Federal Jury Convicts El Paso, Texas Man
on Heroin Trafficking Charge
32 Pounds of Heroin with a Retail Value of $2.9 Million Found
Secreted in Defendant's Vehicle During Routine Traffic Stop
ALBUQUERQUE – This morning, a federal jury sitting in Santa Fe, N.M., found Francisco Burciaga, 43, of El Paso, Texas, guilty on a heroin trafficking charge after a four-day trial. The jury’s guilty verdict was announced by U.S. Attorney Kenneth J. Gonzales, Joseph M. Arabit, Special Agent in Charge of the El Paso Division of the DEA, Chief Eric R. Shelton of the New Mexico Motor Transportation Police and Chief Terry Sisneros of the Raton Police Department.
Burciaga was arrested on a heroin trafficking charge on June 24, 2008, after officers found 32 pounds of heroin secreted in his vehicle during a routine traffic stop in Colfax County, N.M. In July 2008, Burciaga was indicted and charged with possession of heroin with intent to distribute. An earlier trial in Nov. 2010 ended in a mistrial and proceedings in the case were stayed during the pendency of an interlocutory appeal.
The retrial of the case began on May 28, 2013, and concluded this morning when the jury returned a guilty verdict against Burciaga on the sole count of the indictment.
The evidence at trial established, on June 24, 2008, a New Mexico Motor Transportation Police officer executed a routine traffic stop of a vehicle driven by Burciaga on Interstate 25 just south of Raton, N.M. When the officer approached Burciaga, who was traveling alone, Burciaga provided a Texas driver’s license and documents reflecting that the vehicle was registered to him at a Phoenix, Ariz., on June 23, 2008, and insured by him on that same day. After the officer explained the traffic violation he observed, Burciaga admitted the violation and agreed to pay the fine.
While talking with Burciaga, the officer noticed a strong chemical odor coming from the vehicle and an air freshener hanging from the vehicle’s rear-view mirror. Together with the vehicle’s recent registration, these observations raised the officer’s suspicions. As a result, the officer asked Burciaga if he had anything illegal in the vehicle. Burciaga responded by saying “you can take a look” and opening the vehicle’s hatchback. Shortly thereafter, a New Mexico State Police officer arrived to assist and noticed fresh tool marks and spray paint on the underside of the vehicle and its back bumper area. The officers then had a narcotics dog inspect the vehicle and vethe dog reacted to the back bumper area of the vehicle.
When the officers removed the back bumper from Burciaga’s vehicle, they found a hidden compartment containing 24 sealed packages containing a white powdery substance. Subsequent laboratory analysis revealed that the packaged contained 14.4 kilograms (32 pounds) of heroin that was 72% pure. The Chief of the Indications and Warnings Section of DEA’s Intelligence Division in Washington, D.C., who testified as an expert, told the jury that the heroin seized from Burciaga was one of the top ten DEA heroin seizures in the United States in 2008 in terms of weight. He also testified that, in Chicago, Ill., where Burciaga intended to deliver the heroin, the conservative retail, or street, value of the heroin in 2008 was at least $2,900,000.
Burciaga testified during the defense case, and claimed that he was unaware of the presence of the heroin in his vehicle and suggested that he was an unwitting carrier.
The jury deliberated approximately 30 minutes before returning a guilty verdict against Burciaga.
Burciaga has been in federal custody since his arrest in June 2008, and remains detained pending his sentencing hearing which has yet to be scheduled. At sentencing, Burciaga faces a maximum penalty of life imprisonment with a mandatory minimum prison sentence of 20 years. According to court filings, Burciaga’s faces this enhanced penalty because he previously was convicted of a felony drug trafficking crime in a Texas state court in 1996.
This case was investigated by the Albuquerque office of the DEA, the New Mexico Motor Transportation Police and the Raton Police Department, with assistance from the New Mexico State Police, and is being prosecuted by Assistant U.S. Attorneys Jon K. Stanford and C. Paige Messec.