A Family Affair

Roland Garcia has the political backing to be the U.S. Attorney for South Texas. He also has a brother imprisoned for murder and drug trafficking -- a fact he somehow forgot to tell his congressional sponsors. That may not be enough to disqualify him, but

Roland Garcia Jr. is, by all accounts, a nice guy.
He has an earnest, sincere manner, a taste for hard work and an ability for quiet but determined self-promotion that have served him well as he's climbed the rungs of the Texas legal and political establishment.

A Corpus Christi native, the first of his immediate family to graduate from college, Garcia came into Houston as an outsider, a Hispanic who worked his way though the unglamorous South Texas College of Law; by the age of 38 he had landed a lucrative partnership at an elite downtown firm, the presidency of the Texas Young Lawyers Association, the friendship of many key Democratic politicians and -- he thought -- a shot at the prestigious position of United States Attorney for Houston and the Southern District of Texas.

November 8 was a big day for Roland Garcia Jr: There he was on the front page of the paper, pictured bustling about his office answering calls congratulating him for being recommended for the U.S. Attorney's job by the five Democratic members of the Southern District's congressional delegation.

His family, he says, was bursting with pride that day. But one member of that family probably took a little longer to get the news -- Garcia's younger brother, Edgar Arnold Garcia, was sitting in a federal prison, serving time for running a huge marijuana-smuggling operation and brutally killing a onetime colleague who crossed him.

Roland Garcia somehow never saw fit to mention to his congressional sponsors or their staffs that he had a younger brother in prison -- he's given a series of startlingly disingenuous reasons for not bothering to do so -- and the disclosure has darkened his chances for getting approval from the White House and the Republican-controlled Senate for the job. The flap has also raised questions about the comically chaotic methods used to pick a candidate for the critical post, methods that, critics say, were only window-dressing for a pick that came down to a political calculus that was surprisingly cynical even for these times.

Roland Garcia may yet become U.S. Attorney -- the five members of Congress from South Texas still back him as their recommendation, at least publicly -- but the story of his choice is one of a family's heartbreak over drugs, of political ambition and power, and, seemingly, of a respected lawyer's belief that he could make a dark family episode go away simply by not mentioning it.

Talking about his brother is still not one of Roland Garcia's favorite things to do. Resigned to performing damage control, he'll sit for an interview -- but only on the phone. And he doesn't want the rest of the family getting involved.

"My parents are just devastated," he says of the initial wave of publicity about his brother. "My mother cried for days. We all love my brother. It's a tragic thing -- drugs have victimized a lot of families."

Garcia is the oldest of five; he says he's not sure how old his brother is ("36 or 37..."). The family grew up in Corpus Christi's Country Club Estates, an older enclave of wealth that is now overshadowed by newer, more modern neighborhoods of the city's elite.

His father dabbled in real estate and owned half of Hacienda Records, a respected independent Tejano recording label run mostly by Garcia's uncle.

The family has turned out well -- one of Garcia's siblings is a lawyer, another an investment banker.

There was little indication Edgar would end up any differently. "Growing up, we were very close -- we were in Boy Scouts together, we played Little League together," Garcia says. "The family all went to church, we were Catholic.... But families, sometimes even with loving parents, can be impacted by the evils of drugs. It's unfortunate, but my younger brother got seduced."

Edgar began working as a sound engineer at the family's recording studio, according to one of the prosecutors who handled his conviction. He met bands, began traveling with them on tour "and learned very quickly he could make contacts in the drug world," says Greg McMahon, chief of special prosecutions for Florida's Eighth Judicial Circuit. "He started in Texas, moved to Louisiana and eventually came east to the rural areas of our circuit."

None of the other members of the family were ever implicated in any part of the operation, but eventually Edgar controlled one of the larger South Texas drug operations.

Part of the operation involved fronting large amounts of drugs, almost exclusively marijuana, to local dealers, including his man in Florida, a sad sack named Marty Cryer. Cryer was eventually fronted over a hundred pounds of dope, worth about $100,000 on the street, and was evading attempts to pay up.

Edgar Garcia sent word out to Cryer through the drug network that it was time to settle his accounts; when that failed, Garcia, in February 1991, went to Florida with some lieutenants to take matters into his own hands.

They rented cars and started looking, eventually finding Cryer's car parked in the lot of a cheap motel in tiny Chiefland, Florida. When they stormed Cryer's room, their guns drawn, they found him with his wife, a four-year-old daughter and his mother-in-law.

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