Reynosa woman sentenced in cocaine case

McALLEN — A Reynosa woman was sentenced to more than three years in prison in connection with an attempt to transport nearly 20 kilos of cocaine.

Rosa Maria Gutierrez-Torres stood Tuesday before U.S. District Judge Ricardo H. Hinojosa as he imposed a 41-month prison sentence related to her arrest last May when she attempted to smuggle about 18 kilos of cocaine into the United States.

Gutierrez was arrested on May 9, 2017, at the Pharr-Reynosa International Bridge as she attempted to enter the country. She was accompanied by her two adult children.

During a secondary inspection of Gutierrez’s SUV, Customs and Border Protection officers, using an X-ray machine, discovered “anomalies” within the rear part of the vehicle.

“An intensive inspection revealed packages concealed in a man-made compartment in a natural void of the vehicle. One package was probed, revealing a white powdery substance that field-tested positive for the properties of cocaine,” the complaint states.

Officers subsequently found 17 packages containing a total of 18.46 kilograms of cocaine.

During an interview with CBP officers, Gutierrez claimed a man named “El Guero” contacted her and asked her for a favor — but one that came with a warning. If she refused, her son would be forced to work with him, the complaint states.

Gutierrez, who said she became involved in the conspiracy to move illicit drugs through her romantic partner, apologized to the United States, the court, and her family, who she said is now struggling to make ends meet because of her incarceration.

Hinojosa, noting that Gutierrez is the owner of a gym in Reynosa, asked why someone like her, who has more going on for her than the normal defendant who gets involved in trafficking, would get mixed up with smugglers.

The 43-year-old mother of two adult children, ages 18 and 20 years old, said she believed the things her boyfriend told her, leading her to allow him to use her and her vehicle to move drugs across the border.

Gutierrez’s attorney, McAllen-based Norman E. McInnis, said his client was widowed more than seven years ago and that she met her boyfriend at the gym she owns.

“Ultimately, he was the one who got her involved in all of this,” McInnis told the court.

McInnis said the vehicle was to be loaded in Mexico, crossed by Gutierrez and parked in a local store parking lot, where it would be unloaded by people on the U.S. side.

Gutierrez said she trusted her boyfriend. But that, she says, is no excuse for what she did.

In response to Hinojosa asking her why she, being as smart as she is, would believe her new partner, Gutierrez said she was lonely after the death of her husband, who died nearly a decade ago.

“After being alone for seven years — yes, I did trust what I was being told,” she told the court.

Representatives for the government, in asking for a longer sentence, noted that Gutierrez was seen leaving her vehicle, presumably loaded with narcotics, in the parking lot of a local H-E-B grocery store two days prior to her arrest at the Pharr-Reynosa bridge.

The court ruled Gutierrez was a minor participant in the cocaine smuggling attempt so the judge did not impose the recommended 10-year sentence typically reserved for cases involving 5 kilos or more of cocaine.

Gutierrez, who has been in custody since last May, will serve the remainder of her 41-month sentence in federal prison. Because she is a citizen of Mexico and lacks legal status in the United States, she will then be deported to Mexico.