Last week on the morning of Thursday, May 20, border patrol agents on duty near the south Texas brush country town of La Pryor encountered a pickup truck stopped on the side of the road due to mechanical problems. This area is approximately 50 miles from the border with Mexico.
Agents became suspicious after observing that the truck had sustained substantial damage, and the two occupants of the vehicle made conflicting statements.
A Border Patrol canine alerted agents to the rear of the pickup where weapons were found hidden inside a load of plywood in the bed of the truck.
The vehicle was transported to the Uvalde Border Patrol Station for intensive inspection. Agents from U.S. Immigration and Customs Enforcement and the Bureau of Alcohol, Tobacco, Firearms and Explosives responded to the Uvalde Station to launch an investigation.
Agents found 52 AR-15 assault rifles, 4 AK-47 assault rifles, 1 SKS rifle, 1 Ruger Mini-14 rifle, 1 FN Fal assault rifle and 49 high-capacity rifle magazines.
Soon after, the driver of the pickup, Cristobal Riojas, 29, a Marine Corp reservist and native of Dallas, Texas was arrested and charged by criminal complaint with unlawfully attempting to export firearms. If convicted, Riojas faces up to 10 years in federal prison and a maximum fine of $250,000.
Federal judge denies bond
A week later on Wednesday, May 26, Riojas appeared in federal court in Del Rio, Texas for a detention hearing before U.S. Magistrate Judge Victor R. Garcia.
Judge Garcia listened to testimony from Immigration and Customs Enforcement (ICE) Special Agent Jose Mendoza, who reviewed Riojas’ detention by the Border Patrol and described a series of seven photos taken during the search of the truck Riojas was driving.
Some of the photos show the rifles and magazines, which were wrapped in green cellophane and stashed inside a compartment cut out of the load of plywood in the bed of the truck.
Mendoza, answering questions posed by Assistant U.S. Attorney Ben Seal, also testified Riojas was arrested while he was a juvenile on state charges of burglary, criminal trespass and marijuana possession.
Cross-examined by Riojas’ attorney, Heather Fisher of Denton, Mendoza said Riojas readily provided agents with his driver’s license and his military identification showing that he is a member of the United States Marine Corps Reserves.
Mendoza said Riojas readily allowed the search of the truck, while a passenger, identified as Erika Amaya of Carrollton “lawyered up” – refused to talk to agents – and was later released.
Following the testimony, Seal argued that Riojas posed “a danger to the community.”
“A person who possesses 59 assault rifles in an illegal manner, that person poses a danger to the community,” he said. “These were not hunting weapons. . . (these types of) weapons are made for . . . the specific purpose of killing another person.”
Seal further argued that Riojas posed a special danger because he was allegedly trying to “transport those guns to Mexico,” into “an area filled with drug-related violence,” and charged that the weapons would eventually have been used to protect routes along which drugs are transported.
Fisher countered that Riojas is not a flight risk, pointing out to the court that he has not been to Mexico since he was 11 years old.
She asked that Riojas be released on a personal recognizance bond.
“We do not feel he is a danger, (and) the United States Marine Corps does not think so as well,” Fisher said. “(Riojas) is trusted by the government, and that should carry some weight.”
Immediately following the presentations by the two attorneys, Garcia ordered Riojas detained without bond pending trial and remanded him to the custody of the U.S. Marshals Service.
(source material for this post was obtained from the Eagle Pass Chronicle and the Del Rio News Herald)