Nuevo Leon man sentenced in cocaine case

Docs: Defendant had family in car during smuggling attempt

McALLEN — A man caught at a port of entry with cocaine hidden in his vehicle faced punishment in federal court Tuesday morning, court records show.

Standing before U.S. District Judge Randy Crane, Rogelio Lopez-Rios appeared for a sentencing hearing related to his August 2018 arrest after U.S. Customs and Border Protection officers found more than 25 kilos of cocaine in his vehicle.

Crane, after hearing from Lopez and his attorney, sentenced the Mexican national to 54 months in federal prison on one count of import of drugs, court records show.

Lopez, 26, was arrested on Aug. 21, 2018, at the port of entry in Hidalgo when CBP officers conducted a search of his 2003 Honda Pilot and discovered bundles of what was later determined to be cocaine, according to the complaint filed against him.

The Nuevo Leon native, who was referred by officers for a secondary inspection, approached the port in Hidalgo as the driver of the Pilot accompanied by three passengers — his wife, his young son and his grandmother-in-law.

“In secondary inspection, CBPO took a negative oral declaration. The vehicle was referred for a more intensive inspection with a gamma ray machine where anomalies were discovered in the rear floor cargo area. CBPO’s drilled the floor, yielding a white powdery substance,” the complaint stated.

Using a K9, port officers continued their inspection of the vehicle and were alerted by the dog in the area of the rear floor cargo of the vehicle, the record shows.

“Further physical inspection of the vehicle revealed a total of 25 packages concealed in the rear floor cargo area of the Honda Pilot,” — later determined to be a total of 26.3 kilos of cocaine, the documents stated.

During an interview with Homeland Security Investigations agents, Lopez waived his rights and agreed to speak with the agents.

He said he was approached by an unidentified individual in early 2018, around February, where he was pitched a job that entailed transporting illegal drugs into the U.S. from Cadereyta, Mexico — a city located in the Mexican state of Nuevo Leon.

Lopez told agents he agreed to do the job, and was expecting to get paid $5,000 for successfully transporting the nearly 30 kilos of cocaine on this specific attempt.

“Lopez-Rios stated he knew he was attempting to import illegal narcotics into the United States. Lopez-Rios was going to get paid approximately $5,000 for his work and was paid $500 in advance,” the document stated.

A month after his arrest, Lopez pleaded not guilty to four charges stemming from his apprehension at the port, but he changed his mind a few months later and pleaded guilty to the import charge in early November.

In exchange, government prosecutors agreed to dismiss the remaining three charges the man faced.

Upon completion of his prison term, Lopez, who does not have legal status to remain in the country, will likely be deported.

Read the complaint