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Officer and Co-Defendant Arrested in Conspiracy to Traffic Cocaine

APR 19 (McALLEN, Texas) - Noel Pena, 29, a Rio Grande City Police Department investigator, has been arrested and made his initial appearance on charges of conspiracy to possess with intent to distribute cocaine, announced Drug Enforcement Administration Special Agent in Charge Joseph M. Arabit, Houston Division and U.S. Attorney Kenneth Magidson. Also charged is Hector Salinas-Hinojosa, 21, of Roma.

Salinas-Hinojosa was arrested April 17, 2015, upon the filing of a criminal complaint. Pena, of Rio Grande City, was taken into custody the following morning. They both made their initial appearances today before U.S. Magistrate Judge Dorina Ramos in McAllen. They will remain in custody pending a detention hearing set for Thursday at 11:00 a.m. before Judge Ramos.

“These arrests illustrate the ability of law enforcement agencies to leverage their individual resources to work together and achieve justice,” said Mark Dawson, Deputy Special Agent in Charge, Homeland Security Investigations (HSI). “While we take no pleasure in arresting a fellow law enforcement officer, HSI, along with our law enforcement partners, are committed to keeping our communities safe by conducting robust joint investigations, and following those investigations wherever they lead.”

The criminal complaint alleges 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 alleges 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.

The charges are the result of investigation conducted by HSI, Drug Enforcement Administration, Texas Department of Public Safety and FBI with assistance from the Texas Rangers. Assistant U.S. Attorneys Juan F. Alanis and Ted Imperato are prosecuting the case. A criminal complaint is a formal accusation of criminal conduct, not evidence. A defendant is presumed innocent unless convicted through due process of law.

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