Previously convicted smuggler pleads guilty

Docs: Border Patrol agents found three migrants and cocaine in tractor

The federal courthouse at Bentsen Tower, located on Bicentennial Boulevard in McAllen, is seen in this August 2018 file photo. (Joel Martinez | jmartinez@themonitor.com)

McALLEN — A previously convicted felon pleaded guilty Thursday in connection with a human and drug smuggling case, court notes show.

Last month, Reynaldo Capetillo’s attorney announced that his client was prepared to enter a guilty plea to charges related to his late February arrest at the Falfurrias checkpoint after U.S. Border Patrol agents found three undocumented migrants and more than a kilo of cocaine inside a tractor trailer he was driving, according to the complaint filed against him.

READ THE COMPLAINT

According to court notes, Capetillo stood before U.S. District Judge Micaela Alvarez, and pleaded guilty to two of the five charges he was facing — count 1, which is bringing and harboring aliens; and count 5, which is distribution of a controlled substance.

The 42-year-old Edinburg man was allegedly attempting to transport the cocaine and the three migrants past the Border Patrol checkpoint, with Houston and Atlanta as some of the intended destinations.

At about 2 p.m. on Feb. 26, Capetillo, driving a freightliner tractor with Tennessee license plates, arrived at the Falfurrias checkpoint.

During his stop at the checkpoint, Capetillo stated he was a U.S. citizen, and agents “noticed” a positive alert in their system from early February for narcotics smuggling on the tractor he was driving.

“Capetillo was asked if anyone else was traveling with him and he replied ‘no.’ Capetillo was then asked if he had ever been arrested before and he replied ‘yes, smuggling people,’” the complaint stated.

After he gave agents consent to search his tractor, Capetillo’s tractor was referred for a secondary inspection.

During the secondary inspection, agents searched the cab of the tractor and discovered three people hiding within the sleeper area.

“(During) questioning of the three subjects it was determined all were undocumented aliens illegally present within the United States,” the document stated.

Agents continued searching the cab of the trailer where they found a backpack in a shelf area that contained a white powdery substance. The substance was later determined to be cocaine, the complaint shows.

Agents subsequently interviewed the three migrants found within the tractor trailer.

One of the migrants, a man from the Dominican Republic, said he was waiting to be transported to Atlanta, Georgia. He identified Capetillo as the driver of the tractor who told him to hide in the cab.

“Agents asked the three undocumented aliens if they were able to see when the driver (Capetillo) placed the backpack into the sleeper area shelf. All three told agents they did not see Capetillo place any bags in the sleeper, indicating the bag was already in the truck when they climbed into the tractor,” the document shows.

Federal records show Capetillo has a prior conviction for bringing in and harboring immigrants in 2014.

Capetillo was arrested April 23, 2014, at the Sartia checkpoint after Border Patrol agents found seven undocumented migrants hiding under blankets inside a tractor trailer he was driving, according to the 2014 criminal complaint.

According to records, Capetillo pleaded guilty to a harboring charge and was subsequently sentenced to 12 months in prison with two years of supervised release in September 2014.

Capetillo, who was granted release in mid-March, remains free on a $30,000 bond and expected back before Judge Alvarez July 30 for his sentencing hearing.