Mission woman sentenced in smuggling case

Docs: Defendant said daycare costs led her to quit job; transport drugs

READ THE COMPLAINT: https://www.documentcloud.org/documents/5141855-Montero-Complaint.html

McALLEN — A Mission woman said she was driven to smuggling drugs after not being able to afford daycare for her children, court records show.

Earlier this week U.S. District Judge Randy Crane sentenced Stephanie Montero to nearly five years in prison after she was stopped attempting to smuggle more than 17 kilos of cocaine into the United States.

In late August, Montero pleaded guilty to a drug import charge; in exchange, the government agreed to have the remaining counts against her dismissed. The counts dismissed were two conspiracy charges and a drug distribution charge, court records show.

Crane sentenced Montero to 57 months in federal prison in connection with a federal drug import charge in connection with her March arrest at a Hidalgo port of entry.

Montero, who was attempting to enter the country at the port, told a U.S. Customs and Border Protection officer that the purpose of her visit was to do some grocery shopping.

A CBP officer referred Montero, who officers said appeared nervous, for a secondary inspection, where during a search of her vehicle they discovered 15 packages of what was later determined to be cocaine, according to the complaint filed against her.

In total the packages weighed 17.74 kilograms, the record states.

“A non-intrusive X-ray inspection (Z-portal) of the vehicle was conducted and discovered anomalies located in near the middle driver-side area of the vehicle,” the complaint states. “CBPOs recovered 15 packages of white powdery substance covered by a trapdoor inside of the back floorboard of the vehicle which field-tested positive for properties of cocaine.”

After the discovery, U.S. Department of Homeland Security Investigations agents interviewed Montero in connection with the drug seizure.

The 22-year-old U.S. citizen told agents she frequently made trips into the country to buy groceries in McAllen, which seemed to align with her travel history, which revealed “weekly” crossings in the vehicle she was driving.

“During the beginning of the interview of Montero, agents observed Montero crying and develop red blotches on her neck and chest,” the record shows.

The woman also refused consent to search the two cell phones that she had on her.

“Montero stated she has not had consistent income for the last eight months and is the sole financial support for her two children,” the complaint states. “Montero stated that she previously worked at a used clothing store in Hidalgo, Texas; however, she stated that childcare for her children was too costly.”

She said because of the burden it placed on her, she ultimately quit her job at the used clothing store.

In addition to her 57-month prison sentence, Crane imposed four years of supervised release to be served upon completion of her term — and required Montero to participate in a drug treatment program, court notes show.