Federal Jury Convicts Mexican National on Marijuana Importation and Trafficking Charges
ALBUQUERQUE – Earlier today, a federal jury sitting in Las Cruces, N.M., found Manuel Paulino Alvarez-Valdez, 36, of Juarez, Mexico, guilty on marijuana importation and trafficking charges after a three-day trial. The jury’s guilty verdict was announced by U.S. Attorney Kenneth J. Gonzales and Special Agent in Charge Dennis A. Ulrich, II, of Homeland Security Investigations (HSI) El Paso.
Alvarez-Valdez was arrested on marijuana importation and trafficking charges on Nov. 20, 2012, after U.S. Customs and Border Protection (CBP) officers found approximately 418 pounds of marijuana concealed in compartments under the bed and floorboards of his pickup truck during an inspection at the Santa Teresa, N.M., Port of Entry. In Feb. 2013, Alvarez-Valdez was indicted on those same charges. Trial of the case began on June 17, 2013, and concluded this afternoon when the jury returned a guilty verdict against Alvarez-Valdez on both counts of the indictment.
The evidence at trial established that, on Nov. 20, 2012, Alvarez-Valdez entered the United States at the Santa Teresa Port of Entry driving a pickup truck. At the time, Alvarez-Valdez claimed ownership of the truck. A CBP officer directed Alvarez-Valdez to a secondary inspection after evidence of tampering was found on the truck. During the secondary inspection, the truck was next X-rayed and the X-ray showed anomalies in the bed area. When the truck’s bed was dismantled, the officers found 228 bundles of marijuana weighing an aggregate of 418 pounds.
After the marijuana was discovered, Alvarez-Valdez was arrested. During post-arrest questioning, Alvarez-Valdez initially claimed that he borrowed the truck to travel to El Paso, Texas, where he intended to purchase two vehicles. After the officers reminded Alvarez-Valdez that he previously had claimed ownership of the truck when he first entered the port of entry, Alvarez-Valdez admitted ownership of the truck. Thereafter, Alvarez-Valdez claimed that the truck remained on a used car lot because he was making payments toward buying the truck, but he claimed that he was permitted to borrow the truck as needed.
The jury deliberated approximately three hours before returning a guilty verdict.
Alvarez-Valdez has been in federal custody since his arrest in Nov. 2012, and remains detained pending his sentencing hearing which has yet to be scheduled. At sentencing, Alvarez-Valdez faces a federal prison sentence of not less than five years and not more than 40 years. Alvarez-Valdez will be deported after serving his prison sentence.
This case was investigated by HSI’s Las Cruces office and the CBP at the Santa Teresa Port of Entry, and is being prosecuted by Assistant U.S. Attorneys Brock Taylor and Mark Saltman of the U.S. Attorney’s Las Cruces Branch Office.