Feds: Trio tried to smuggle drugs in batteries

BROWNSVILLE — Three people who authorities allege were involved in a scheme to transport narcotics concealed in tractor-trailer batteries were arraigned Wednesday at the federal courthouse in Brownsville.

Maria Elena Gonzalez De Olvera and Juan Carlos Delgadillo Tovar were apprehended by Department of Homeland Security Investigations special agents on Jan. 28 during the transfer of one of the batteries in a Home Depot parking lot in Brownsville, according to a criminal complaint filed in the case.

A third defendant, Juan Pablo Olvera, was charged alongside Gonzalez and Delgadillo in an indictment handed down by a federal grand jury on Feb. 18. All three defendants are charged with conspiracy to possess with intent to distribute more than 500 grams of cocaine and possession with intent to distribute approximately 7.7 pounds of cocaine.

Olvera faces three additional counts of conspiracy to possess with intent to distribute more than 1 kilogram of heroin and more than 50 grams of methamphetamine, possession with intent to distribute approximately 52.44 pounds of heroin, and possession with intent to distribute approximately 10.1 pounds of methamphetamine.

All three defendants were ordered held without bond pending trial. They were arraigned before U.S. Magistrate Judge Ignacio Torteya, III on Wednesday afternoon in Brownsville.

Through counsel, each defendant waived the reading of the indictment and entered a plea of not guilty.

According to the complaint, HSI Brownsville initiated an investigation into a drug trafficking organization known to smuggle and transport narcotics into the United States concealed within commercial tractor-trailer batteries in May 2019.

On Jan. 28, HIS task force officers and deputies with the Cameron County Sheriff’s Office were conducting surveillance at a Home Depot parking lot in Brownsville when they witnessed two individuals, later identified as Gonzalez and Delgadillo, the document stated.

According to the complaint, special agents and officers observed a red Ford F-150 and a white Chrysler 300 park next to a white Toyota Corolla, then observed a man later identified as Delgadillo remove a battery and give it to the driver of the Corolla, according to the complaint.

The driver of the Corolla then placed the battery in the trunk of the car, an HSI agent wrote in the complaint. Law enforcement observed a female, later identified as Gonzalez and a minor child, inside the Chrysler, the document stated.

An HSI agent wrote in the complaint that a Cameron County Sheriff’s Office K9 alerted officers to the presence of narcotics to the rear trunk compartment of the Corolla, and upon inspection of the battery, officers discovered a white powdery substance concealed within three packages.

The document stated that the packages field-tested positive for the characteristics of cocaine. The agent wrote that Gonzalez waived her right to counsel and told investigators she was to be paid $500 follow the Corolla to McAllen.

She was to obtain the name of the trucking company and other identifying features of the tractor trailer that would be transporting the battery to Chicago, Illinois, according to the complaint. Additionally, Gonzalez told investigators she hired Delgadillo to deliver the battery to the Corolla and would pay him approximately $150 to $200, the document stated.

An agent wrote that Gonzalez said both she and Delgadillo were aware that the batteries contained narcotics, but were unaware of the specific type of narcotic concealed inside.

Delgadillo-Tovar also waived his right to counsel and told investigators he was going to purchase construction items at Home Depot and that he did not have or exchange a battery, according to the document.