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Jury convicts longtime fugitive for marijuana smuggling

MCALLEN, Texas — A Cuban national was found guilty Tuesday for possession with intent to distribute marijuana and a subsequent charge of failure to appear, announced U.S. Attorney Kenneth Magidson, Southern District of Texas. The case was investigated by U.S. Immigration and Customs Enforcement's (ICE) Homeland Security Investigations (HSI) with the assistance of Hidalgo County Sheriff's Office.

Alexis Estevez-Alvarez, 45, of Havana, Cuba, was originally charged in 2003, released on bond and scheduled for trial Oct. 3, 2003 before U.S. District Judge Randy Crane. Estevez-Alvarez failed to appear for court and was subsequently indicted on that charge.

Estevez-Alvarez remained a fugitive for almost 10 years until he was apprehended Oct. 29, 2012. On that date he was discovered in the bed of a Ford F-150 truck restrained and inebriated at the Progreso Port-of-Entry after someone had crossed him into the United States and then fled back to Mexico.

According to court documents, the case began June 20, 2003, when two former deputies with the Hidalgo County Sheriff's Office approached a residence in Mercedes seeking consent to search the residence. According to evidence presented during trial, deputies found 42 bundles of marijuana totaling 671 kilograms in a shed next to a pre-fabricated house on the property. Estevez-Alvarez stated he had lived on the property with his wife and another friend for about four months.

The government also proved that for the past 10 years Estevez-Alvarez has been able to work and live in both Weslaco and Nuevo Progreso, Tamaulipas, Mexico, as well as maintain a relationship with his now ex-wife.

The defense contended that unknown individuals had "control" of Estevez-Alvarez that prevented him from showing up to court in 2003 and that it was fear of retribution from these individuals that kept him from court over the past decade.

The jury disagreed and found him guilty on both counts as charged.

He faces a minimum of five and up to 40 years in federal prison, as well as a possible $2 million fine for the drug charge. He faces another five years and/or a $250,000 fine for failure to appear. He will remain in custody pending his sentencing hearing Sept. 16.

Assistant U.S. Attorney Juan F. Alanis, Southern District of Texas, is prosecuting the case.