Austin man, two others sentenced in ammo smuggling case

Trio tried to smuggle more than 12,000 rounds

McALLEN — A trio arrested in March for attempting to smuggle more than 12,000 rounds of ammunition into Mexico were sentenced to prison Thursday.

U.S. District Judge Randy Crane sentenced Roberto Andres Hernandez-Contreras, 18, of Austin, Henry Cabrera-Ramos, 28, and Elvia Yazmin Rios-Cantu, 53, both of Mexico, to 46 months in prison, court records show.

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

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

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

Agents saw several men, including Hernandez-Contreras, taking cardboard boxes from the vehicle and carrying them into a house and other cars parked at the home.

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

From there, he 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 traveled from Reynosa, Mexico into the U.S. to get rifle magazines that were destined for Mexico.

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

Rios-Cantu told agents she received cash in exchange for 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, and Rios-Cantu, who are Mexican nationals, also face one count of smuggling goods.

Rios-Cantu pleaded guilty to the charge in June, while Cabrera-Ramos pleaded guilty to the smuggling charge in July, records show.

Hernandez-Contreras, unlike his two co-defendants, will also serve a three-year supervised release term upon completion of his prison term.

Rios-Cantu and Cabrera-Ramos, who do not have authorization to remain in the country legally, will likely be deported upon completion of their respective prison terms.