Man tied to ammo smuggling case pleads guilty

McALLEN — A U.S. citizen pleaded guilty to a federal smuggling charge for attempting to smuggle ammunition into Mexico, court notes show.

U.S. District Judge Randy Crane accepted a guilty plea from Roberto Hernandez-Contreras, 18, during a re-arraignment hearing Tuesday morning.

On March 19, U.S. federal authorities in McAllen arrested Hernandez-Contreras as he attempted to cross into Mexico through a port of entry.

Homeland Security Investigations agents had received information regarding a vehicle headed for Mexico with a large amount of ammunition coming from Bexar County into Hidalgo County.

Read the complaint.

HSI agents located and began surveillance on the vehicle and ultimately watched as it arrived at a residence in the 400 block of 30th Street in McAllen.

“ HSI agents conducted surveillance of the residence, observing several males taking cardboard boxes from the subject vehicle and placing boxes in the residence and into other vehicles parked at the residence. The subject vehicle was observed leaving the residence, proceeding north, exiting Hidalgo County,” the complaint read.

Agents then observed another man, later identified as Hernandez-Contreras, carry several boxes from the residence and enter a blue sedan.

He was then seen removing the contents of the boxes and concealing objects within the interior paneling of the vehicle.

From there, Hernandez-Contreras departed the residence and headed to the port of entry in Hidalgo.

While at the Hidalgo-Reynosa International Bridge, Hernandez-Cortez’s vehicle was referred for an outbound inspection.

During the inspection, U.S. Customs and Border Protection officers discovered 224 rifle magazines, concealed within the interior paneling of the vehicle.

CBP agents detained and handed Hernandez-Contreras over to HSI agents.

During an interview with HSI agents, the 18-year-old man said he travelled from Reynosa, Mexico into the U.S. to get rifle magazines that were destined for Mexico.

“ Hernandez stated he arranged with Henry Cabrera-Ramos to meet at the residence located (in the 400 block of 30th Street). At the residence, Cabrera directed Hernandez to several boxes of magazines stored within the residence, a grey minivan, and a silver sedan,” the complaint read. “Hernandez proceeded to conceal the magazines within the interior panels of the Chrysler.”

Hernandez-Contreras said he was paid cash in exchange for this job, and had been paid in prior instances as well.

“ Hernandez admitted he was aware it was illegal to smuggle rifle magazines and defense articles from the United States to Mexico,” the document read.

Back at the residence in McAllen, HSI agents and Hidalgo police officers conducted a search and detained Elvia Rios-Cantu and Cabrera-Ramos.

Rios-Cantu told agents she received cash in exchange for her storing large quantities of ammunition and magazines at the residence on behalf of an unnamed co-conspirator in Reynosa, Mexico.

A further search of the residence, including Cabrera-Ramos’ vehicle outside the residence, turned up more ammunition.

HSI agents found roughly 10,000 more rounds of .223-caliber bullets, and about 2,000 rounds of 7.62×39 mm ammunition within Cabrera-Ramos’ vehicle.

In another vehicle, HSI agents found 784 rifle magazines, and about 23,000 rounds of ammunition.

Cabrera-Ramos, 27, and Rios-Cantu, 52, who are Mexican nationals, also face one count of smuggling goods.

Rios-Cantu, who pleaded guilty to the charge in June of this year, is scheduled to be sentenced Sept. 9, court records show.

Cabrera-Ramos is due back in court this month where he is expected to plead guilty to the smuggling charge.

A date for Hernandez-Contreras’ sentencing hearing has not yet been set as of this posting.