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Contraband
03/15/2010

Binational drug prosecution effort nets jail terms

10-year sentences handed out in Nogales marijuana smuggling cases

NOGALES, Ariz. - Two Mexican men arrested at the Dennis DeConcini Port of Entry in Nogales, Ariz., have been convicted of marijuana smuggling in their home country under the Controlled Substances Program (CSP).

Ramon Bejarano-Badilla, 23, and Israel Valle-Leon, 24, were both sentenced to 10-year prison terms by a federal judge in Sonora, Mexico on Wednesday after U.S. Immigration and Customs Enforcement (ICE) agents referred their cases to Mexican authorities for prosecution.

The CSP, an agreement involving the Attorney General's Office of the Republic of Mexico (PGR), ICE and U.S. Customs and Border Protection (CBP), enables PGR to prosecute, under Mexican law, drug smuggling cases that originate at Nogales ports of entry.

"U.S. and Mexican law enforcement agencies are continuing to work together to ensure that there are consequences for criminal behavior," said Matt Allen, special agent in charge of ICE Investigations in Arizona. "With these convictions, it is clear that the Mexican government is sending a clear message to drug smugglers that their criminal activity will not be tolerated on either side of the border."

"This significant sentence is unprecedented and the result of historic cooperation between the United States and Mexico along the Arizona-Mexico Border," said U.S. Attorney for the District of Arizona Dennis K. Burke. "As word spreads, these cases will have an immense impact --- the drug courier recruitment business will never be the same. It is a testament to the courage and the commitment by the Republic of Mexico to turn the tide against the drug cartels."

Bejarano-Badilla was arrested on Nov. 30, 2009, at the DeConcini Port of Entry in Nogales after CBP officers found more than 37 pounds of marijuana in the vehicle he was driving. Valle-Leon was also arrested at the DeConcini port, on Dec. 3, 2009, after officers discovered more than 16 pounds of marijuana concealed in his vehicle.

The Nogales CSP, aimed at reducing narcotics smuggling along Arizona's border with Mexico, is the first agreement of its kind between the governments of the United States and Mexico. Since its inception in October 2009, 24 suspects have been referred to Mexican authorities for prosecution. Following these two convictions, there are still 18 cases pending prosecution.