Former cop convicted of working for cartel loses appeal

Geovani Hernandez

A federal appeals court has denied an appeal filed by a corrupt cop serving a 20-year prison sentence for assisting the Gulf Cartel in moving cocaine loads through the Rio Grande Valley.

Geovani Hernandez, a 46-year-old Weslaco resident who was working as a sergeant for the Progreso Police Department when he was arrested, had appealed to the 5th Circuit Court of Appeals arguing his conviction on two counts of aiding or abetting the possession with intent to distribute cocaine was not supported by the evidence. He also made an ineffective assistance of counsel claim.

Hernandez, who at one time was the chief of La Joya’s police department, had a career that spanned stints with the Hidalgo County Sheriff’s Office, as well as the Alamo, Pharr and Weslaco police departments, ended up on the other side of the law when he was arrested on Aug. 11, 2017.

After a four-day trial last year, a jury convicted him of the charges.

In his appeal, Hernandez first argues the evidence against him is insufficient to support that verdict because it does not show that he had actual or constructive possession of controlled substance, according to the ruling.

That ruling says when Hernandez was working with the Progreso Police Department he made an agreement with a confidential informant — Hector Obed Saucedo-Rodriguez — to provide safe passage for drug-laden vehicles passing through Progreso in exchange for money.

Hernandez believed Saucedo-Rodriguez was a Gulf Cartel associate, but the man was actually working as a government informant.

Saucedo-Rodriguez, a Pharr resident, became involved after meeting with Homeland Security Investigations agents and telling them he could get close to Hernandez because he was looking to open illegal eight-liner establishments and a friend told him Hernandez could help him with that, according The Monitor’s archives.

That relationship eventually grew from illegal gambling to drug smuggling.

According to the ruling, Hernandez accepted payment from Saucedo-Rodriguez on July 15 and July 21, 2017, for scouting on behalf of drug smugglers, who were actually federal agents.

“On the first date Hernandez used his private vehicle, but on the second date, Hernandez used his marked patrol car to scout the area to clear safe passage for the load vehicle. A rational jury could find that Hernandez provided protection for the drug loads, which conduct is the kind of supporting action that proves his participation in the criminal endeavor,” the ruling states.

Federal appellate judges also note that Hernandez met with Saucedo-Rodriguez to discuss drug loads, to act as a scout and to accept payment, which all denotes criminal intent.

“According to Hernandez, there was no evidence that he actually possessed or constructively possessed a controlled substance. However, aiding and abetting the possession of a controlled substance with the intent to distribute does not require the Government to prove actual or constructive possession,” the ruling states.

Lastly, Hernandez argued that his trial counsel rendered ineffective assistance by failing to renew a motion for acquittal at the close of evidence during trial to preserve his insufficient evidence claim.

“We generally will not consider the merits of an ineffective assistance of counsel claim on direct appeal. We decline to consider Hernandez’s ineffective assistance claim at this time, without prejudice to collateral review,” the ruling states.

Court records also indicate that Hernandez claims to have fallen ill with COVID-19. He has filed three motions for compassionate release since July 22, saying he tested positive for COVID-19 on April 30.

In those motions, Hernandez accuses the Bureau of Prisons of being negligent for its care of inmates during the pandemic.

A judge has not ruled on the motions.

He also says in those motions that he maintains his innocence in his case.

Hernandez is scheduled for release in 2035. He’ll be 61.