Mexican cartel member sentenced to prison

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POSTED: Thursday, January 24, 2013 - 3:52pm

UPDATED: Friday, January 25, 2013 - 8:19am

Jose Luis Zuniga-Hernandez, 44, of Control, Tamaulipas, Mexico, is headed to prison for a term of seven years, United States Attorney Kenneth Magidson announced today. Zuniga-Hernandez aka “El Wicho” or “Comandante Wicho” or “XW” pleaded guilty to being an alien found within the United States after deportation and being an alien in possession of a firearm on Jan. 8, 2013.

Today, U.S. District Judge Andrew Hanes, who accepted the guilty plea, handed Zuniga-Hernandez a total term of 84 months in prison. At the hearing, additional testimony was presented including that Zuniga-Hernandez was a high ranking member of the Gulf Cartel in charge of the Rio Bravo and Matamoros plazas at different times during the years prior to his arrest. Testimony further indicated that Zuniga-Hernandez had paid $57,000 dollars for a diamond, gold and ruby encrusted 38 super hand gun.

Zuniga-Hernandez’s sentence includes upward adjustments or increases in his calculated sentencing guideline range because he was in possession of the firearm in connection with another felony offense. The sentence also represents a departure from the sentencing guidelines because of the defendant’s prior criminal history, his possession of a loaded handgun, 3.7 grams of cocaine and almost $40,000 dollars at the time of his arrest. Evidence indicated that the defendant had previously been convicted for possessing with intent to distribute more than a ton of marijuana in 1990.

He was further ordered to pay a $10,000 fine. As an illegal alien, Zuniga-Hernandez is expected to face deportation proceedings following his release from prison. In handing down the sentence, Judge Hanen stated the crime committed represented a serious threat to the well-being of the citizens of South Texas.

Zuniga-Hernandez was previously convicted in January 2012, but later permitted to withdraw that plea. At the time he ultimately was convicted in January 2013, he admitted he had entered the United States illegally after he had been previously deported from the United States on Aug. 8, 1997. Prior to his deportation, Zuniga had been convicted of possession with intent to distribute marijuana on Feb. 14, 1990. Zuniga also admitted that at the time of his arrest he was in possession of a customized gold, diamond and ruby encrusted Colt 38 Super handgun.

Zuniga-Hernandez has been in jail since his arrest on Oct. 26, 2011, where he will remain pending transfer to a U.S. Bureau of Prisons facility to be determined in the near future.

The investigation leading to the charges was conducted by Homeland Security Investigations. The case is being prosecuted by Assistant U.S. Attorney Angel Castro.
 

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