McALLEN — A Mexican national who admitted to making nearly 20 drug smuggling trips into the U.S. was sentenced last week, court records show.
U.S. District Judge Micaela Alvarez sentenced Johnathan Geovani Garcia-De Leon to 75 months in federal prison for his role in an attempt to smuggle nearly 16 kilos of cocaine into the U.S. through a port of entry, according to court notes.
Garcia-De Leon, who tried to enter the U.S. through the Roma port of entry, had been in custody since his Nov. 13, 2018 arrest.
The 27-year-old man pleaded guilty to one count of import of narcotics on Jan. 30; in exchange, government prosecutors agreed to dismiss the remaining three charges he faced, including two conspiracy charges and a distribution of narcotics charge, court documents show.
His arrest took place after U.S. Customs and Border Protection officers discovered nearly 16 kilos of packaged cocaine bundles inside the vehicle he was driving as he tried to cross into the U.S. through the Roma port of entry.
Garcia-De Leon, who was accompanied by his mother, who hailed from Monterrey, Mexico, was referred for a secondary inspection after a CBP K-9 alerted to the presence of drugs near the rear passenger door panel.
“During the secondary inspection a CBP officer was able to observe packages concealed when he looked down the window track of the door,” the complaint stated.
CBP officers removed 14 bricks wrapped in black tape with an approximate weight of 15.96 kilograms concealed inside all four doors of the SUV. The substances inside the packages tested positive for cocaine.
U.S. Homeland Security Investigations agents interviewed Garcia-De Leon shortly after CBP officers discovered the packages.
Garcia-De Leon told HSI agents that he had purchased the SUV from a person in Miguel Aleman, and that he and his mother were on their way to McAllen, the record shows.
“Agents advised him that narcotics had been found in the vehicle at which time (Garcia-De Leon) stated he did not know anything about drugs in the vehicle,” the document stated. “Agents told him he needed to tell the truth. Garcia-De Leon stated he agreed to smuggle money from the United States into Mexico in the vehicle.”
Garcia-De Leon, who said he was paid between $500 and $800 per trip, said he had previously made about 15 trips for an unknown person, adding that the vehicle was purchased and registered in his name for the sole purpose of smuggling money from the U.S. into Mexico.
“Garcia-De Leon stated the vehicle would be turned over to him prior to the time he was to smuggle money,” the document shows.
He told agents his role in the smuggling scheme was to drive to a shopping plaza in Mission, go into a store, at which time someone would take the SUV and return it to him later.
Garcia-De Leon said he didn’t know where the other people would stash the money or how much he was going to be transporting.
Agents also interviewed Garcia-De Leon’s mother, who said the SUV was a family vehicle that was purchased through a person they found on social media and in part with money she lent her son, about $1,800, the complaint stated.
She told agents they were headed to Sam’s Club to go shopping for Thanksgiving.
Noticing an inconsistency with Garcia-De Leon’s statement and that of his mother, the agents confronted Garcia-De Leon about his earlier story.
“Garcia-De Leon stated he was given the money to purchase the vehicle and register it under his name,” the complaint stated. “The vehicle had been purchased for $5,000 and he kept his mother’s $1,800.”
The defendant told agents the vehicle was dropped off with him the night before and told to drive to Sam’s Club where the vehicle exchange was to take place, and that he had invited his mother to go with him to Sam’s Club.
Garcia-De Leon, who does not have legal status to remain in the country, will likely be deported upon completion of his more than six-year prison term, court records show.