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July 13, 2011

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Brownsville Man Sentenced to More Than 11 Years

BROWNSVILLE, Texas - Rene Huerta Jr., of Brownsville, has been sentenced to a total of 136 months for being a felon in possession of ammunition and attempting to export ammunition into Mexico without a license, United States Attorney José Angel Moreno announced today. Huerta was sentenced today to 136 months for attempting to export ammunition and a concurrent term of 120 months for the felon in possession charge.   

Huerta was convicted by a federal jury after a two-day trial on April 12, 2011. He attempted to travel to Matamoros, Mexico, via the Brownsville & Matamoros International Bridge on Nov. 24, 2010. During secondary inspection of Huerta’s vehicle, Customs and Border Protection (CBP) officers found 6,825 rounds of 7.62 x 39 mm ammunition within the dashboard area. This caliber of ammunition, determined to have been manufactured in Yugoslavia in the 1970s, is used in assault rifles such as the AK-47. Mexican drug cartels are known to use such weapons. The ammunition cannot be exported without a license and Huerta was not licensed to export ammunition.

In statements made to a Homeland Security Investigations (HSI) agent, Huerta claimed he only possessed the vehicle for 30 minutes and denied knowing who owned the car. However, the government presented bridge crossing records and witnesses to prove Huerta had used the car on at least six prior occasions and only a week before his arrest had traveled in the same vehicle to each of the three Brownsville bridges. He had identified the owner of the vehicle to another CBP officer during one of those crossings.

One week before his arrest, CBP officers on inbound inspections had discovered the dashboard compartment but at that time the compartment was empty. Officers testified, describing the compartment as having been specifically built to smuggle contraband and about the condition of the compartment during prior searches. On Nov. 24th, a CBP officer remembered the vehicle and its hidden compartment, ultimately leading to the discovery and seizure of the ammunition in the hidden compartment and Huerta’s arrest.  

In addition, Huerta has a previous state felony conviction from Cameron County for possession of a controlled substance - cocaine. As a convicted felon, Huerta is prohibited under federal law from possessing firearms or ammunition.  

United States District Judge Andrew S. Hanen sentenced Huerta to the maximum 10-year sentence for being a felon in possession of ammunition as well as 136 months for attempting to export the ammunition without a license and ordered both sentences to run concurrently. After Huerta completes his prison sentence, he will be on federal supervised release for three additional years. 

The charges against Huerta are the result of the investigative efforts of CBP and HSI and the assistance of the U.S. Department of State/Directorate of Defense Trade Controls. Assistant United States Attorneys Joseph Leonard and Karen Betancourt prosecuted the case.