Planted drugs, secret deals, lies: How one bad informant ruined the lives of at least 4 San Antonians

‘A Necessary Evil’: The Cost of Confidential Informants, a KSAT 12 Defenders Investigation, airs Feb. 1 at 9 p.m.

Rubee Sandoval, Louie Garcia, Rexina Linan-Juarez, John Cape (KSAT)

This story is part of a KSAT 12 Defenders investigation into the use of confidential informants by law enforcement. The one-hour special report airs on KSAT 12 on Feb. 1 at 9 p.m. Find more here.

A San Antonio man was arrested on drug charges in July 2017 and offered a deal: Become a confidential informant, work with local police to produce more drug cases against other suspects and his cases would be dismissed.

When he agreed, he was put on contract with the Bexar County District Attorney’s Office. Once he fulfilled the contract requirements, his cases were dismissed.

But three years later, it was discovered the informant had planted evidence in cases that led to the wrongful convictions of three suspects and a lengthy legal battle for a fourth person he framed.

The KSAT 12 Defenders uncover this case in a one-hour special report on Tuesday, Feb. 1 at 9 p.m. in “‘A Necessary Evil’: The Cost of Confidential Informants,” airing on KSAT 12 and KSAT.com.

The arrest of Rubee Sandoval

October 2, 2017 is the day Rubee Sandoval’s world was turned upside down. It was the day deputies with the Bexar County Sheriff’s Office Narcotics Unit raided her East Side home.

Sandoval said she was walking out her front door to grab something from her truck when she was met by several deputies with their guns drawn.

“I just opened the front door and then there they were. I mean, at the very same time,” Sandoval recalled. “I just seen them running up on the porch, the rest of them running behind them, and they hit the side of the door. I got down immediately because I didn’t want to get shot or anything.”

The deputies were executing a search warrant that alleged a confidential informant had seen meth in the home within the past 48 hours. As Sandoval lay on the floor, she watched the deputies go directly to a backroom for a box sitting on a shelf. To Sandoval, it appeared the deputies knew what they were looking for and where to find it in her home.

“And they go, ‘OK, it’s right here, it’s right here.’ And then they pick me up and put cuffs on me and sit me on the couch,” Sandoval said.

Inside that box, deputies found a large bag containing more than two pounds of methamphetamine. When the deputies were done searching her home, Sandoval was facing felony drug trafficking charges — possession with intent to deliver methamphetamine.

Rubee Sandoval (KSAT)

It wasn’t the first time Sandoval had been busted for drugs. She had previous arrests for possession and other drug-related crimes dating back to 2001. But those were all minor charges compared to the trouble she was now facing.

“You know, I’d be with other people that were getting in trouble and I’d be swept up in it, too. I wasn’t seeking out trouble or anything. I just happened to be at the wrong place at the wrong time. I wasn’t selling any drugs,” Sandoval said. “I was a user.”

Sandoval said she turned to drugs to self-medicate when she hit a difficult time in her life. She found it hard to turn away once the drugs took hold of her life.

“It was a coping mechanism there for a while when I was going through a bout of depression,” Sandoval said. “It would give me a reason to get out of bed, go to work.”

Sandoval was surprised when those deputies pulled out a large bag of meth from that box in her home. Drugs, she said, she’d never seen before.

“I get a sick feeling in my stomach thinking about it because I had that feeling like, ‘Oh my God, I’m all alone.’ You know, what’s happening here?” Sandoval said.I just remember thinking, oh my God, oh my God. I just kept on saying that I had no idea.”

She believed she was set up and was certain about who was responsible. That’s because less than 24 hours before deputies raided her home, Sandoval had agreed to help a friend temporarily store some items because he was kicked out of his house. The box she agreed to store was the one the deputies went directly to when they raided Sandoval’s home.

She said they didn’t search the rest of the house, besides finding a small amount of meth on the nightstand given to her by the friend who dropped off the box as a way of thanking her.

As Sandoval stood in her home in handcuffs, she realized what was happening, but she didn’t know why. She also didn’t know that three people, just across town, were in a very similar situation.

The raid at 1315 W. Hermosa

On August 10, 2017, weeks before Rubee Sandoval was arrested, the same BCSO Narcotics unit raided a home at 1315 West Hermosa. The deputies had a search warrant alleging a confidential informant had seen drugs at the residence.

Louie Garcia had agreed to help his friends who lived at the home, Rexina Linan-Juarez and John Cape.

Linan-Juarez was a double amputee who relied on a wheelchair. Just the day before, Garcia had witnessed her fall from a dilapidated wheelchair ramp in front of the home. He wanted to fix it.

“I went out there and I helped her up and I looked at the ramp and I told her, ‘I have extra material at my house.’ I’d be glad to come over here and rebuild her ramp,” Garcia recalled.

Rexina Linan-Juarez (KSAT)

While Garcia and John Cape were working on the ramp, they noticed a police van pull up in front of the house. Within seconds, the two men were surrounded by Bexar County Sheriff’s deputies shouting orders and taking them to the ground. They were there to serve the search warrant.

“They picked me up and took me inside and they told us what they’re there for,” John Cape said. “So, they went in (the house) and they went straight to the bathroom and within five minutes they were ready to come out with a big old bag of dope. And I said, ‘That’s not mine.’”

Deputies found a package containing more than two pounds of methamphetamine hidden behind a loose board in the bathroom wall.

Cape and Garcia were suspicious, and they had good reason to be. Just before those deputies arrived, there was a visitor with a little girl. Linan-Juarez knew the man, but she wasn’t home. When the man asked if his little girl could use the bathroom, Cape gave him permission to go into the house.

Garcia said he had never seen the man before and didn’t think much of it at first.

“As soon as they leave ... here comes the sheriff’s department,” Garcia said.

1315 West Hermosa in August 2017. (Google Maps)

The plea deal

During the search, deputies also recovered a bank bag from the front porch containing cash and two smaller bags of meth, as well as personal use amounts of other drugs inside the home.

The bust was touted to local news media with a news release featuring Cape and Linan-Juarez’s mugshots and photos of the drugs. BCSO valued the confiscated contraband at $140,000.

Garcia wasn’t included in the news release, but he was also facing charges. Even though he didn’t live in the home, deputies alleged some of the drugs they found were his. Still, he and his attorney thought things might be okay.

“My first attorney was really confident this should be a dismissal right off the bat. And when we got into the courtroom, it was like a whole different story,” Garcia said. “(The prosecutor) was like, ‘I don’t care if you didn’t live there. You’re going to sign for 10 years today or tomorrow we’re going to have a jury trial and you’re looking at 25 to life.”

Garcia said his heart sank when he learned how much time he was facing.

“It was like somebody knocked the wind out of me,” Garcia said. “You can’t think. You can’t function.”

Louie Garcia (KSAT)

Linan-Juarez was in poor health when she was arrested. She required regular dialysis treatments and other daily medical care that she wasn’t receiving in jail.

Her sister, Delma Sanchez, said Linan-Juarez had been using illegal drugs to mask the pain caused by her health problems.

Linan-Juarez, Cape and Garcia told their attorneys the drugs had been planted, but with no evidence to back up their claims, their legal options were running out.

Prosecutors would eventually use Linan-Juarez’s worsening health to convince Cape to take a plea deal, something he had originally refused to do.

Linan-Juarez had been sending him letters and when Cape saw her in court, he finally broke down.

“We’re in court and Rexina is crying over there and she’s going to sign (a plea deal). She told me in the letters she’d write to me that she just wanted to get out because she was sick and they wouldn’t take her to the hospital,” he said.

Cape told his lawyer he would accept a plea deal that day if the prosecutor agreed to keep Rexina out of jail. The prosecutor offered to give Cape 10 years in prison if he plead guilty and Linan-Juarez would get 8 years deferred adjudication (probation without a conviction) if she signed the plea agreement. Both signed the deals that day.

“That’s the only reason I took it because they were going to let her go,” Cape said.

John Cape (KSAT)

With his two co-defendants making deals, Garcia said he was left with few choices. His prior criminal record was a big factor in how much time he was facing. He said eventually he was left with no choice but to plead guilty to a crime he knew he didn’t commit.

“I’ve had minor offenses. I’ve had a DWI in the past. In 2002, I had a possession charge of a gram or two of cocaine and that’s why I was told that you have a history. We take this thing to trial, you’re looking at 25 years,” Garcia said. “Until your back is against the wall and you’re looking at all these years, you can lose everything if you lose in trial. But if you sign this plea deal, you’re eligible for parole within so many years and you’re thinking, I could be home, I could be home.”

Garcia agreed to take a plea deal that would send him to prison for 8 years.

As he and Cape began their prison sentences and Linan-Juarez’s health continued to decline at home with her family, Rubee Sandoval was still fighting her charges. Her fight would lead to the discovery of a crooked informant who was planting drugs.

A break in the case

In early 2019, more than a year after the raid on her home, Rubee Sandoval was still trying to find a way out of her nightmare. She said she tried over and over to convince her own attorneys and the Bexar County District Attorney’s office that she’d been framed. But no one seemed to be listening.

She said she was being pressured to take a plea deal, but she refused because she wasn’t going to admit to something she didn’t do.

But Sandoval had a problem: the small amount of meth that was found on her nightstand when deputies raided her home. In a meeting with the prosecutor and her lawyer, she was offered a deal. Prosecutors would drop the possession with intent to deliver charges because of the questions she was raising about the informant.

In exchange, Sandoval would plead guilty to possession of the smaller amount and spend 8 years on probation. Her attorney recommended she take the deal.

But Sandoval refused and had the attorney removed from her case. It wouldn’t be until early 2020 that a new attorney looked at her case. When they did, they found some compelling evidence that caused everything to unravel.

The day she was arrested, the friend who asked her to store the box had sent her a series of text messages.

“‘Hey, are you home? You still got the box? I can pick up my box.’ I said, ‘I’m not home but I’ll meet you there,’” Sandoval recalled. “I’m getting ready and waiting for him to come to the house to pick up his box because he said he got a storage unit.”

The man never showed up that day, but it wasn’t long after the text exchange that deputies raided Sandoval’s home.

A new prosecutor assigned to the case in 2020 found those text messages while reviewing the case file, and what she saw concerned her.

She took those concerns to Matt Howard, director of the Bexar County DA’s conviction integrity unit. Howard and his team review questionable cases in which someone has been convicted.

“She realized something was a little bit off about it,” Howard said.

Howard put his investigators to work, looking into the informant used by police in the Sandoval case. They discovered three other cases that relied on the informant — the cases against Rexina Linan-Juarez, John Cape and Louie Garcia.

Overturning the convictions

Defense attorney Dayna Jones was appointed by the county to represent the three defendants. She was immediately troubled by how easy it was for deputies to get the search warrant considering the lack of experience the informant had.

“The search warrant affidavit that the officer supplied in this case said that this was the first time that he was using this particular confidential informant,” Jones said. “That was troublesome to me.”

According to the warrant, the informant had only conducted a “controlled buy” — a deputy met with him, gave him money and watched him enter an undisclosed location. When he returned, he turned over the drugs he bought.

“This confidential informant went and bought drugs for me and so I know that they know what drugs are. That’s all we had in this one,” Jones said. “I’m not blaming the judge or the officer or anything like that, but a whole lot more work could have been done at the very initial steps on this before going and getting a search warrant.”

Jones worked with Howard’s team to get the convictions overturned. Both sides agreed the informant was unreliable and had the defendants been able to prove he’d set them up, they never would have been prosecuted.

Dayna Jones helped overturn bogus convictions based on a bad confidential informant.

As the gears of their exoneration process slowly turned, Linan-Juarez was now on her deathbed. Her sister Delma Sanchez said she never lost faith that she would finally be found innocent.

“She would tell me, ‘You’ll see Delma. Whether I’m here or not, you’ll see that I didn’t do this to mom,’” Sanchez said.

On Aug. 21, 2020, A Bexar County judge found Cape, Garcia and Linan-Juarez were wrongfully convicted and recommended they be granted actual innocence.

Because Linan-Juarez received deferred adjudication and was not technically convicted, her case was able to be reviewed and overturned at the local level. Cape and Garcia’s cases would have to be heard by the Court of Criminal Appeals.

“Basically, the moment that the trial court judge found Rexina to be actually innocent, she was exonerated and found actually innocent,” Howard said. “The moment that the trial court judge found John and Louie to be actually innocent, that became the recommendation of the trial court to be sent up to the Court of Criminal Appeals. And they can consider the trial court’s recommendation.”

But the ruling came too late for Linan-Juarez. She died the day before she was declared innocent.

“I mean, these were happy, sad tears at that time,” Sanchez said. “I was like, oh, my God, I wanted to get off the top of my lungs and say, I know you were right. I knew it. She knew she was right.”

The ruling also came too late for Cape and Garcia, who were still in prison. Cape was not able to say a final goodbye to Linan-Juarez.

After spending more than two years in prison, Cape and Garcia were finally released, just in time to serve as pallbearers at Linan-Juarez’s funeral.

“‘She wants you there. You deserve to be there for her. We had these two years because of you,’” Sanchez recalled telling Cape. “I got him ready and he carried her to her final resting place.”

In July 2021, the Court of Criminal Appeals ruled that Cape and Garcia were entitled to have their cases overturned, but they did not agree that they were entitled to actual innocence.

The court couldn’t get past the fact that some drugs were found in the home separate from what the informant planted. Had they been granted actual innocence, Cape and Garcia would have been paid $85,000 per year served in prison and entitled to other benefits.

While there was plenty of news made about the overturning of the cases and the exonerations, there was no fanfare for Rubee Sandoval, who saw her case quietly dismissed in May.

It was her text messages that uncovered the informant’s bad deeds and her refusal to be pressured into a plea deal. Despite that, no one from the DA’s office told her she was the person who helped free two men from prison, she said.

Collateral damage

Being set up cost Garcia more than his freedom and the cost of his wrongful conviction wasn’t just paid by him. His family and relationships all paid a high price.

“It dominos down, everybody else that was involved with me. I lost my relationship because of this, she really thought I was out there doing and selling drugs ... she ends up losing the house because I wasn’t there to help with the bills,” Garcia said.

The stain on his record has made it hard to find work, he said.

Cape lost the woman he loved and his sense of security. He now lives in fear of another police raid.

“I feel they’re going to go harass me, maybe plant more drugs on me and I’ll be screwed again,” Cape said. “They ruin people’s lives that they know had nothing to do with (drug trafficking).”

Sandoval lost the home she lived in for 18 years and nearly all of her personal belongings. She had to move in with her adult daughter as she tries to get back on her feet.

Despite all she’s lost, Sandoval said she never lost faith that what happened to her would finally be uncovered.

“During this time it felt like there was a hand on my shoulder the whole time telling me, you know, I’m here, it’s going to be OK,” Sandoval said.

Linan-Juarez’s sister Delma and her mother gathered at Rexina’s grave in September, just weeks after the one-year anniversary of her death. As they decorated for Rexina’s favorite holiday, Halloween, they got an opportunity to meet Rubee Sandoval for the first time.

“Thank you so much for everything you’ve done. I appreciate it. I know you’ve gone through the hell that she went through as well,” Sanchez told Sandoval. “I just wanted to thank you for keeping up with getting the truth out because she did the same thing as well. And I know she knows up there that she did right. And she’s happy that this came out.”

Rubee Sandoval (right) at Rexina Linan-Juarez's grave with her family. (KSAT)

Sandoval was thankful for the opportunity to meet Rexina’s family.

“I don’t even know how to express this. I’m so humble that you all wanted to thank me,” Sandoval told the family. “(Rexina) spoke a lot about how much her family meant and her children. And I’m just glad this is coming out the way it did, because this would have mattered everything to her … she cares so much for her mother and she always talked about you Delma.”

Sandoval, Cape and Garcia are currently working with attorneys to have their cases expunged.

The informant

Despite the high cost paid by the people who were caught up in the informant’s web of lies, he hasn’t paid much of a price at all. KSAT is withholding his identity to not endanger him.

As of publication, the informant has not been charged for lying to deputies and planting the drugs in these cases. However, the informant could be facing some more serious problems.

According to court records, he was arrested on drug charges on a DEA warrant late last summer. As of publication he had not been indicted on those charges.

Sources tell the KSAT 12 Defenders that a memo was sent out to all local law enforcement agencies that use confidential informants to make drug cases, that this informant should not be used and that any cases presented involving him would be dismissed.

District Attorney Joe Gonzales told the Defenders in November a fifth case involving the informant had been identified and was now being handled by prosecutors.

Bexar County Sheriff Javier Salazar said he agreed with the DA’s office decision to overturn the cases. He said no deputies had been disciplined related to their work on these cases.

See a timeline of the cases below.

Read more from this series:


About the Authors:

Tim Gerber is an investigative reporter and anchor on the KSAT Defenders team.

David Raziq is the executive producer for the Defenders investigative team.