Rio Grande City woman pleads guilty in ammo case

McALLEN — A Rio Grande City woman is set to be sentenced in connection with a violation of a federal ammunition charge.

Paola Benavides pleaded guilty Monday before U.S. District Judge Micaela Alvarez to count one of the criminal complaint filed against her last year.

Benavides, who is currently not in custody on a $10,000 bond, pleaded true to knowingly aiding and abetting “an alien,” when she helped buy more than 1,500 rounds of ammunition in the summer of 2017.

Rigoberto Mena-Gutierrez, 21, of Mexico, who does not have legal status to be in the country, was seen in surveillance video shopping at a McAllen federal firearm licensee location along with Benavides on July 26, 2017.

U.S. Homeland Security Investigations agents reviewed the recorded video about a month later that showed Benavides, Mena-Gutierrez and a third unidentified person shopping inside the store, the complaint states.

“Inside the FFL, Benavides, and Mena-Gutierrez, visually examined ammunition together,” the complaint states. “Mena-Gutierrez then loaded multiple boxes of ammunition into the cart. While Mena-Gutierrez was loading ammunition, Benavides was in control of the cart.”

In total, the trio purchased three boxes, carrying 520 rounds of Monarch ammunition 7.62X39mm each, for a total of 1,560 rounds, the complaint states.

“Mena-Gutierrez paid cash for ammunition and Mena-Gutierrez, Benavides, and unnamed co-conspirator exited the store together,” the complaint states.

HSI agents were also given from the FFL a copy of Mena-Gutierrez’s “Mexican issued driver’s license,” showing he was a Mexican citizen.

Mena-Gutierrez, who had been previously deported in October 2015 and October 2016, remains in custody on an unrelated immigration re-entry charge, court records show.

On Nov. 29, 2017, Benavides was interviewed by federal agents at a port of entry in Rio Grande City where she admitted she knew Mena-Gutierrez lacked legal status in the country, and that despite this knowledge, she still aided and abetted him in the purchase of the ammunition, the complaint states.

“In addition, Benavides stated she traveled with Mena-Gutierrez on multiple occasions to purchase ammunition and on each occasion, Benavides was aware they were traveling to the FFL to purchase ammunition,” the record states.

The court accepted Benavides’ guilty plea and found her guilty of importing/manufacturing firearms, court records show.

The 19-year-old woman will remain free on bond pending her June 28 sentencing hearing where she could face up to 10 years in prison.

This report was updated to reflect the woman’s place of residence.