Two family members sentenced for roles in grenade launcher sting

BROWNSVILLE — An uncle and his niece were sentenced to federal prison terms Wednesday for their roles in a scheme to smuggle an M203 grenade launcher and assault-style rifles into Mexico.

BROWNSVILLE — An uncle and his niece were sentenced to federal prison terms Wednesday for their roles in a scheme to smuggle an M203 grenade launcher and assault-style rifles into Mexico.

Dulce Maria Rippstine, 38, of San Juan pleaded guilty to conspiracy to smuggle munitions to Mexico on Dec. 7, 2017, and her uncle, Juan Martin Segura-Olvera, 47, of Reynosa pleaded guilty June 29, 2017, to possession of a destructive device.

They are the last two defendants to be sentenced in a conspiracy to deliver five assault-style rifles and an M203 grenade launcher to an unnamed cartel member in Reynosa, court proceedings have revealed.

U.S. District Judge Rolando Olvera sentenced a tearful Rippstine to a little more than three years in prison, and Segura-Olvera was sentenced to a little more than four years in prison.

Rippstine, who was sentenced Wednesday morning, apologized to the court, while her fiancé watched from the audience, for her actions and pleaded for mercy.

“I’m here because I know I did a mistake,” Rippstine told Olvera. “I learned my mistake.”

Assistant U.S. Attorney Jason Corley, for the United States Attorney’s Office, Southern District of Texas, asked Olvera to order Rippstine be taken into custody immediately, believing her to be a flight risk.

Olvera gave Rippstine until April 13 to get her affairs in order and report to prison.

Corley also told Olvera that he didn’t believe Rippstine was completely truthful with the USAO, disputing Rippstine’s story that she believed she was picking up goat meat with her uncle because the USAO believed that Rippstine delivered two assault-style rifles to Mexico in October, 2016.

“I never transported no guns to Mexico,” Rippstine said during the hearing.

Her attorney, Alejandro Guerra, said Rippstine had no criminal record and was asking for mercy so she could be there for her three children.

Guerra also cited how Rippstine had a tough childhood, facing neglect and abuse.

“I’ve been trying to not let that happen to my kids,” Rippstine told Olvera.

In the afternoon, Olvera held Segura-Olvera’s sentencing. During that hearing, Paul G. Hajjar, Segura-Olvera’s lawyer, asked Olvera to sentence the man to between 2 and 2 ½ years in prison, saying the defendant also did not have a criminal history.

Hajjar said the weapons were never intended for Mexico because Segura-Olvera was caught up in a sting by the Bureau of Alcohol, Tobacco and Firearms.

And Segura-Olvera disputed ever seeing the weapons, though he was present during the sting operation and was arrested.

Corley said during the hearing that the USAO believes Segura-Olvera was with Rippstine in October, 2016, when two weapons disappeared from a vehicle, which was in a parking lot in Mercedes, that presumably was headed into Mexico.

“I never saw those weapons,” Segura-Olvera said.

He also apologized to the court.

“I’ve always been a straightforward man and, regrettably, I got into a situation for which I apologize,” Segura-Olvera said.

The pair was charged along with Oscar Freddy Garcia, 31, of Reynosa; Jorge Cortez-Trujillo, 42, of Veracruz, Mexico; and Jose Luis Mendez of Los Fresnos; in 2017, all of whom already have been sentenced to prison.

During the hearing for Rippstine, Corley told Olvera that Rippstine knew exactly how those weapons would be used by cartels in Tamaulipas, as the goal of the conspiracy was to provide an unnamed cartel member in Reynosa with the weapons.

According to the San Antonio Express-News, there were 805 homicides in Tamaulipas in 2017, which is a 35 percent increase from 2016 and the highest since the 2012 peak, when violence between members of the Gulf Cartel was tantamount to war.