Prosecution rests case against Monte Alto man in straw purchase trial

McALLEN — The government rested its case Wednesday during a brief second day of testimony in the trial of a Monte Alto man accused of breaking federal gun laws when he purchased a handgun for another man.

Prosecutors allege that Jose Joel Elizondo Jr. purchased a 9 mm semi-automatic handgun on April 9, 2016, from Cash America Pawn in San Juan for a co-worker at the time named Jorge Luis Almanza-Barceñas.

About a year later the government alleges that Almanza-Barceñas used the gun in two carjackings in McAllen, according to court records.

Almanza-Barceñas was arrested April 13, 2017, at a residence in Edinburg along with two other juvenile males, according to testimony from the first day of trial.

He pleaded guilty last September to all the charges against him and is expected to be sentenced next month, according to court documents.

The man’s arrest led to federal agents seeking out Elizondo, who admitted to buying the gun for Almanza-Barceñas. The latter worked at the same used-car dealer as a general manager.

Elizondo in one interview with federal officers stated Almanza-Barceñas stated to him he needed the weapon to protect his family.

After calling to the stand a forensic examiner from the FBI to confirm the aforementioned gun was indeed a firearm — in addition to recalling their main witness from the first day of testimony, FBI task force officer Jose Mireles — prosecutors representing the government rested their case.

FBI forensic examiner Brett A. Mills testified that the Beretta PX4 9 mm caliber handgun, the weapon Elizondo purchased on April 9, 2016 at a pawn shop in San Juan, was indeed a firearm when he tested it in September of last year.

After his testimony, the government re-called Mireles, who testified during the first day of the trial about his role in the investigation into Elizondo.

Mireles was called again to identify that Elizondo was in fact the person he investigated in connection with the straw purchase.

Mireles only was re-called for a few questions, a stark difference from Tuesday’s appearance, when the McAllen-based FBI task force officer spent about four hours answering questions from both the defense and prosecution.

Mireles’ testimony related specifically to his role in the investigation into the gun purchase.

The defense, represented by McAllen attorney Ronald Glen Hole, called three witnesses of his own and appeared to hammer home to the jury Elizondo’s reputation as an honest, hard-working and law-abiding citizen.

Hole called to the stand Elizondo’s former bosses, first the owner of Frank’s Auto Sales, a local used-car lot, Franco Uribe and his direct supervisor, Alfredo Rodriguez, who each testified individually to 39-year-old’s high character.

Uribe stated Elizondo, unlike some other employees, never caused him trouble — describing him as a hard worker and truthful. Rodriguez made similar statements, saying Elizondo was the head porter, and had two employees he was in charge of who would wash cars on the used-car lot.

“(Elizondo) did a good job,” Rodriguez said.

Hole also called Elizondo’s mother, Maria Elizondo, to the stand. This was another attempt to paint his client as someone with “good morals.”

Maria, who appeared emotional as she took the stand, was asked about what her friends say about her son, who she testified has lived with her for the majority of his life.

“People know my son is a good citizen,” Maria said.

During cross-examination, Maria was asked by the government prosecutors about the car detailing business Elizondo started sometime in 2017 — mainly about her role in the business. Maria testified that she and her daughter funded Elizondo’s new business.

Finally, Hole asked the woman about her son’s time in school, to which she said he wasn’t the best learner, but never had issues with his behavior.

After Maria was released from the stand, the court recessed with the expectation that the defense would call at least one more witness to the stand — Elizondo’s sister, who will be traveling from Houston.

If the defense rests its case Thursday, jury deliberations would begin shortly after.

If convicted of the federal firearm charge, Elizondo faces up to five years in prison.