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Firearms, Ammunition & Explosives

South Texas man sentenced to more than 11 years for ammunition smuggling

BROWNSVILLE, Texas — A convicted ammunition smuggler was sentenced on Wednesday to more than 11 years in federal prison for being a felon in possession of ammunition, and attempting to export ammunition into Mexico. This sentence was announced by U.S. Attorney Jose Angel Moreno, Southern District of Texas. The investigation was conducted by the U.S. Immigration and Customs Enforcement's (ICE) Homeland Security Investigations (HSI), with the assistance of U.S. Customs and Border Protection (CBP), and the U.S. Department of State's Directorate of Defense Trade Controls.

Rene Huerta Jr., of Brownsville, was convicted on April 12 after a two-day trial.

U.S. District Judge Andrew S. Hanen sentenced Huerta on July 13 to the maximum 10-year sentence for being a felon in possession of ammunition. The judge also sentenced him to 136 months for attempting to export the ammunition without a license; both sentences are to run concurrently. After Huerta completes his prison sentences, he will be on federal supervised release for three additional years.

On Nov. 24, 2010, Huerta attempted to travel to Matamoros, Mexico, via the Brownsville & Matamoros International Bridge. During secondary inspection of Huerta's vehicle, CBP discovered 6,825 rounds of 7.62 x 39 mm ammunition hidden within the dashboard area. This ammunition was determined to have been manufactured in Yugoslavia in the 1970s. This caliber of ammunition 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.

According to court documents, Huerta told ICE HSI agents that he only possessed the vehicle for 30 minutes, and he denied knowing who owned the car. However, the government presented bridge-crossing records and witnesses to prove that Huerta had used the car at least six other times. Only a week before his arrest, Huerta had traveled in the same vehicle to each of the three Brownsville bridges. During one of those crossings, Huerta had identified the vehicle's owner to another CBP officer.

One week before his arrest, CBP officers on inbound inspections had discovered the dashboard compartment, but at that time the compartment was empty. Officers testified and described 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 the discovery and seizure of the ammunition in the hidden compartment, and to Huerta's arrest.

Huerta also has a previous state felony conviction from Cameron County for possessing cocaine. 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.