McALLEN — A pair of Mexican nationals posing as shoppers were sentenced Tuesday in connection with a drug smuggling attempt last year, court notes show.
Nelson Avila Lujano, 19, and Yulissa Lozano Martinez, 21, faced U.S. District Court Judge Randy Crane for their respective sentencing hearings in connection with a February 2018 drug smuggling attempt at a port of entry in Hidalgo, according to the complaint filed against them.
Crane handed down 70-month and 37-month prison sentences for Avila and Lozano, respectively, according to court records.
Avila, the driver of the vehicle, and Lozano, the passenger, approached the Hidalgo port of entry on Feb. 23, 2018, and said they were heading into the U.S. to shop.
“(U.S. Customs and Border Protection officers) referred the vehicle for a CBP land border inspection,” the record shows.
The officers subsequently performed a secondary inspection on the vehicle.
“Avila stated he and Lozano were traveling to the U.S. to shop in the U.S. During secondary inspection, a non-intrusive X-ray inspection (Z-portal) of the vehicle was utilized and discovered anomalies located in the gas tank area of the vehicle,” the complaint read.
Once officers identified the anomalies in the rear region of the vehicle, they extracted 20 packages of (a) “white powdery substance” within the gas tank of the vehicle.
The substance was field tested and determined to be cocaine. In total, officers seized 23.7 kilos of cocaine, records show.
The Mexican nationals were detained, and U.S. Homeland Securities Investigations agents subsequently interviewed the pair, who admitted to being hired by unknown persons to move unknown illegal drugs into the U.S.
“… Avila and Lozano … provided (post-Miranda) statements regarding the purpose and details of their travel into the U.S. from Mexico,” the document read. “Avila and Lozano stated they were hired by unidentified individuals (U/I) to transport a vehicle into the U.S.”
The documents do not indicate where Avila and Lozano traveled from, but Avila admitted to agents that this smuggling attempt was not his first.
“Avila stated that during previous trips to the U.S., he was instructed to drive to a specific store in the Hidalgo area, and provide the keys to the vehicle to an (unidentified individual),” the complaint read. “Avila stated he was then provided a temporary vehicle to utilize for approximately 1.5 hours.”
After this period of time, Avila said he would have the vehicle he crossed returned to him, receive the keys from the unidentified individuals and cross back over into Mexico, where another unidentified person would pay him for his role in the scheme.
Avila, who said he was paid about $200 for each instance in which he crossed the load vehicle into the U.S., also said he was the one responsible for hiring Lozano to accompany him into the U.S., and that he paid her about $200. In addition, he said the unidentified individuals in Mexico would pay her in clothing, and household goods, the record shows.
“Avila and Lozano stated they believed the vehicle was loaded with illegal narcotics,” the document read.
The pair, who have been in federal custody since their arrest in late February, each agreed to plead guilty last year.
Lozano, who was originally facing four federal drug charges, pleaded guilty in August 2018 to a federal import charge, records show. Government prosecutors in exchange agreed to dismiss two conspiracy charges, and a distribution charge.
Avila, who pleaded guilty in July to the import charge, had the three remaining charges dismissed Tuesday as part of the plea agreement with prosecutors, records show.
The two Mexican citizens, who do not have legal authority to remain the country, will likely be deported upon completion of their respective prison terms.