BROWNSVILLE — A Gulf Cartel enforcer for plaza boss Jose Luis “El Wicho” Zuñiga-Hernandez was sentenced to five years in prison after pleading guilty to being an alien in possession of a firearm, U.S. Attorney Kenneth Magidson announced Wednesday.
Luis Ivan Nino-Duenes, 28, of Control, Tamps., was arrested in October 2011 with Juan Roberto “Comandante X” Rincon-Rincon, 41, and Zuñiga-Hernandez, 44, after the group fled across the Rio Grande into the United States.
During Rincon-Rincon’s trial late last year, testimony showed the men were running from a gunbattle in Rio Bravo. Rival cartel members battling for control of the cartel had the group hemmed in on both sides after they failed to meet on a dirt road for an 11 a.m. meeting with the rival faction.
Rincon-Rincon told investigators he feared everyone would be killed if they showed up, according to trial testimony.
He was found guilty and was scheduled to be sentenced Wednesday, but was granted a continuance until March 13. He is charged with two counts of trying to transport cocaine and marijuana.
Zuñiga-Hernandez pleaded guilty to entering the United States after being deported and being an alien in possession of a firearm on Jan. 8, 2013. He was sentenced to seven years in prison.
The men were arrested about a week after Gulf Cartel rival Rafael “El Junior” Cardenas-Vela was arrested in Port Isabel in October 2011. He is scheduled to be sentenced on April 3 on two counts of conspiracy to possess and distribute cocaine, money laundering and having a fake Mexican passport, court documents show. He struck a plea deal.
According to testimony during Rincon-Rincon’s trial, Cardenas-Vela delivered the ultimatum to the men that ordered them to join their side or stay loyal to Eduardo “El Coss” Costillo and die.
Investigators found a jewel-encrusted and gold-plated Colt .38 super handgun on Nino-Duenes and at the time of his guilty plea, Nino-Duenes admitted entering the country illegally.
A news press release announcing Zuñiga-Hernandez’s sentence said he paid $57,000 to have the gun made.
At a Tuesday hearing, additional evidence of further organized crime connections were presented, including that while in jail on the case, Nino Duenes joined a prison gang while on trial, a press release states. According to a news release, the court found that he obstructed justice by joining the gang and intimidating witnesses.
However, according to a news release, Nino-Duenes argued that he did not join the gang and that federal sentencing guidelines called for a sentence of 21 months given that he pleaded guilty and accepted responsibility for his crime.
In handing down the sentence, U.S. District Judge Hilda Tagle noted that the defendant’s flight from a gunfight was an example of spillover violence.
Mark Reagan writes for The Brownsville Herald. He can be reached at email@example.com.