32-year sentence handed down for carjackings

McALLEN — A federal judge handed down a 32-year prison sentence for a Mexican man accused of multiple carjackings in the McAllen area, according to a news release from the South Texas U.S. Attorney’s office.

U.S. District Judge Randy Crane sentenced Jorge Luis Almanza-Barceñas to a 384-month prison sentence related to a series of carjackings in McAllen back in March and April of last year, court records show.

The 30-year-old man was facing two charges related to the carjackings, two firearms violations and two violent crimes charges, according to court records.

Almanza-Barceñas, a former used car dealership employee, pleaded guilty in September 2017 to the first six counts of the indictment against him.

According to the news release provided by the U.S. Attorney’s office, the court heard from one of the victims during the sentencing hearing via a prepared statement regarding the carjackings, in which she expressed her “continued fear” of the defendant.

In addition, Almanza-Barceñas was ordered to pay more than $16,000 in restitution to the victims involved.

The more than 30-year punishment is related to carjackings Almanza-Barceñas committed on March 27, and April 12, 2017, the release states.

“On or about March 27, 2017, (Almanza-Barceñas) with intent to cause death and serious bodily harm, did take a motor vehicle — that is, a 2009 Jeep Liberty Sport that had been transported, shipped and received in interstate commerce and foreign commerce from the person and presence of S.P. — by force and violence and intimidation,” the superseding indictment states.

Then again, on April 12, 2017, Almanza-Barceñas took a 2016 Toyota RAV4 “by force and violence and intimidation,” the indictment states.

Almanza-Barceñas committed the two armed carjackings in McAllen, in both instances he approached women who were sitting in their vehicles, and demanded them to give up their vehicles at gunpoint. Almanza-Barceñas pointed a 9mm caliber semiautomatic pistol at the victims’ heads and pulled them out of the vehicle, threatening to kill them, and then fled in their vehicles.

His co-defendant, Jose Joel Elizondo Jr., of Monte Alto, was accused of providing at least one firearm about a year earlier to Alamanza-Barceñas, who then used the weapon in the carjackings.

But Elizondo, who was a carwash employee at the same dealership as Almanza-Barceñas, denied knowingly falsifying a federal form during the purchase of said gun.

On April 9, 2016, Elizondo purchased a gun from Cash America Pawn as a favor for his then-boss, Almanza-Barceñas.

The government took Elizondo to trial earlier this year in March, accusing the Monte Alto man of “knowingly” making a false statement on a federal firearms form during the purchase of a semi-automatic handgun in April 2016 at a pawn shop in San Juan.

But during the four-day trial, the government failed to show that Elizondo, who did not receive any monetary compensation for buying the gun, knew Almanza-Barceñas was not allowed to be in possession of a weapon, and that what he had done when he purchased the weapon was illegal.

He was found not guilty of the straw purchase charge by a jury of his peers.

About a year later, Almanza-Barceñas used the 9mm Beretta PX4 in the aforementioned carjackings.

Almanza-Barceñas, who does not have legal authority to be in the country, will be deported upon completion of his prison term, court records show.