Donna man pleads guilty to importing cocaine

McALLEN — A man residing in Donna who attempted to sneak in nearly 5 kilos of cocaine pleaded guilty to a federal import charge, court records show.

Julio Francisco Leija appeared Monday for a re-arraignment hearing where he changed his plea from not guilty to guilty, after striking a deal with federal prosecutors.

Standing before U.S. District Judge Randy Crane, Leija, who originally pleaded not guilty in August to four federal drug charges related to his July arrest at the Donna port of entry, agreed to plea true to the import charge, court notes show.

In exchange, the government agreed to dismiss the remaining three charges, attempt/conspiracy, conspiracy to distribute, and distribution of a controlled substance, at the time of this sentencing, the record states.

U.S. Customs and Border Protection officers working at the Donna port arrested the man after finding wrapped bundles within the sedan he was driving.

Leija, who was referred by officers to a secondary inspection, was the only one in a white Ford Taurus that tried to enter the U.S., the complaint states.

According to state records, Leija purchased the 2011 Taurus in Brownsville and registered it under his name the month before his arrest at the port.

“At secondary inspection, CBPOs discovered four bundles concealed inside a compartment in the engine area of the vehicle…,” the record states.

The bundles weighed 4.67 kilos, records show.

Leija, who was denied bond July 26 when he appeared before U.S. Magistrate Judge Juan F. Alaniz, will remain in custody pending his sentencing hearing, court notes show.

A date for that hearing has yet to be set.

During the hearing Leija was represented by Assistant Federal Public Defender Richard B. Gould, while the government was represented by Assistant U.S. Attorney Amy Greenbaum.