At the USA-Mexico border in Calexico about two hours east of San Diego on the morning of Oct. 16. 2013, auto mechanic Oscar Rodolfo Cararez-Valle fretted as suspicious U.S. border patrol agents placed him, the driver of a tan, 1997 F-150 Ford pickup truck, in limbo for three hours.
Cararez-Valle's concern wasn't imaginary.
Six packages containing 6.6 pounds of heroin destined for the underground Phoenix drug market were hidden beneath the hood of a vehicle supplied by international drug dealers.
You can imagine the Mexican driver's immense relief when agents asked him if he possessed drugs and they seemingly believed his negative answer before allowing him to enter this country on a visa.
What this father of two teenagers from a successful family of merchants didn't realize was that a drug-sniffing dog had identified the presence of narcotics and that border agents decided to play dumb to see what else they could learn.
Clueless, Cararez-Valle drove through Southern California, including Orange County, and eventually into Arizona, where--as instructed by his handlers--he parked the truck in a store parking lot and waited for a $3,000 payment for his services.
Though six prior drug courier trips into the U.S. succeeded, this seventh one ended in his arrest by tracking agents who didn't want to lose control of the heroin.
Cararez-Valle--who was born in 1974--had decided to accept his last mission after Mexican police officers stopped him on a highway and, he says, stole $8,000 in cash he'd accumulated to get himself out of debt.
Arguing his commitment to God, love of family, willingness to discuss operational details of his voyages and the fact that he was nothing more than a powerless, low-level courier, the defendant sought a prison term of no more than 18 months.
A federal prosecutor disagreed, thinking the correct punishment should be 57 months in prison.
"That sentence reflects the seriousness of the defendant's crime of transporting approximately three kilograms of heroin across the border into the United States," opined Orange County-based Assistant United States Attorney Sandy N. Leal.
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This month, after Cararez-Valle apologized and sought mercy, U.S. District Court Judge John A. Kronstadt determined the correct punishment is incarceration for 46 months.
When he finishes serving that sentence, he will be deported back to Mexico.