McALLEN, Texas – An 80-year-old Mission man has entered a guilty plea for attempting to export contraband cigarettes, announced U.S. Attorney Ryan K. Patrick.
Jose Francisco Guerra owned and operated Victor M. Guerra Inc., a customs brokering company in Hidalgo. 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 today, 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.
In addition to accepting Guerra’s guilty plea, U.S. District Judge Micaela Alvarez entered an order of forfeiture against equipment and cigarettes seized from the truck and Guerra’s warehouses. She will set sentencing at a later date. At that time, Guerra faces up to 10 years in federal prison and a possible $250,000 fine.
He was permitted to remain on bond pending that hearing.
Immigration and Customs Enforcement’s Homeland Security Investigations conducted the investigation with the assistance of Texas Department of Public Safety. Assistant U.S. Attorney Michael Mitchell is prosecuting the case.