‘Free’ car from smuggler lands Pharr woman in prison

Docs: Defendant agreed to move drugs in exchange for vehicle

McALLEN — A Pharr woman who claimed she was offered a free car in exchange for her role in smuggling drugs was sentenced earlier this week, court records show.

Edith Arehli Salinas stood before U.S. District Judge Randy Crane Wednesday for her sentencing hearing related to her June 2017 arrest at a Hidalgo port of entry.

At the hearing, Crane handed down a 46-month prison sentence for Salinas, who was looking at up to nearly five years of prison time.

Salinas, who has been in custody since that time on four federal drug charges, pleaded guilty to one count of import of a controlled substance in September 2017, court documents show.

In exchange for Salinas pleading true to the drug charge, government prosecutors agreed to dismiss the remaining three charges originally filed against her.

The 20-year-old woman was detained just after 10 p.m. June 9, 2017, at the Hidalgo-Reynosa International Bridge attempting to enter the country from Mexico, according to the complaint.

But it was a little under an hour and a half before her crossing that U.S. Customs and Border Protection officers received a phone call from an anonymous person using a Mexican area code.

The man, who did not identify themselves, conveyed that a Volkswagen Jetta “loaded with narcotics” would soon cross into the U.S. through the port, according to the document filed in June 2017.

“At about 21:15 hours, the anonymous caller again contacted Hidalgo POE and said the vehicle was now about to cross, and it was bearing Texas license plate ‘JPB-8725,’” the record shows.

Forty-five minutes later, CBP officers observed a vehicle matching that description driven by a female later identified as Salinas.

CBP officers subsequently conducted an “open air” check of Salinas’ vehicle using a K-9. This led to an alert on the exterior of the vehicle, the complaint states.

“Salinas exited the vehicle and (a CBP officer) drove the vehicle to a secondary inspection area,” the document shows.

During the secondary search of the vehicle, CBP officers found a compartment under the center console. Once the officers gained access to the console, they discovered several packages wrapped in brown tape.

CBP officers removed a total of 10 packages, with a weight of 10.62 kilograms, which was later determined to be cocaine, the court record shows.

After Salinas waived her Miranda rights, she told U.S. Homeland Security Investigations agents that she had traveled earlier that day to Mexico to buy the Jetta for $3,000 from an unknown person that she found using Craigslist.

“Salinas said this was untrue,” the document shows. “(She) said she was in desperate need of a vehicle and had no money. Salinas said she knew a female named Daniela Hernandez who had a boyfriend that lived in Mexico.”

She claimed to know that Hernandez and her boyfriend, who went by “Guero,” were drug smugglers.

“Salinas said she approached Hernandez and told her that she needed a vehicle and didn’t have any money,” court records show. “Hernandez told Salinas that she needed to call ‘Guero.’

“Salinas said she called ‘Guero’ and he said he would provide her a car with the understanding that at some point in the future, she would have to smuggle drugs from Mexico into the United States.”

After the woman agreed, the boyfriend instructed her to send him a picture of her state ID so that he could begin arranging for a vehicle to be registered in her name.

On June 9, 2017, Salinas said Guero instructed her to travel into Mexico to pick up the aforementioned vehicle.

She said that Guero told her the vehicle would not be loaded with narcotics on this occasion.

“Salinas said that ‘Guero’ instructed her to cross the vehicle several times unloaded to establish a crossing history. Salinas said that ‘Guero’ said that eventually the drugs would be hidden in the vehicle, and he would pay her $500 U.S. dollars for crossing the drugs into the United States,” the document states.

She said her understanding was that on the day of her first crossing, the Jetta was not going to be loaded with any “contraband.”

In addition to her 46-month prison sentence, Crane imposed three years of supervised release, and a requirement that Salinas “participate in a drug treatment program, either inpatient or outpatient, as deemed necessary by (her) probation officer.”