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Firearms, Ammunition & Explosives

Joint ICE-ATF investigation leads to 3 arrests

HOUSTON - Three people were arrested on Thursday on separate charges of felony drug trafficking and felony gun violations following an 18-month joint investigation between U.S. Immigration and Customs Enforcement (ICE) and the Bureau of Alcohol, Tobacco, Firearms and Explosives (ATF). The arrests were announced by U.S. Attorney José Angel Moreno. Both criminal complaints have been unsealed.

On March 11, Joel Linares Soberanis, 35, a Guatemalan national and owner of Nationwide Import Car Salvage in Houston, Texas, and Fernando Argenis Huezo, 28, of Conroe, Texas, were arrested following the filing of a criminal complaint which accused the men of conspiring to possess with intent to distribute 17.8 kilograms (39 pounds) of heroin. Huezo was arrested about one block from his Conroe home. Linares was arrested at his place of business.

U.S. Customs and Border Protection (CBP) officers at the Brownsville and Matamoros (Texas) International Bridge discovered the heroin on Nov. 6, 2009 in the drive shaft of a dodge pick-up truck driven by a third person seeking to enter the United States from Mexico. The truck's registration, according to the complaint, showed Huezo as the first lien holder. Twenty-one minutes before the discovery and seizure of the heroin, records showed Huezo had crossed the same bridge as a pedestrian.

Court documents allege that Huezo guided the driver from Houston to Mexico where Huezo allegedly arranged for the drive shaft containing the heroin to be mounted on the vehicle. Linares is alleged to have arranged for the driver and guide to travel from Houston to Mexico for the purpose of smuggling the heroin into the United States.

A hearing on Tuesday before U.S. Magistrate Judge Steven W. Smith found there was probable cause to bind the case over for consideration by a grand jury. Conspiracy to possess with intent to distribute more than one kilogram of heroin carries a mandatory minimum penalty of 10 years imprisonment up to life, and a $4 million fine. The court has ordered Huezo may be released upon posting $2,000 of a $100,000 bond and signature of two sureties. Additionally, Huezo will be subject to home confinement as a condition if released. As to Linares, the court is considering his release on bond but has reset the matter for Wednesday morning before deciding.

In a separate case arising from the same investigation, Huezo's common-law wife, Jenni Otilia Cortez, 26, was arrested at her Conroe home on March 11. Cortez was charged in a separate sealed criminal complaint with making a false statement - falsifying her address - in connection with the purchase of 43 firearms - semiautomatic pistols and rifles - since September 2008 with an cost of $42,025. The complaint alleges that of the 43 firearms allegedly purchased and traced back to Jenni Cortez, 15 were discovered by law enforcement authorities in Mexico and in Guatemala. Three of these 15 were recovered within two weeks of their purchase.

Cortez appeared before U.S. Magistrate Judge Francis H. Stacy on March 12, and has been released on a $25,000 bond. Making a false statement in the purchase of a firearm carries a maximum punishment of five years imprisonment and a $250,000 fine.

The joint ICE-ATF investigation involved special agents of the ICE Brownsville and Houston offices, and ATF Houston. Assistant U.S. Attorney Megan Paulson will prosecute the case in the Brownsville Division.