California man gets 11 years for trying to smuggle meth into US

McALLEN — A federal judge handed down an 11-year prison sentence to a California man who attempted to smuggle more than 50 kilos of methamphetamine into the United States at a port of entry.

U.S. District Judge Randy Crane sentenced Miguel Angel Valenzuela Solorzano to 132 months earlier this week for his role in a scheme to transport more than 50 kilos of liquid meth inside Valenzuela’s vehicle, court records show.

Valenzuela was arrested last October attempting to enter the U.S. through the Hidalgo-Reynosa International Bridge after U.S. Customs and Border Protection officers discovered the meth hidden within his vehicle’s gas tank, according to the criminal complaint filed against him.

The defendant, who pleaded guilty to one import charge in February, was also facing a federal drug conspiracy charge that was subsequently dismissed as part of his agreement with government prosecutors.

Officers referred Valenzuela’s Jeep to secondary inspection “after an automatic referral by CBP computer data systems,” according to the complaint.

After a K-9 alerted officers to something near the rear passenger side of the Jeep, a contractor was called out and subsequently removed the gas tank from the Jeep, court records show.

“(Officers) observed a clear plastic bag inside the fuel tank containing a dark brown liquid, which was discovered after the contractor removed the tank,” the complaint states. “The bag was sealed with zip-ties.”

Agents with U.S. Homeland Security Investigations interviewed Valenzuela following his arrest, where he initially stated he was suspicious of what was inside his Jeep following a trip to visit his sick father in Mexico.

He said he didn’t travel alone and was accompanied by his brother-in-law’s brother, Mario.

Valenzuela said because he didn’t have the proper permit to travel within Mexico he visited a ranch in Cuidad Juarez, where he met an individual known as “Primo,” who was going to help him acquire one, the complaint states.

But Primo threatened he would kill Valenzuela and his entire family if he didn’t “drive the vehicle into the U.S.,” the complaint states.

“Primo was surrounded by 9-10 men with various firearms during the entirety of Valenzuela’s contact with him,” the record states. “(Valenzuela) said Primo wanted him to drive the vehicle because he was a U.S. citizen and had a California licensed vehicle.”

The 27-year-old man said Primo gave him $230 for traveling expenses to cover the trip to Atlanta.

Valenzuela also said he didn’t tell CBP officers because he “was scared” upon approaching the port of entry.

In addition to his 11-year prison sentence, Valenzuela will serve five years of supervised release upon completion of his prison term.

His attorney asked his client be placed in a facility near Los Angeles so his family may visit him, court records show.