Donna man sentenced in ammo smuggling case

McALLEN — A Donna man who attempted to smuggle 1,000 rounds of ammunition into Mexico was sentenced Tuesday.

U.S. District Judge Randy Crane sentenced Juan Jesus De La Rosa Paz to 27 months in prison for his role in an attempt to traffic 1,000 rounds of ammunition commonly used with machine guns and AK-47-type rifles.

De La Rosa, standing beside his McAllen-based attorney Judith A. Cantu, apologized to the court and his family, who he said have suffered as a result of his actions.

“I made a big mistake and got involved with the wrong people. It got out of control, and I couldn’t get out of it — I am asking for another chance to live my life,” De La Rosa said before Crane. “I’m not the same person I was three years ago — I’ve grown so much as a person.”

The 28-year-old man was arrested more than three years ago as he attempted — with the help of a minor — to transport 1,000 rounds of ammunition into Mexico.

He pleaded guilty in May 2015 to attempted exportation of arms and munitions, count 2 of the indictment against him. In exchange, the government dropped the remaining exportation charge, court records show.

On March 1, 2015, U.S. Homeland Security Investigations agents were conducting surveillance on De La Rosa at federal firearms retailers in Edinburg and Weslaco, where they observed him making a large purchase of ammunition, according to the complaint.

Agents then watched De La Rosa leave the Edinburg federal firearm licensee and head to a residence in Donna.

“(Agents) observed De La Rosa rearranging items in the trunk area of his vehicle, a silver Volkswagen Jetta,” the court record states. “(Agents) observed that De La Rosa spent over an hour rearranging items in the vehicle’s trunk.”

A short time later, HSI agents observed De La Rosa, who was now a passenger in the Volkswagen, get out of vehicle near a duty free store, and then walk toward the pedestrian walk lane, while the driver, later identified as De La Rosa’s minor brother in-law, made his way toward the port. In court documents the driver is referred to as L.A.Z.

U.S. Customs and Border Protection officers working the Progreso-Nuevo Progreso International Bridge referred his vehicle for a secondary inspection.

“At secondary inspection, CBPOs discovered approximately 1,000 rounds of 7.62-by-39 mm ammunition concealed in the vehicle’s rear quarter panel area inside the vehicle’s trunk,” the complaint states.

L.A.Z. told agents that earlier that day his brother in-law, De La Rosa, bought two large bags of ammunition from a sporting goods store in Weslaco.

He told authorities De La Rosa instructed him to cross the vehicle and ammunition into Mexico via the Progreso port of entry and to pick De La Rosa up on the Mexican side of the bridge, the complaint states.

Authorities found De La Rosa at the pedestrian outbound lane and detained him.

According to the court, De La Rosa has already served about half of his 27-month prison sentence, and will also serve an additional three years of supervised release upon completion of his sentence.

The court ordered De La Rosa to surrender the day after Labor Day to begin his prison sentence.

Robert L. Guerra Jr. represented the government in the case, court records show.