RGC man who claimed marijuana ‘appeared’ in vehicle pleads guilty

McALLEN — A Rio Grande City man pleaded guilty Wednesday to a federal drug charge after originally claiming that more than 230 pounds of marijuana just appeared in his pickup truck, records show.

Juan Manuel Alvarez stood before U.S. District Judge Micaela Alvarez, who is of no relation, for a re-arraignment hearing in connection with his mid-December 2018 arrest on drug charges.

During that hearing, the Starr County man pled guilty to a federal distribution charge, the second of a two-count criminal complaint filed against him.

In exchange for his pleading true to the distribution charge, government prosecutors agree to dismiss the remaining federal drug conspiracy charge at the time of sentencing, court records show.

READ THE COMPLAINT

Prosecutors allege that the 63-year-old man was arrested after U.S. Border Patrol agents found him in possession of nearly 300 pounds of marijuana wrapped in bundles during a Dec. 16, 2018 encounter in La Rosita, Texas.

The encounter with Alvarez began first with Border Patrol agents, specifically the agent manning Border Patrol’s aerostat blimp.

During patrol operations, the aerostat operator, informed an agent on the ground about “several subjects” on a raft crossing the Rio Grande from Mexico into U.S. territory, seemingly “transporting” large bundles, the record stated.

The agent continued surveillance of the subjects and observed them carrying the large bundles and loading them into a “light-colored” SUV that was parked next to a residence located just north of the riverbank in La Rosita.

The subjects were subsequently observed getting into the raft and crossing back into Mexico.

“Shortly after, (the agent) observed the SUV, traveling north then turning west onto U.S. Highway 83,” according to the record.

Agents, both in the aerostat blimp and on the ground in the area, relayed information about the SUV’s location. A Border Patrol agent later pulled the vehicle over, the complaint stated.

“As (the agent) approached the vehicle, he observed several bundles inside the vehicle. The driver and sole occupant of the vehicle, later identified as Juan Manuel Alvarez, was placed under arrest,” the complaint stated. “(The agent) conducted a search of the Chevrolet Tahoe and found 10 bundles of suspected marijuana.”

After his arrest, Alvarez agreed to answer questions from a Drug Enforcement Administration agent regarding the discovery of marijuana in his vehicle.

Alvarez told the agent that at around 5:15 p.m. that day he drove his sister’s SUV to a local convenience store, returning home about 15 minutes later.

“Alvarez stated that approximately 10 minutes later, he heard his dogs barking and he walked outside and saw several young subjects running south toward the (Rio Grande),” the record stated. “Alvarez stated he looked inside the Chevrolet Tahoe and saw several bundles inside the vehicle but was unaware why the subjects loaded the marijuana into the vehicle.”

He then admitted to getting into the vehicle and driving away, “because he wanted to upset the subjects that loaded the marijuana into the vehicle,” the complaint states.

The Rio Grande City man said his family experienced this before, specifically the same situation happening to his sister a “few months back,” and “wanted to teach the subjects a lesson.”

He said he drove the SUV north on U.S. Highway 83 when he received a call from an “unknown telephone number,” and that an “unknown subject” told him he would give Alvarez $500 if he delivered the bundles to someone who was waiting in a black truck near a cake shop.

“Alvarez stated he decided to deliver the bundles but was stopped by U.S. Border Patrol,” the record stated.

Alvarez is due back in court for his sentencing hearing May 16, court notes show.