LAREDO, Texas (CN) — A decorated Coast Guard veteran claims in a federal lawsuit that he was wrongfully indicted on heroin smuggling charges and he’s now classified in a criminal database as “armed and dangerous” due to the inept investigative work of DEA agents, who had the wrong man.
Osbaldo Garcia, 42, and his wife Juana Edith Garcia sued the United States on Wednesday in Laredo Federal Court.
Garcia, a truck driver, says he had just finished hauling a load on Feb. 1, 2017 and was backing his truck into his driveway at an RV park in the northern Houston suburb of Tomball when DEA agents, red and blue lights flashing on their cars, pulled up and surrounded him.
They jumped out with guns drawn and ordered him to get on the ground. Garcia says he thought it had something to do with a ticket he was fighting in court so he was confused and frightened.
He says he asked the agent who handcuffed him, “Don’t you guys think this is a little excessive for a ticket?”
According to the lawsuit: “An agent replied, ‘You know what this is about. This is about the heroin in Pennsylvania.’ Mr. Garcia, still confused but instantly realizing the gravity of the situation, responded, ‘Dude, I don’t know what you’re talking about.’ To which an agent replied, ‘You should know better, you’re a Coastie.’”
Garcia is represented by Norberto Cardenas III of Laredo. Neither Cardenas nor the Justice Department responded to requests for comment early Thursday morning.
The agents took him to an immigration prison in Conroe, Texas that also houses people facing federal charges.
He called his wife at their home in the South Texas city of Harlingen late that night and told her in Spanish, “I am going to tell you something. You’re going to think it’s a joke. I’m being one hundred percent serious. They are confusing me. I’m arrested. I will not be able to leave.”
Garcia says that at his initial appearance in Houston Federal Court the next day he broke down in tears when a magistrate judge told him he was facing life in prison and $20 million in fines for charges of conspiracy with intent to distribute and possession of 1 kilogram or more of heroin.
He says he told his public defender over and over, “They have the wrong guy.” But the prosecutor said, “They were 100% sure he was the one.”
Garcia was released on bond but had to wear an ankle monitor and abide by travel restrictions that forced him to turn down lucrative trucking contracts, he says. Wracked with so much anxiety he could not work, he says, the stress made him break out in hives.
The government transferred his case to the border city Laredo, as his mother, wife and two teenage children live in South Texas.
“On one occasion while out on bond, Mr. Garcia was traveling through a CBP checkpoint. Due to his pending charges and their severity, Mr. Garcia was handcuffed by CBP agents and detained for an hour. He was fingerprinted and interrogated,” the complaint states.
Garcia served with the Army National Guard, enlisting after he graduated from high school in 1995, until 1999, when he joined the U.S. Coast Guard.