Mexican man found with 18 kilos of cocaine set for sentencing

McALLEN — A Mexican man who tried to mask the smell of narcotics during an attempt to cross into the U.S. is set for sentencing.

Juan Guillermo Rivas-Dominguez is scheduled for a sentencing hearing before U.S. District Judge Micaela Alvarez Wednesday morning in connection with his arrest at a port of entry earlier this year, court records show.

The 55-year-old man was arrested on March 21 at the Hidalgo-Reynosa International Bridge during an attempt to enter the United States after U.S. Customs and Border Protection officers discovered nearly 19 kilos of cocaine inside his vehicle.

Rivas-Dominguez was referred for a secondary inspection due to a “strong odor of laundry detergent, and tampering in the undercarriage of the vehicle near the heat shield,” the complaint states.

Laundry detergent is typically used by drug traffickers to mask the smell of other narcotics in an attempt to bypass open-air inspections conducted by K-9 officers.

“During primary inbound inspection, CBP officers obtained a negative oral declaration for fruits, food, alcohol, tobacco, drugs, weapons and currency over $10,000. CBPOs referred Rivas and the vehicle to secondary inspection,” the complaint states.

During the secondary inspection CBP officers discovered, with the use of an X-ray, 17 cellophane-wrapped packages of cocaine within the vehicle’s gas tank, the court record shows.

The total weight of the cocaine was determined to be 18.56 kilograms, the record states.

After he was in custody, Rivas-Dominguez spoke with agents with U.S. Department of Homeland Security Investigations.

During that interview, Rivas-Dominguez, who is a legal B1/B2 Visa holder, told agents he was approached by unknown persons who wanted to use Rivas-Dominguez’s vehicle for “illicit activity,” the court record shows.

Rivas-Dominguez stated he suspected the people were involved in nefarious activity, stating he was “aware that something was concealed inside the vehicle and these individuals smuggle narcotics, currency, and weapons,” the record shows.

Rivas-Dominguez did not detail how much he was going to be compensated for his attempt to move the cocaine into the U.S.

The Mexican national, who pleaded guilty to importation of a controlled substance in May, was facing a total of four drug charges.

In exchange for his guilty plea, the government agreed to have the remaining three federal drug charges dismissed at his sentencing, court records show.

He is represented by Yvonne M. Sanchez, assistant federal public defender.