4 of 5 convicted drug traffickers sentenced

Four of a group of five co-defendants accused of attempting to smuggle more than 5 kilos of cocaine into the country were handed their punishments Monday, court records show.

U.S. District Judge Randy Crane sentenced Mexican residents Joan Alejandro Armendariz-Fuentes, 36; Claudia Vanessa Arias-Torres, 27; Karla Yuliana Hernandez-Dominguez, 35; and Alfonso Torres Jr., 24.

Armendariz-Fuentes and Arias-Torres received 46 months in prison, and Hernandez-Dominguez and Torres were handed down 33 and 48 months in prison, respectively, for their roles in a drug trafficking event in March, records show.

The fifth defendant, Mario Gerardo Elliard-Garcia, 35, also of Mexico, had his sentencing hearing rescheduled for Sept. 24.

Armendariz-Fuentes, Arias-Torres and Torres pleaded guilty to the conspiracy charge in June while Hernandez-Dominguez and Elliard-Garcia pleaded guilty to the same conspiracy charge the following month in July.

Federal agents arrested the group March 5, when according to the complaint filed against the defendants, Armendariz-Fuentes and Arias-Torres crossed into the U.S. through the Pharr port of entry with the former as the driver and the latter as the passenger. They made their way to a Walmart in Mission.

After the women parked in the store’s parking lot, Elliard-Garcia was dropped off by Hernandez-Dominguez at the Walmart and took the vehicle.

Afterward, Elliard-Garcia traveled to a residence in McAllen, according to the complaint.

Agents with Homeland Security Investigations had been watching the pair as they had observed Hernandez-Dominguez and Elliard-Garcia in prior smuggling “events.” HSI agents conducted a search of their home and found roughly 5.04 kilograms of cocaine.

After the discovery, HSI agents searched for and arrested Armendariz-Fuentes and Arias-Torres. Armendariz-Fuentes and Arias-Torres said they suspected the vehicle contained cocaine and were shopping inside the store while “an individual” picked up the vehicle.

HSI agents then, with the cocaine in their position, set up a sting by conducting a controlled delivery to a business in McAllen, where Alfonso Torres Jr. took possession of the cocaine. He was subsequently arrested.

The complaint further states that Hernandez-Dominguez gave federal agents a false statement regarding where she had dropped off Elliard-Garcia to get the vehicle, was evasive and ultimately ended the “interview.”

Elliard-Garcia, who also gave statements to agents, acknowledged that he knew the vehicle he had picked up in the Walmart parking lot contained drugs, and admitted to smuggling in the past.

“HSI Special Agents had observed the prior drug smuggling events referenced by Elliard within the past few weeks while on surveillance and observed Hernandez transporting Elliard to pick up load vehicles and assisting him in the prior drug smuggling events,” the complaint read.

Torres was the only of the four sentenced defendants to receive a condition of supervised release upon completion of his prison term. Specifically, the court ordered Torres to serve four years of supervised release, the record shows.