San Juan man faces conspiracy, drug smuggling charges

Sentencing set for early next year

A Rio Grande Valley man headed to Houston from Mexico faces drug conspiracy charges after authorities found more than 35 kilos of methamphetamine inside a vehicle he was driving, records show.

In March, Roberto Soto pleaded not guilty to four counts against him — two conspiracy charges, and one distribution, and one drug possession charge, in connection with his February arrest at a port of entry.

According to the federal complaint filed against Soto in February, Soto attempted to enter the United States from Mexico through the Anzalduas port of entry.

During his attempt to enter the country, U.S. Customs and Border Protection officers referred Soto for a secondary inspection after the 30-year-old San Juan man stated he did not have any prohibited items in his vehicle.

Soto told officers he had been in Mexico for three days and was heading to “City, Texas,” for work.

During the secondary inspection, officers used a K-9 unit to determine if anything illegal was inside the vehicle.

“A subsequent X-ray scan of the vehicle revealed anomalies in the vehicle’s rear quarter panels. A probe of the rear quarter panels revealed a crystal-like substance which field-tested positive for the properties of methamphetamine,” the court record shows. “A total of 119 packages of crystal methamphetamine with a total weight of 36.74 kilograms were extracted from the vehicle.”

During an interview, Soto told federal agents he knew he had narcotics inside his vehicle. He said he was headed to Houston from Mexico and was to be paid roughly $5,000 for his role in transporting the meth to its destination.

According to a U.S. Department of Justice 2018 National Drug Threat Assessment study, the southwest border is the main entry point for a majority of the meth that is brought into the country.

“CBP reported that 97 percent of methamphetamine seizures occur at or near the southwest border and that meth seizures continue to increase along that corridor,” the study stated.

Months after his arrest, Soto retained McAllen-based Crispin “CJ” Quintanilla as his attorney in April.

In September, Quintanilla filed a motion advising the court of his clients’ desire to plead guilty in the case.

But court notes show Soto, who filed that motion Sept. 25, had not made an appearance before the court until Wednesday when he pleaded guilty to one count of importing a controlled substance.

Soto is scheduled for his sentencing Jan. 6, records show.