El Paso, Texas Man Sentenced to Twenty Years in
Federal Prison for Heroin Trafficking Conviction
32 Pounds of Heroin with a Retail Value of $2.9 Million Found
Secreted in Defendant's Vehicle during Routine Traffic Stop
ALBUQUERQUE –Francisco Burciaga, 43, of El Paso, Texas, was sentenced this morning to 20 years in federal prison followed by ten years of supervised release for his heroin trafficking conviction, announced Acting U.S. Attorney Steven C. Yarbrough, Joseph M. Arabit, Special Agent in Charge of the DEA’s El Paso Division, Chief Pete N. Kassetas of the New Mexico State Police and Chief Terry Sisneros of the Raton Police Department.
Burciaga was arrested in June 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, he was indicted and charged with possession of heroin with intent to distribute. A 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 concluded on May 31, 2013, when the jury returned a guilty verdict against Burciaga on the sole count of the indictment.
According to the evidence at trial, 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, he provided a Texas driver’s license and documents reflecting that the vehicle was registered to him in 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, which, together with the vehicle’s recent registration, triggered the officer’s suspicions. Accordingly, the officer asked Burciaga if he had anything illegal in the vehicle. Burciaga responded by opening the vehicle’s hatchback and saying, “Wanna take a look.” 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 the 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 packages 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 faced enhanced penalties in this case 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, the New Mexico State Police and the Raton Police Department, with assistance from the New Mexico State Police, and was prosecuted by Assistant U.S. Attorneys Jon K. Stanford and C. Paige Messec.