Edinburg man gets 5 years for smuggling 16,000 rounds of ammo

McALLEN — A federal judge sentenced an Edinburg man to more than five years in prison for his role in an attempt to export more than 16,000 rounds of ammunition into Mexico.

Raul Peña Sanchez stood before U.S. District Judge Randy Crane Wednesday for sentencing months after he pleaded guilty to a smuggling goods charge in December of last year.

Peña, 27, and another man, Abel Hernandez Jr., 45, of Pharr, were arrested in June 2017 when they attempted to smuggle into Mexico several thousand rounds of ammo, according to the criminal complaint filed against the pair.

Hernandez and Peña were arrested attempting to conceal and transport the ammunition after purchasing it earlier that day at a McAllen sporting goods store, according to the complaint.

“After arriving at the sporting goods store, agents were able to verify that Hernandez had made the significant purchase of ammunition,” the complaint states.

Agents watched as Hernandez entered the passenger side of a pickup truck, a silver Dodge Charger, driven by a man later identified as Peña, the complaint states.

The pair then drove from the sporting goods store to a parking lot in Hidalgo near the intersection of Coma Avenue and International Boulevard.

In the parking lot, U.S. Homeland Security Investigations agents observed the men load the ammunition into the engine compartment of a second vehicle, a Chevrolet pickup truck with Mexican plates, the court record shows.

Peña got back into the Charger and Hernandez jumped in the pickup truck and headed toward the Hidalgo-Reynosa International Bridge, at which time HSI agents made U.S. Customs and Border Protection aware of the situation.

The complaint further states that CBP officers at the port of entry “interdicted and stopped (the Charger) as it attempted to exit the United States into Mexico in order to conduct an outbound inspection.”

Hernandez, driving the pickup truck, tried to evade CBP officers, who attempted to stop the vehicle to conduct an outbound inspection, and made a sharp right turn across traffic onto a side street, the complaint states.

Eventually, authorities caught up to Hernandez and Peña and detained them.

During a subsequent interview with the men, Hernandez admitted to buying approximately 2,080 rounds of 7.62×39 mm caliber ammunition from the sporting goods store in McAllen with Peña’s help.

Despite only finding the men with more than 2,000 rounds at the time of arrest, the court noted that authorities were able to confirm through surveillance video at the sporting goods store that the pair had previously purchased more than 16,000 rounds of ammunition — most of it transported into Mexico in past instances.

The court made notice of a 2016 drug seizure case Peña was previously convicted of in “Brooks and/or Jim Wells counties,” the court notes state.

Crane said the sentence will run concurrently with that case.

After completing his prison term, Peña will serve three years of supervised release, court records show.

Hernandez, who remains in custody, is expected back in court for his sentencing hearing in late April, court notes show.