McALLEN — A man found in possession of more than 500 pounds of marijuana claimed he was forced to transport the load in order to be smuggled to Houston for work.
U.S. District Judge Randy Crane on Monday sentenced the man, a Mexican national, to two years in federal prison for his role in the drug smuggling operation.
Judge Crane sentenced Santos Cruz-Medina to 24 months in federal prison in connection with a controlled substance charge dating back to earlier this year when he was arrested by U.S. Border Patrol agents near Rio Grande City.
In April of this year Cruz-Medina pleaded not guilty to both charges against him, possession of a controlled substance and conspiracy to distribute a controlled substance, according to court records.
But a few months later in July, he changed his mind and pleaded guilty to the controlled substance charge, in exchange federal prosecutors recommended the court dismiss the drug conspiracy charge, records show.
The 37-year-old Mexican man was arrested on March 9 after border patrol agents were tipped off to the blue Jeep Commander he was driving from the Fronton area and was possibly carrying bundles of drugs inside, according to the criminal complaint.
“Agents responded to the area and intercepted a vehicle matching the description provided traveling north on FM 650. Agents observed (Cruz-Medina) failing to make visual contact with agents and appeared nervous,” the complaint states.
Agents could also see the bundles of drugs in the rear of the vehicle, according to the complaint.
“Agents could detect the smell of marijuana emitting from the vehicle so they removed (Cruz-Medina) from the driver seat and detained him,” the affidavit states.
During the interview with authorities, Cruz-Medina admitted to having marijuana in the vehicle.
Agents subsequently removed 21 bundles of marijuana from the rear of the vehicle weighing about 520 pounds, the complaint states.
Cruz-Medina waived his rights and gave authorities a statement regarding the drugs.
During this interview, Cruz-Medina said he entered the country illegally the night before with the help of several armed men who kept him at a safe house in Fronton.
He was then held at gunpoint and forced to transport the drug load the following day.
He told agents that he was told that in exchange for transporting the load he would be paid an unknown amount of cash and smuggled up to Houston where he had hoped to find work, the complaint states.
Cruz-Medina will remain in the custody of the U.S. Marshals Service pending his transfer to a federal prison facility.