Man gets 4 years for role in cocaine smuggling attempt

McALLEN — A Mexican man who claimed he was forced to smuggle cocaine into the U.S. after a car crash nearly two years ago faced his sentencing this week.

U.S. District Judge Randy Crane sentenced Juan Jaime Sauceda-Cruz to 48 months in federal prison on one count of importing a controlled substance, court records show.

Sauceda-Cruz pleaded guilty to the import charge in February; in exchange, counts 1, 3 and 4 were dismissed as part of his plea bargain with the government, records show.

The 22-year-old, who was accompanied by a passenger, was arrested last September at the Pharr-Reynosa International Bridge as he attempted to enter the country driving a 2005 Ford Five Hundred sedan.

During his attempt to enter the country, he was referred for a secondary inspection, where U.S. Customs and Border Protection officers discovered more than 17 kilos of cocaine hidden inside the large sedan’s gas tank.

“Secondary inspection revealed a total of (15) packages concealed in the gas tank of the Ford Five Hundred,” the complaint states.

In total, officers said the 15 bundles of cocaine weighed 17.8 kilograms.

At first, Sauceda-Cruz told U.S. Homeland Security Investigations agents he was headed into the U.S. to attend a birthday party for his aunt, but quickly changed this when agents pressed him to be honest with them, conceding he knew there were narcotics inside the vehicle.

“Sauceda stated that he was instructed to drop off his Ford Five Hundred at the IHOP restaurant located on south 10th Street in McAllen, Texas in the parking lot before 3:00pm,” the complaint states.

He told agents that in December 2016, he was involved in a car crash, claiming he was not at fault, and was paid $2,400 for damages by the other person involved, the record shows.

But just two weeks before his arrest at the bridge, Sauceda-Cruz claimed the person who was involved in the crash approached him, and demanded his $2,400 back — saying the person had lost their job as a result of the car crash.

“Sauceda said that the way he was going to pay him back was by smuggling an unknown amount of narcotics into the United States in his Ford Five Hundred,” court records show.

He said the man told him he would have to transport drugs into the U.S. “three or four” times to pay him back, the complaint states.

Sauceda-Cruz, who does not have legal authority to live in the country, will not serve supervised release, instead he will be deported upon completion of his federal prison term.