Starr County defendant with heart condition seeks release

The attorney for one of the defendants arrested in Starr County last week on drug conspiracy charges requested a judge release him Thursday due to a high-risk heart condition, but the defendant reported he is currently using cocaine on a weekly basis, according to comments made before the court in McAllen.

Jose Ortiz was one of 14 defendants arrested on an indictment last week. He is charged with participating with the overall drug conspiracy and with picking up the 6 kilograms of cocaine that were eventually seized in an incident on Feb. 9, Patricia Profit, assistant U.S. Attorney, said.

Ortiz, sitting up from what appeared to be a hospital bed and beside a federal agent, appeared virtually before U.S. Magistrate Judge J. Scott Hacker for a detention hearing.

Two issues were discussed at length — his medical and criminal history, which are both extensive.

Manuel Guerra, Ortiz’s attorney, said his client’s doctor, Dr. Antonio Falcon of Rio Grande City, described Ortiz’s condition as “high risk.” Ortiz’s wife of 25 years, Angie de la Cruz, also said her husband suffers from heart failure, chronic diabetes, high blood pressure and a thyroid problem.

Ortiz’s heart reportedly operates at 23% of its capacity prompting him to wear a vest that would restart his heart, in case it fails, his wife testified.

De la Cruz explained Ortiz is scheduled to have an exam of his heart on Nov. 1. If his heart continues to be weak, de la Cruz said he would be a candidate to receive a pacemaker and no longer rely on the vest to save his life.

Yet, the judge pointed out Ortiz reported to probation that he uses cocaine on a weekly basis, a fact that did not escape the judge’s notice when considering his release.

Guerra said he was concerned for his client’s ability to receive prompt medical attention in the event of heart failure.

“Isn’t that a double-edged sword for you, that argument?” Hacker asked Guerra.

The judge said if Ortiz would not want to be in custody for the bond, he may not want to be in custody later which could pose a potential flight risk. Guerra persisted that their concern is access to quick medical care.

Profit also noted Ortiz’s criminal history which includes previous charges and convictions for possession with intent to distribute marijuana and subsequent probation violations.

Hacker called the convictions the biggest hurdle to Ortiz’s release.

“That’s a clear pattern of establishing danger to the community,” he said.

Ortiz also reported he had a firearm under his wife’s name at an undisclosed location; although, as a convicted felon, it is against the law to have a hunting rifle, Profit told the judge.

Two other defendants who were part of the arrests, Roosevelt Vela and Hugo Canales, also had their detention hearings Thursday.

Vela, who is being detained on a separate human smuggling charge, will remain in federal custody.

Canales entered a plea of not guilty. Profit said the government believes he packaged the 6 kilograms of cocaine that were seized in February.

Canales was also on probation for a different crime when he participated in the drug conspiracy, the government attorney alleged.

All were remanded to federal custody until the judge issues a ruling on their release.