EDITOR’S NOTE: This story has been updated to reflect that the lawyer for Denisse Ahumada-Martinez says she told federal officials after her arrest, not the court, that she was threatened by drug cartel operatives. The article also clarifies that she does not want to remain in custody, but rather, be granted U.S. asylum.
FALFURRIAS, Texas (Border Report) — A South Texas sheriff says he issued an arrest warrant for a Mexican councilwoman who had federal drug charges dropped, “because she violated state law.”
In an exclusive interview with Border Report at his offices in this rural South Texas town, Brooks County Sheriff Urbino “Benny” Martinez says he couldn’t let the charges go, and says he intends to transfer her to his jail as soon as he has space.
“I got 10 days. We have very limited space in our jail so I’m grateful for Hidalgo County for holding on to her for this long and we’ll be able to do the transition,” he said.
Denisse Ahumada-Martinez, 34, is a city councilwoman from the Mexican border town of Reynosa. She was first arrested June 10 when federal officials say they found 92 pounds of cocaine hidden in bundles wrapped in duct tape inside the seats and door panels of a car she was driving at the Border Patrol checkpoint in Falfurrias, Texas, which is in Brooks County.
On June 15, in Hidalgo County, U.S. Magistrate Judge Juan Alanis dismissed the federal drug-trafficking charges against Ahumada-Martinez during a hearing in which he said federal prosecutors had lacked probable cause to arrest her.
The following day, Hidalgo County Sheriff’s deputies arrested her — on a warrant that Sheriff Martinez issued from Brooks County — as U.S. Immigration and Customs Enforcement officers were preparing to deport her back to Mexico at the McAllen-Hidalgo-Reynosa International Bridge, her lawyer, Samuel Reyes, told Border Report on Thursday.
Reyes said his client remains at the Hidalgo County Jail.
After Sheriff Martinez learned the case was dropped by the feds, he said he issued the warrant for her arrest on state charges.
“I always believe that we shouldn’t let people walk after a crime. There needs to be consequences. It’s a bad signal when you just let people walk and there’s nothing in return,” he said. “That’s the norm for Brooks County to adopt cases from the checkpoint. That’s the agreement we have with them. There are certain cases that just don’t quite meet the criteria that they have or standards. So we adopt them.”
“There needs to be consequences.”Brooks County Sheriff Urbino ‘Benny’ Martinez
Reyes says drug cartel operatives threatened to kill her and her two young daughters if she didn’t drive the vehicle from Reynosa to San Antonio.
He says she comes from a “humble” family and makes a minimum salary as one of several regidoras, which is the equivalent of a councilwoman, who report to the mayor of Reynosa.
The northern Mexican border city of about 700,000 is known for drug cartels, and fighting among various factions, for control of the human trafficking and drug trade.
Ahumada-Martinez makes so little money, Reyes said, that he was appointed to defend her.
After her arrest at the checkpoint, Reyes said, his client told officials that she was threatened and forced to drive the vehicle.
“And that was a reason why she was transporting this vehicle” he said.
“She explained to them that she had been threatened by individuals in Mexico that they 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,” Reyes said.
Hidalgo County Sheriff Eddie Guerra told Border Report that Ahumada-Martinez has been very compliant in his jail. He says Brooks County has until Sunday to pick her up and transfer her, according to the warrant.
Sheriff Martinez says his ranching county of 7,200 has a lot of land, but limited resources. He says he just doesn’t have the space for a female inmate and is trying to find a way to work her into their jail before the deadline.
On Wednesday, District Court Judge Ysmael Fonseca set a cash/surety bond of $250,000 on the state charges for Ahumada-Martinez. Fonseca represents the 476th Judicial District Court in Hidalgo County and was appointed in March by Gov. Greg Abbott.
Reyes says she cannot afford the bond and will stay in jail.
If she is released, however, he says she wants to claim asylum in the United States and not return to Reynosa because she fears that Mexican drug cartel members will find her and kill her.
If convicted, she faces 10 years to life in prison.
“She’s holding up well,” Reyes said. “She’s a remarkable young woman. She’s scared, but she’s tough and she knows that she’s in for a fight.”