Man in cigarette scheme has trial set for May

McALLEN — A trial date has been set for a Mexican national accused of playing a role in an illegal cigarette distribution operation.

The court granted a motion for a continuance Thursday for Luis Enrique Vazquez-De La Cruz and set a final pretrial for May 4, and the jury selection for the following day.

Along with Juan Carlos Teran Areaga, 37, of Mexico and Jose Francisco Guerra, 80, of Mission, Vazquez is accused of allegedly planning to smuggle nearly 17,000 cigarettes from the U.S. into Mexico.

The men face federal smuggling goods charges in connection with a Jan. 15 incident in which nearly 17,000 cigarettes were discovered inside a trailer, records show.

On that date, federal agents were surveilling a warehouse in the 3900 block of West Ursula Avenue in McAllen, and watched as a white van sped away from the warehouse.

“The van left the area of the warehouse and began traveling at a high rate of speed as if it was trying to evade the surveillance team,” the document stated.

Agents subsequently approached Guerra, who was just arriving after leaving in a white van moments earlier.

“Guerra granted (agents) consent to conduct an inspection of the premises. Upon entering the warehouse, (agents) clearly observed 40 cases of unstamped cigarettes outside of the in-bond caged area,” the complaint stated. “(Agents) with the assistance of (task force officers) and a representative of the Government of Mexico Servicio de Administración Tributaria (SAT) conducted an inspection of the cigarettes in the warehouse.”

After agents arrested Guerra, he made statements admitting his involvement in a scheme to move the cigarettes into Mexico.

“Guerra stated he had been smuggling cigarettes to Mexico in increments of 40 cases (containing approximately 400,000 individual cigarettes) on a regular basis,” the complaint stated. “Guerra stated he was aware that it was illegal to smuggle cigarettes into Mexico.”

The 80-year-old man also admitted he had about 800,000 pounds of cigarettes in his warehouse and stated he planned to illegally smuggle all of them into Mexico.

Teran Arteaga was pulled over that same day, Jan. 15, in Hidalgo County.

That stop also led to the discovery of “foreign” cigarettes, according to the complaint filed against Teran.

Vazquez-De La Cruz was also arrested Jan. 15, by a Texas Department of Public Safety trooper. Vazquez was driving a tractor trailer and pulled over for a purported traffic violation.

Vazquez gave the trooper two separate bills of lading, one in English purporting the cargo was used clothes, toys and purses, and the other bill of lading, written in Spanish, stated the cargo was cotton.

During the search, the trooper found 16,800 cigarettes within the trailer.

After this incident, U.S. Homeland Securities Investigations agents received information that Teran was involved in the smuggling of cigarettes on that date.

Teran, who attempted to enter the country through the Anzalduas port of entry on Feb. 10, was held for an interview with HSI agents.

Teran admitted to agents he had provided Vazquez with the fake bills of lading for the cargo Vazquez presented to the DPS trooper on Jan. 15.

“Teran stated that he knew the trailer contained contraband cigarettes and that what he was doing was illegal. Teran, stated that he had worked with Vazquez to smuggle the cigarettes from the United States to Mexico,” the court documents state.

He further admitted that once the nearly 17,000 cigarettes were seized, he created additional fake documents in order to legitimize the cigarettes.

The complaint makes no mention of compensation for either Teran or Vazquez for their roles in the smuggling attempt.

Teran remains in federal custody, while Guerra remains free on a $30,000 bond, records show.

Vazquez has been in federal custody since a Jan. 29 detention hearing, records show.