cash to campaign for Hidalgo County constable.

Saucedo-Rodriguez: "He wanted Padrinos from the Gulf Cartel to contribute money."
Saucedo-Rodriguez said that Hernandez would always use code words and analogies to refer to drugs.

For example, at one point he referred to the drugs as "boyfriends" and asked where in the car they would be hidden.
At one point, Hernandez called another Progreso cop and arranged a meetup later, Saucedo-Rodriguez said.

(He didn't name the other Progreso police officer.)
The testimony is jumping around a lot.

USA Rees appears to be highlighting various things that Hernandez said and did. Ex: That they were following a woman and taking pictures. (When they weren't actually doing that.)
This testimony may become important later, when Hernandez's attorneys may argue that Hernandez thought the whole thing was a legitimate private investigation.
Judge Crane is recessing the trial for the day.

We'll start at 8:30 a.m. tomorrow.
Here's the docket entry for today.
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