The upstart’s pitch to constituents was a dire warning, according to the Rio Grande Guardian. The drug war chaos over the Mexican border had spilled into the region and now the area was “infested with drug cartel members.”
“We need to protect our families,” Hernandez said, the Guardian reported. “What happens here affects the rest of the United States of America. I have worked terrorism, I have worked borders before. I do not protect drug dealers.”
Hernandez lost the election.
In 2014, he ran and failed again. But those words from the 2012 evening are now swinging back around on the 43-year-old. Hernandez was particularly sensitive to cartel activity in Hidalgo County because he was personally involved, according to federal law enforcement officials.
This month, federal authorities arrested Hernandez after a year-long investigation into the lawman’s activities. Set up by confidential informants wearing recording devices, Hernandez not only boasted about his association with high-ranking members of the Gulf Cartel, but admitted he needed the illegal activity to finance his continuing political aspirations, authorities said. Law enforcement branded the investigation “Operation Blue Shame.”
According to KRGV television, Hernandez has a lengthy record working for law enforcement agencies all across the Texas-Mexico border.
He started out working as a jailer with the Hidalgo County Sheriff’s Office in 1996. By 2010, he had worked as a police officer in six departments — Progreso, Alamo, Pharr, La Joya, Weslaco and La Villa. After his failed bids for sheriff, Hernandez accepted a gig as the police chief of La Joya in 2014 but resigned in January 2015. His latest position, according to the records from the Texas Commission on Law Enforcement, was as a sergeant in Progreso.
But while Hernandez was punching the clock with law enforcement, he also seems to have had a not-exactly-secret flirtation going with drug culture of the Mexican cartels, federal authorities allege.
The Monitor pointed out Hernandez appeared as a corrupt cop in a glossy 2016 video for a “narcocorrido,” the genre of Mexican folk songs celebrating the exploits of smugglers, cartel dons and border runners. The police officer can be seen in “6000 Kilos” by Gerardo Hernandez; the clip features busty women, more handheld firepower than a Michael Bay extravaganza and bricks of cocaine. It is unclear whether there’s a family relationship between the artist and Hernandez.
The first steps in Hernandez’s downfall came in August 2016 when, according to affidavits filed by law enforcement in federal court, a confidential informant approached U.S. Immigration and Customs Enforcement’s Homeland Security Investigations division at McAllen with a tip on police-assisted drug running in the area. Hernandez’s name was mentioned.
On May 30, 2017, a second confidential informant met with Hernandez. In the conversation, the police officer allegedly bragged he was “a close friend” of Juan Manuel Loza-Salinas, a Gulf Cartel boss killed by Mexican authorities in a shootout in April 2017, according to court files. The officer also boasted those connections meant he could travel into Reynosa, Mexico — Gulf Cartel territory — “without any problems.” The lawman also confided he “needed money for his campaign for Hidalgo County Constable,” an elected law enforcement job in the region.
The informant told Hernandez his organization was sending cars north and needed the police officer to run license plate checks on certain vehicles. Hernandez agreed, according to court documents, offering to do the work for $1,000. KRGV television reported that at a later court hearing, a federal agent testified Hernandez’s negotiations with the informant were recorded, but the tape was hard to hear. Hernandez was playing “narcocorridos” too loudly in the background.
Court documents state that on June 2, the informant gave Hernandez the vehicle numbers he wanted run, as well as $1,000. Two days later, Hernandez returned with a printout with the needed information. Later in the month, the informant paid Hernandez $2,000 to run a name through a police database to check whether the individual was a law enforcement informant.
With the relationship established, in July the informant indicated to Hernandez the informant needed to oversee a car loaded with “items” on the 22-mile trip between Progreso, Tex., and Pharr, Tex. The informant was promised $10,000 for the delivery. If the car made it with Hernandez’s help, the informant offered to split the fee. The police officer told the informant “not to tell him what the vehicle would be transporting, not to discuss any details on their current cellphones, and to buy new cellphones,” according to court documents.
On July 15, federal agents prepared Operation Blue Shame’s coup de grace. Authorities loaded 10 kilograms of white power bricks into a vehicle, including one kilo of actual cocaine. An individual identified in court files only as a “cooperating defendant” got behind the wheel. The informant contacted Hernandez about helping the car make it safely through Progreso. Hernandez invited the informant into his personal vehicle, where they spoke with the driver over speakerphone. The driver told both about a delay “loading the 10 eggs into the basket,” according to the court documents. The car made the trip.
The next day, the informant gave Hernandez $5,000, according to the documents.
Hernandez was arrested and brought before U.S. Magistrate Judge Dorina Ramos on Aug. 14. He is facing three charges: aiding and abetting, attempt to posses with intent to distribute a controlled substance, and possession with attempt to distribute more than 5 kilograms of cocaine.
On the same day as his first court appearance, Hernandez was fired from his job with the Progreso police, the Monitor reported.
Last Friday, the judge granted Hernandez $100,000 bond, but it is unclear whether he has posted or remains in custody. Hernandez did not reply to a message to his Facebook account, and his attorney at the Federal Public Defender’s office also did not reply to an email for comment.
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