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04/14/2011

Jury convicts south Texas man for attempting to export ammunition into Mexico

Jury also finds him guilty of being a felon illegally possessing ammunition

BROWNSVILLE, Texas - A local man was found guilty on Wednesday for being a felon illegally possessing ammunition and attempting to export it into Mexico without a license, announced U.S. Attorney Jose Angel Moreno of the Southern District of Texas. The case was investigated by U.S. Immigrations and Customs Enforcement's (ICE) Homeland Security Investigations (HSI), with assistance from U.S. Customs and Border Protection (CBP).

U.S. District Judge Andrew S. Hanen, who presided over the case, accepted the jury's verdicts and ordered Rene Huerta Jr., 38, to remain in federal custody without bond pending sentencing on July 15. Huerta faces a maximum penalty of 10 years imprisonment and a fine of up to $250,000, followed by three years of supervised release on each of the two counts of conviction.

The jury deliberated for two hours following two days of trial testimony. During the trial, the jury heard that Huerta attempted to travel to Matamoros, Mexico, via the Brownsville & Matamoros (B&M) International Bridge on Nov. 24, 2010. After CBP officers referred Huerta to secondary inspection, they found in his vehicle 6,825 rounds of 7.62 x 39mm ammunition within the dashboard area. This ammunition was determined to have been manufactured in Yugoslavia in the 1970s. This caliber is used in assault rifles, such as the AK-47. Mexican drug cartels are known to use such weapons. Ammunition cannot be exported without a license, and Huerta was not licensed to export ammunition.

During the trial, ICE HSI provided evidence that Huerta claimed he only possessed the vehicle for 30 minutes and denied knowing who owned the car. However, the government presented bridge-crossing records and witnesses to prove Huerta had used the car on at least six prior occasions. Only a week before his arrest, he traveled in the same vehicle to each of the three Brownsville bridges and had identified the owner of the vehicle to another CBP officer during one of those crossings.

One week before his arrest, CBP officers on inbound inspections discovered the dashboard compartment, but at that time the compartment was empty. Officers testified describing the compartment as having been specifically built to smuggle contraband, and about the condition of the compartment during prior searches. On Nov. 24, a CBP officer remembered the vehicle and its hidden compartment which ultimately led to discovering the ammunition, and to Huerta's arrest.

In addition, Huerta has a previous state felony conviction from Cameron County, Texas. As a convicted felon, Huerta is prohibited under federal law from possessing firearms or ammunition.

Assistant U.S. Attorneys Joseph Leonard and Karen Betancourt, Southern District of Texas, prosecuted the case.