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May 26, 2020McAllen, TX, United StatesContraband

South Texas man pleads guilty of attempting to export millions of cigarettes

More than 400 million cigarettes seized

MCALLEN, Texas — A Mission man entered a guilty plea Tuesday for attempting to export contraband cigarettes.

This case is being conducted by U.S. Immigration and Customs Enforcement’s (ICE) Homeland Security Investigations (HSI) McAllen Office with the assistance of Texas Department of Public Safety (DPS).

Jose Francisco Guerra, 80, from Mission, Texas, pleaded guilty May 26, before U.S. District Judge Micaela Alvarez, for attempting to export contraband cigarettes. In addition to accepting Guerra’s guilty plea, Judge Alvarez entered an order of forfeiture against equipment and cigarettes seized from the truck and Guerra’s warehouses. Guerra owned and operated Victor M. Guerra Inc., a custom brokering company in Hidalgo, Texas.

On Jan. 15, law enforcement stopped a tractor-trailer which later revealed approximately 17 million cigarettes headed for Mexico. The shipping manifest had been falsified as to the vehicle’s contents, and the cigarettes lacked the applicable tax stamp as Texas law requires.

The investigation revealed the cigarettes originated in a warehouse located at 2900 North Depot Road in Hidalgo. Guerra controlled and operated that warehouse and facilitated the storage and sale of the cigarettes. Guerra was also found to be in control of another warehouse in McAllen. Both warehouses contained a combined total of 422,917,800 contraband cigarettes destined to be exported to Mexico.

Guerra admitted to his role in the attempted smuggling event, adding that he knew exporting contraband cigarettes into Mexico was illegal and intended to export additional cigarettes. At his plea hearing May 26, Guerra also agreed to forfeit his customs broker license, pay a fine and forfeit his interest in the cigarettes and items seized from his warehouse.

The total value of the cigarettes and equipment authorities seized is estimated at approximately $88 million.

Judge Alvarez has not yet set a sentencing date. Guerra faces up to 10 years in federal prison and a possible $250,000 fine.

Guerra is currently out on bond pending a sentencing date.

Assistant U.S. Attorney Michael Mitchell, Southern District of Texas, is prosecuting this case.