Former Roma cop surrenders after more than a decade on the lam

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Jose Omar Garcia (Courtesy: U.S. Drug Enforcement Administration)

McALLEN — A former Roma police officer wanted on federal drug charges surrendered to authorities after spending more than a decade on the lam in Mexico.

Jose Omar Garcia, 44, was taken into custody by border agents at the Roma port of entry on Monday.

On Wednesday morning, a subdued Garcia and his attorney, Rene Orlando Garza, stood before U.S. Magistrate Judge Nadia S. Medrano to again seek bond on the sole charge Garcia faces — conspiracy to possess with intent to distribute a controlled substance.

“He had been trying to turn himself in for a quite a while,” Garza said of his client, whom he first began representing in December 2022, a dozen years after federal prosecutors in Houston first levied the drug charges.

“We’ve been coordinating this for over a year,” Garza said, adding how Garcia had been negotiating to turn himself in.

Garcia and his brother, Roel Roberto Garcia, 51, were arrested on Sept. 14, 2010 as part of a yearlong investigation by the Organized Crime Drug Task Force called “Operation X-Men.”

Federal prosecutors say that the two brothers, who at the time of their arrest both worked as Roma police officers, were part of a conspiracy to distribute 1,000 kilograms or more of marijuana.

The scheme allegedly spanned between August 2006 and late-2010 and involved nearly a dozen coconspirators.

The alleged drug smuggling scheme was mostly a family affair, ensnaring not just the police officer brothers, but also their father, Roel Garcia, 75, an uncle, Jesus Manuel Garcia, 62, and others.

Shortly after the drug charges were unsealed in 2010, the two Garcia brothers, along with their father, and codefendants Alejandro Granados Garcia, Marco Arturo Garcia Jr. and Jose Elias Garza-Martinez absconded from law enforcement.

Jose Omar, Roel Roberto and Roel Garcia were believed to have fled to Mexico after their release on bond, according to court documents, and had been on the run ever since.

The fugitives had eluded capture for so long that the judge initially assigned to preside over the case retired, causing U.S. District Judge Andrew Hanen to take over in 2018.

In the interim, four of the case’s 11 defendants pleaded guilty and were sentenced for their roles in the drug trafficking scheme.

That includes Jose Omar’s uncle, Jesus Manuel Garcia.

“(Jesus Manuel) Garcia admitted that on Feb. 15, 2010, he assisted his nephews, former Roma law enforcement officials Roel Roberto Garcia and Jose Omar Garcia, in the movement and storage of 450 kilograms of marijuana,” prosecutors announced in a March 16, 2012 news release.

Jesus Manuel Garcia was released from prison in 2013, according to U.S. Bureau of Prison records.

The remaining three defendants who also pleaded guilty have since completed their sentences, as well — the longest of which was just under six years.

In 2022, Hanen revisited the long-stalled docket and told the remaining defendants’ various defense attorneys that he intended to go to trial whether or not their clients showed up.

“This case has been pending for quite some time. The Court is going to set this matter for trial this year,” Hanen wrote in an order handed down on March 30, 2022.

The judge also ordered the attorneys to file a response.

Several of the attorneys responded that they hadn’t communicated with their fugitive clients for years, and as such, were withdrawing their representation.

Another attorney, Carlos A. Garcia, who is representing the lead defendant in the case, Marco Arturo Garcia Jr., filed an objection to his client being tried in absentia.

“There is no evidence in the record to suggest that Mr. (Marco Arturo) Garcia has voluntarily made himself unavailable for trial,” Carlos A. Garcia stated in an April 15, 2022 court filing.

“We only know that he has not appeared for any hearings since his release on bail,” Carlos A. Garcia further stated.

The attorney added that he had not communicated with his client since 2010 and doesn’t “know where he is or if he is alive and much less why he is gone.”

However, since Hanen made clear that he would proceed with a trial regardless of a defendant’s presence, some have been looking to finally face the charges against them.

Not only had Jose Omar Garcia been trying to negotiate his surrender over the past year, but so, too, have his brother and father, according to Garza, the defense attorney who spoke during Wednesday’s bond hearing.

“Mr. (Jose Omar) Garcia’s brother and father are also making arrangements to turn themselves in,” Garza said.

After hearing from both Garza and prosecutors, the magistrate judge ruled that Jose Omar could again be released on bond — but with a few more stringent conditions than those set in 2010.

Medrano ordered that Jose Omar Garcia again be fitted with “active GPS monitoring.” She also ordered that he remain confined to his Roma home.

“He is restricted to his home at all times,” Medrano said, except for “medical necessities,” travel to court hearings in Harris County, or to meetings with his attorney.

Further, Medrano ordered Jose Omar’s wife, who, along with other family members, was present in the gallery Wednesday, to serve as a third party custodian for her husband’s $100,000 bond.

Medrano further allowed the $7,500 bond deposit that Jose Omar Garcia initially paid in 2010 to be applied to his current bond.