MISSION, Texas (Border Report) — A city councilwoman from the Mexican border town of Reynosa was used by drug cartel operatives who threatened to kill her family if she didn’t cooperate with them, her lawyer told Border Report.
Hidalgo County Sheriff Eddie Guerra on Monday said Reynosa Councilwoman Denisse Ahumada-Martinez was being held in his jail in Edinburg, Texas, waiting for officials from neighboring Brooks County to pick her up.
Ahumada-Martinez, 34, was arrested June 10 at the Border Patrol’s checkpoint in Falfurrias, Texas, which is located in Brooks County, after 92 pounds of cocaine were found concealed in her SUV, according to a federal criminal complaint.
But her U.S. court-appointed lawyer says Ahumada-Martinez was coerced and “under duress” and forced to drive the vehicle from Reynosa to San Antonio under threat of death.
“She had been threatened by individuals in Mexico that had threatened her some time back. And that the only reason she was transporting this vehicle was under threat of death to her and her daughters,” her lawyer, Samuel Reyes, told Border Report on Monday from his office in Mission, Texas.
Reyes says this is the second time that Ahumada-Martinez drove a vehicle from Mexico with questionable contents from Mexico, but he says she did not know there were illegal drugs in the SUV.
“She had no idea what was in the vehicle. It was a threat: ‘Take the vehicle,’ you know, ‘or we will kill you and your kids.'” he said they told her.
On Thursday, U.S. Magistrate Judge Juan Alanis dismissed the case during a hearing in Hidalgo County in which he said federal prosecutors had lacked probable cause to arrest her.
But the next day, as she was trying to drive to Reynosa through the McAllen-Hidalgo-Reynosa International Bridge, Guerra says she was arrested on a warrant from Brooks County on state charges of possession of a controlled substance of more than 400 grams.
“She’s still in my facility. Brooks County has 10 days to come pick her up,” Guerra told Border Report. “My understanding is that she tried to cross into Mexico through the Hidalgo POE (port of entry). They ran her. She had a warrant out of Brooks County. So we went to go pick her up on that warrant. And she was arraigned in my jail. And the warrant had a no-bond on it.”
“Just because the feds dropped the charges, doesn’t mean the state can’t pick it up,” said Guerra, who is president of the Southwestern Border Sheriffs Coalition.
If convicted, the charges carry 10 years to life imprisonment, and up to a $10,000 fine.
According to the criminal complaint, on June 10, Ahumada-Martinez was driving a white Mazda SUV that had 42 kilograms of cocaine in bundles wrapped with duct tape and foil that were stashed inside the seats and door panels of her vehicle.
But Reyes says his client, a 34-year-old single mother of two young girls, was coerced to make the trip, and he says it’s something drug cartels often do.
“This is something that they’re doing more now, where they’re kidnapping someone or putting them under the threat of death, and then having them be the mule for transporting their drugs, which is a lot safer to them, because they don’t run any risk at all,” Reyes said.
“These violent, dangerous, transnational drug trafficking organizations function on threats of violence. They function through force, through killing, through torture, that’s their modus operandi. That’s how they profit. That’s how they do business. We’ve known about this for a long time, and they’re allowed to operate there in Reynosa in the south of the border with relative impunity,” Reyes said.
Ahumada-Martinez’ title is regidora, which is the equivalent of a councilwoman. She is elected and reports to the mayor of Reynosa.
But Reyes says now she does not want to return to Mexico for fear of her life, and her family’s safety.
He told Border Report that if a bond is set in the state’s case against her, she will ask for U.S. asylum from immigration officials.
“They (cartels) lost a $3.5 million load of drugs and that’s a big load even for them. They want that back and they won’t look the other way,” he said.