Man who tried smuggling 51 kilos of meth in propane tank pleads guilty

McALLEN — A Mexican man who attempted to smuggle more than 51.68 kilos of crystal methamphetamine into the U.S. pleaded guilty to a federal drug charge Monday, court records show.

U.S. District Judge Ricardo H. Hinojosa accepted a guilty plea from Juan Manuel Flores-Fuentes during a re-arraignment hearing Monday. In exchange, government prosecutors agreed to dismiss the remaining charges the man faces at the time of his sentencing, according to records.

>> READ THE COMPLAINT

Court documents also show that Flores-Fuentes, 59, pleaded guilty to import of a controlled substance, one of four charges he faced as a result of his arrest at the Hidalgo-Reynosa International bridge last September.

Specifically, prosecutors are prepared to dismiss two drug conspiracy charges and a controlled substance charge after Flores-Fuentes, a Mexican national, pleaded true to the import charge.

U.S. Customs and Border Protection officers arrested Flores-Fuentes, who was driving a silver pickup truck, as he attempted to enter the U.S. at the Hidalgo-Reynosa International bridge.

“Upon initial contact with a (CBP officer), Flores-Fuentes stated that he had just purchased the vehicle in Mexico and (appeared) to be visibly nervous,” the complaint against the man stated. “Flores-Fuentes was directed to secondary inspection, where a K-9 alerted to the presence of narcotics associated with the vehicle.”

CBP officers then conducted a scan of the pickup truck, which revealed something inside the propane tank.

“A search of the propane tank revealed a total of 54 bundles of suspected crystal methamphetamine weighing approximately 51.6 kilograms. At that point, Flores-Fuentes was detained by officers,” the complaint read.

During his interview with U.S. Department of Homeland Security Investigations agents, Flores-Fuentes said he was expected to be paid about $250 in exchange for smuggling into the U.S. the meth inside the propane tank.

“Flores-Fuentes also stated that (he) knew that the subject that provided (him) the vehicle was a drug trafficker,” records show.

Additionally, Flores-Fuentes told agents he knew the vehicle, a Chevrolet Silverado, was going to be used to transport illegal drugs.

The defendant said he was also given a cell phone by the trafficker for the purposes of communicating with the man, who was not identified in the complaint.

“Flores-Fuentes stated that if he successfully entered into the United States that he was going to drop off the vehicle in the area near the port of entry and walk back to Mexico,” the complaint stated. “Flores-Fuentes also admitted to intentionally making false statements to officers during his initial contact with (them).”

He had originally pleaded not guilty to all four charges against him at an arraignment hearing last October, court records show.

The man, who does not have legal status to remain in the country, was remanded back into custody pending his sentencing hearing, currently set for June 12, records show.