Officer and Co-Defendant Arrested in Conspiracy to Traffic Cocaine
MCALLEN, TX—A federal grand jury has returned a two-count indictment against a Rio Grande City Police Department investigator and a second defendant in a conspiracy to possess with intent to distribute cocaine, announced U.S. Attorney Kenneth Magidson. The investigator, Noel Pena, 29, of Rio Grande City, and Hector Salinas-Hinojosa, 21, of Roma, are charged with conspiracy to possess with intent to distribute as well as possession with intent to distribute cocaine.
The indictment is the result of an investigation that began last year and resulted in a sting operation that occurred last month. Salinas-Hinojosa was arrested April 17, 2015, upon the filing of a criminal complaint. Pena was taken into custody the following morning.
The criminal complaint alleged Pena and Salinas-Hinojosa conspired to provide a ‘fake’ police report to an undercover officer who was acting as a cocaine trafficker. The undercover “cocaine trafficker” claimed to need assistance in stealing the majority of a 10-kilogram cocaine load he was holding for the drug cartels. On April 9, 2015, Salinas-Hinojosa and Pena met with the undercover officer and agreed to provide the ‘fake’ police report to make it appear that 10 kilograms of cocaine had been seized by law enforcement, according to the charges. In exchange they were allegedly supposed to be paid $10,000. The complaint alleged that at the time of the meeting, the undercover officer provided $5,000 as a down payment for the report.
The scheme alleged in the complaint involved Pena, as an investigator assigned to the Starr County High Intensity Drug Trafficking Area Task Force, being tipped off to the location of the cocaine. He would then stage a law enforcement operation.
On April 11, 2015, two kilograms of cocaine was left at a stash house location in Garceno. After being ‘tipped’ off the location, Pena allegedly proceeded to the residence and ‘found’ the cocaine and then obtained a search warrant to seize it. Subsequently, on April 17, 2015, Salinas-Hinojosa provided the ‘fake report’ to the undercover officer and was paid the remaining $5,000.
All three counts carry a minimum of 10 years and up to life in federal prison as possible punishment, as well as a possible $10 million fine.
The charges are the result of investigation conducted by Homeland Security Investigations, Drug Enforcement Administration, Texas Department of Public Safety and FBI with assistance from the Texas Rangers and the Starr County District Attorney’s Office. Assistant U.S. Attorneys Juan F. Alanis and Ted Imperato are prosecuting the case.
An indictment is a formal accusation of criminal conduct, not evidence.
A defendant is presumed innocent unless convicted through due process of law.