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May 17, 2010

FORMER FEDERAL JUROR SENTENCED IN JURY TAMPERING CASE

(HOUSTON) – A former federal juror who served on the jury of the 2008 trial of two brothers charged with drug trafficking which ended in a mistrial has been sentenced for jury tampering, United States Attorney José Angel Moreno and Ralph G. Diaz, special agent in charge of the FBI - San Antonio Division, announced today. 

Maximino Gonzalez, aka Max, 36, of Palmview, Texas, pleaded guilty before United States District Judge Vanessa Gilmore to obstructing and impeding a jury trial pending in the McAllen division of the Southern District of Texas. Today, Judge Gilmore sentenced Gonzalez to 15 months to be followed by three years of supervised release. Gonzalez has been in custody since his January 2010 arrest and will remain in federal custody to serve his sentence. 

“Our system of justice is rooted in a fair and impartial jury who will evaluate the evidence and render a true verdict,” said Moreno. “When a juror violates his oath, justice suffers and both the accused and the public are victims. This office will continue to strictly enforce violations that disrupt the administration of justice.”

On Nov. 5, 2008, Gonzalez participated in jury selection and was selected as a juror in the case of United States v. Guadalupe Hernandez, et. al., Case No. M-07-CR-144, then pending before United States District Judge Randy Crane in the McAllen Division of the Southern District of Texas, and prosecuted by Assistant United States Attorney Patricia Profit. During the trial and after listening to witness testimony, Gonzalez contacted an unindicted drug dealer implicated by trial testimony. Gonzalez also contacted and met with Guadalupe and Abraham Hernandez, defendants in the trial in which he was sitting as a juror, to discuss the trial testimony. According to fellow jurors, Gonzalez offered to convict the two remaining defendants (Mariano Alvarez and Eden Flores) in exchange for the acquittal of the Hernandez brothers. During jury deliberations, Gonzalez met with and told the Hernandez brothers that the jury had questions about the availability of obtaining United Parcel Service (UPS) labels, a matter raised during trial. Gonzalez accompanied the Hernandez brothers to a UPS drop box and obtained several UPS labels. That evening, Guadalupe Hernandez instructed Gonzalez to “make every effort” to get them off.

The following day, Gonzalez discussed his venture and how easily he obtained UPS labels with his fellow jurors during deliberations. On Dec. 5, 2008, Gonzalez was removed from the jury by Judge Crane. On Dec. 8, 2008, Judge Crane declared a mistrial.

Between his dismissal from jury service and July 2009, Gonzalez met with an unindicted co-conspirator and asked for a $1,500 “loan” based upon his (Gonzalez) having helped the Hernandez brothers in the case and also met with an associate of Guadalupe Hernandez about Hernandez’s upcoming trial.   

In July 2009, Gonzalez voluntarily provided a three-page hand-written signed statement to FBI agents admitting his illegal conduct. In his statement, Gonzalez said, among other things, “I knew that it was wrong to meet with Lupe or any other person related to the case, but it was already too late because I was already there. I decided not to report it because I know that I had done wrong.” Gonzalez was indicted in January 2010.  

“Public corruption is one of the FBI’s top investigative priorities because of its potential to undermine our democracy,” said Diaz. “Jury tampering is a serious threat to the proper functioning of our justice system. The FBI will aggressively pursue all jury tampering allegations and ensure that those involved are held accountable.”

The underlying narcotics case, United States v. Guadalupe Hernandez et. al., was re-tried in Houston before Judge Crane. That trial resulted in the conviction of both brothers and their two co-defendants. Guadalupe Hernandez has been sentenced to 30 years imprisonment, his brother, Abraham Hernandez, was sentenced to 21 years and the two remaining defendants received life sentences.

The prosecution of this case was handled by Assistant United States Attorney Michael Wright. The investigation leading to the charges was conducted by agents of the McAllen Office of the FBI with the assistance of the McAllen Office of the Internal Revenue Service - Criminal Investigation Division, the United States Postal Service - Office of Inspector General and the Drug Enforcement Administration.

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