By Jason Buch
Maverick County Commissioner Rodolfo Heredia is accussed of smuggling money into the United States from Mexico after selling his truck to a Zetas associate.
Maverick County Commissioner Rodolfo Bainet Heredia was involved in a bid-rigging scheme, engaged in sex tourism and sold his truck to the presumptive leader of the Zetas drug cartel, an FBI agent said Tuesday during Heredia's detention hearing.
A federal magistrate judge ordered Heredia, 54, to be held without bail on cash-smuggling and money-laundering charges.
Heredia, who was arrested last week, has been indicted only on those charges, fairly minor in comparison to the allegations made during the hearing.
His attorney, John Convery, called the allegations made by the FBI agent a “character assassination.”
FBI agent Jarrett Doss testified that Drug Enforcement Administration agents investigating the Zetas in Eagle Pass and Piedras Negras, Mexico, twin border cities downstream from Del Rio, began tapping Heredia's phone calls in 2009.
Because he's an elected official, the DEA handed the case over to the FBI, Doss said.
In 2011, Heredia sold his Ford pickup to an associate of the Zetas and had two associates smuggle the $13,000 paid to him back into the U.S., according to the indictment.
After the sale, agents were listening to Heredia's phone calls.
“Mr. Heredia said, ‘I'm selling my truck to ‘40,'' presumably the Zetas leader,” Doss said.
The agent testified that “40” is the call sign of Miguel Treviño Morales, a top-ranking member of the Zetas who is presumed to have taken over the cartel following the death of its leader earlier this month.
The U.S. Treasury Department forbids conducting business with the Zetas as an organization and Treviño Morales as an individual, Doss said.
The charges against Heredia don't warrant holding him without bond, Convery said.
The lawyer showed up at court with a stack of letters from Eagle Pass luminaries outlining why the longtime county commissioner should be released pending his trial.
The charges also shouldn't affect his role as an elected official, Maverick County Judge David Saucedo said.
“From what I can see, it's got nothing to do with his role as a county commissioner,” Saucedo said. “It's apparently a claim of money laundering from the sale of a private vehicle. I have spoken with the Texas Association of Counties. He's innocent until proven guilty, so we'll just have to wait until the case goes through the legal system.”
But Doss went on to outline allegations that went far beyond the charges against Heredia.
“Sources of information indicated that as part of Mr. Heredia's position as commissioner for Precinct 2, he's operating a bid-rigging and bribe kickback scheme,” the agent said.
And, with the courtroom full of Heredia's family and supporters, Doss alleged that the commissioner had committed sex crimes as well.
“There are various accounts of Mr. Heredia traveling to Mexico for sexual purposes, to have sex with underage people,” Doss said.
The agent testified that in wiretaps, agents heard Heredia make other references to the Zetas, and that his associates dealt with the organization as well.
On one occasion, Doss testified, one of Heredia's co-defendants was overheard speaking on the phone with a trafficker who boasted he had made someone “disappear into the mines.”
Prosecutors argued that because of his frequent travels to Mexico, Heredia constituted a flight risk, and because of his association with the Zetas, Heredia could be a threat to witnesses.
The commissioner's brother, Eagle Pass lawyer Claudio Heredia, said his sibling is a grandfather, a respected member of the community and isn't a flight risk nor a threat.
“Rudy is a gentle person. He's very kind to people. I've been approached by a lot of people after his arrest who say they're praying for him,” Claudio Herrera said. “He's respected. He's very well-liked. Of all my brothers, he's the least violent. He wouldn't hurt a soul.”
In his argument, Convery called Doss's testimony “a character assassination that has nothing to do with the charged offense.”
“There's a lot of mud-slinging in this very small case,” he said.
The judge didn't agree. Citing the allegations of Heredia's close association with the Zetas, Magistrate Judge Collis White ruled that Heredia, and co-defendant David Gelacio, 28, be held without bond.
A third defendant, Jose Luis Aguilar, 62, is scheduled to have a detention hearing Friday. All three face up to 20 years in prison.