At the heart of the claim from the family of a jailed Mexican teen is whether U.S. Customs and Border Protection agents failed to perform one of their most important tasks — finding hidden drugs.

Sergio Alejandro Torres Duarte, 18, was arrested last month in Escuinapa, Sin., for possession of nearly two pounds of cocaine, the Mexican newspaper Noroeste reported. Authorities said they found a brick of the drug hidden in a special compartment inside the car driven by Duarte and his friend Julio César Moreno Guzmán.

The teen’s mother, Roselia Duarte Torres, claims CBP failed to find the compartment hidden behind the radio of the Toyota Sienna when it was initially seized and, later, sold at auction.

The Monitor has filed a records request with CBP for documents regarding the seizure of the car believed to be involved in the incident.

“At this point we are aware of the situation and are looking into it,” CBP spokesman Phil Barrera said in response to an email from The Monitor about the family’s claim.

Duarte said CBP sold the car in February alongside other seized items in McAllen.

A legal notice, which was printed in The Monitor late last year, shows CBP advertised a Toyota Sienna for sale with the same Vehicle Identification Number, or VIN, the family claims belongs to the car their son drove.

But it wasn’t until this spring that the Duarte family possessed the car after they bought it from an Internet vendor, Francisco Perez de Alba, without first seeing it. She said the Sienna was driven from the United States to their home in Mexico.

“The news hit us like cold water,” Duarte said of her son’s arrest while speaking from Guadalajara, Jal. “We didn’t know what to do. Now it’s very difficult. It’s bad.”

The mother strongly denies the assertion from Mexican authorities that the teens admitted they have ties to criminal organizations.

“That’s really wrong,” she said, adding that the teens were on their way to a soccer game in Mazatlan, Sin., when they were stopped and arrested in November.

Duarte said the family has contacted American and Mexican officials who might help, including the Mexican consul in McAllen, Erasmo Martínez Martínez. The consul did not respond to requests from The Monitor for comment for this story.

But, thus far, she said, the family’s efforts to free the teens have not proven fruitful.

“They’re there for something they didn’t do,” Duarte said. “All I’m interested in is that my son comes out.”

She described them as students who play soccer and get good grades. They had high hopes for their futures, but now they’ve missed several weeks of school, which has put them behind.

“We work so they can study and have a better life,” she said.

The two appear to be in decent health while in jail, but the mother believes their lives are in danger as innocent young men surrounded by a criminal element.

“It’s like a movie,” Duarte said. “We’re still in shock. We don’t understand what happened.”


 Jacqueline Armendariz covers law enforcement, courts and general assignments for The Monitor. She can be reached at and (956) 683-4434.