Mission man admits to role in illegal cigarette smuggling

Records: 800,000 pounds of cigarettes ready for transport found

McALLEN — A court granted a bond for a Mission man found at a warehouse containing 800,000 pounds of cigarettes ready for transport to Mexico, court records show.

U.S. Magistrate Judge Juan F. Alanis granted Jose Francisco Guerra a $30,000 bond in connection with federal smuggling charges related to his Feb. 12 arrest at a warehouse in McAllen where federal agents discovered roughly 40 cases of cigarettes intended to be exported to Mexico despite being banned in Mexico.

The cigarettes are adulterated, misbranded and banned in Mexico for health reasons, which would make them illegal to purchase there.

On that date, federal agents were surveilling a warehouse in the 3900 block of West Ursula Avenue in McAllen, and watched as a white van sped away from the warehouse.

“The van left the area of the warehouse and began traveling at a high rate of speed as if it was trying to evade the surveillance team,” the document stated.

Agents subsequently approached Guerra, who was just arriving after leaving in a white van moments earlier.

“Guerra granted (agents) consent to conduct an inspection of the premises. Upon entering the warehouse, (agents) clearly observed 40 cases of unstamped cigarettes outside of the in-bond caged area,” the complaint stated. “(Agents) with the assistance of (task force officers) and a representative of the Government of Mexico Servicio de Administración Tributaria (SAT) conducted an inspection of the cigarettes in the warehouse.”

After agents arrested Guerra, he made statements admitting his involvement in a scheme to move the cigarettes into Mexico.

“Guerra stated he had been smuggling cigarettes to Mexico in increments of 40 cases (containing approximately 400,000 individual cigarettes) on a regular basis,” the complaint stated. “Guerra stated he was aware that it was illegal to smuggle cigarettes into Mexico.”

The 80-year-old man also admitted he had about 800,000 pounds of cigarettes in his warehouse and stated he planned to illegally smuggle all of them into Mexico.

Guerra’s cigarette case is the second such case in the last couple months.

Federal agents arrested Jose Carlos Teran Arteaga on Feb. 10 as he attempted to enter the U.S. through a port of entry.

Agents tied Teran to a Jan. 15 traffic stop in Hidalgo County that resulted in the seizure of thousands of illegal cigarettes.

The driver of the trailer, Luis Enrique Vazquez De La Cruz, gave the trooper two separate bills of lading, one in English purporting the cargo was used clothes, toys and purses, and the other bill of lading, written in Spanish, stated the cargo was cotton.

During the search, the trooper found 16,800 cigarettes within the trailer.

Teran admitted to agents he had provided Vazquez with the fake bills of lading for the cargo Vazquez presented to the DPS trooper on Jan. 15.

“Teran stated that he knew the trailer contained contraband cigarettes and that what he was doing was illegal. Teran, stated that he had worked with Vazquez to smuggle the cigarettes from the United States to Mexico,” the court documents state.

He further admitted that once the nearly 17,000 cigarettes were seized, he created additional fake documents in order to legitimize the cigarettes.

An examination hearing for Guerra is set for Feb. 19, records show.