A federal judge dismissed the drug trafficking case against Reynosa City Councilwoman Denisse Ahumada-Martinez on Thursday after concluding prosecutors lacked probable cause to charge her with a crime.
Border Patrol arrested Ahumada-Martinez on Saturday, when agents found about 42 kilograms of cocaine in her car.
During a hearing on Thursday, however, prosecutors could not prove Ahumada-Martinez knew about the cocaine. The U.S. Drug Enforcement Administration agent who handled the case said Ahumada-Martinez knew “she was doing something illegal” — but claimed she didn’t know what.
U.S. Magistrate Judge Juan F. Alanis concluded that prosecutors lacked probable cause and dismissed the case.
“You have to prove intent. You have to give some evidence that there was intent to traffic narcotics,” said attorney Samuel Reyes of Mission, who represented Ahumada-Martinez. “In this case, the government did not do that and the judge made the right decision.”
Reyes said a drug trafficking organization had threatened Ahumada-Martinez and her children. Faced with the threats, Ahumada-Martinez agreed to drive the car from Reynosa to San Antonio despite her misgivings.
“It’s easy for somebody to say: Well, you know, they’re still guilty. They could have gone to the police,” Reyes said. “There’s nothing until you face that situation where your life is under threat and you’re being threatened to do something by these organizations that you really know what that feels like and what that results in.”
Border Patrol stopped Ahumada-Martinez on Saturday, when she passed through an immigration checkpoint south of Falfurrias.
Her white Mazda SUV set off a law enforcement alert, said DEA Special Agent Nicholas Landsman, who testified during the hearing on Thursday.
Border Patrol sent the Mazda to secondary inspection, where an X-ray machine detected something odd about the seats.
When they searched the car, agents found about 42 kilograms of cocaine.
Border Patrol called the DEA, which dispatched two agents to Falfurrias. They questioned Ahumada-Martinez about the drugs.
“MARTINEZ admitted she drove the white Mazda SUV from Mexico into the United States through the Hidalgo Port of Entry,” according to the criminal complaint against her. “She stated she was to transport the narcotics concealed in the vehicle to San Antonio, Texas.”
Prosecutors charged Ahumada-Martinez with possession of more than 5 kilograms of cocaine with intent to distribute.
More details surfaced Thursday afternoon, when Ahumada-Martinez appeared in court for a preliminary hearing.
After her arrest, Ahumada-Martinez told agents someone had threatened her over the phone.
“Her life had been threatened and her children’s lives were threatened by this drug trafficking organization,” Reyes said.
The person told Ahumada-Martinez to drive from Reynosa to Monterrey on June 9.
Ahumada-Martinez parked the Mazda in Monterrey. She picked up the car later that day and returned to Reynosa.
The same person told Ahumada-Martinez to cross the border on June 10 and drive to San Antonio.
Ahumada-Martinez took her two children, a 2-year-old and a 7-year-old, with her. Border Patrol stopped them south of Falfurrias.
Ahumada-Martinez had 3 phones when Border Patrol arrested her. DEA agents discovered messages between Ahumada-Martinez and a Mexican phone number had been deleted.
“She just knew that she was doing something illegal,” Landsman said.
In response to several questions, Landsman said Ahumada-Martinez suspected that she was doing something illegal but didn’t know what. His testimony appeared to conflict with the criminal complaint, which suggested that Ahumada-Martinez knew about the drugs.
Reyes asked if the government had any proof Ahumada-Martinez knew the Mazda contained drugs.
Landsman said Ahumada-Martinez was the only adult in the car.
Reyes asked Landsman again: Other than merely being present when Border Patrol found the cocaine, did the government find any evidence that Ahumada-Martinez knew the Mazda contained drugs?
Landsman said no other proof existed.
“There’s a lot of stretching here and speculating, judge,” Reyes said.
Assistant U.S. Attorney Laura Marie Garcia pushed back.
Given the circumstances, a reasonable person would assume the vehicle contained something illegal, Garcia said. She maintained the government had enough evidence to establish probable cause.
Alanis, the magistrate judge, pressed Garcia for more information to support the charge of possession with intent to distribute.
When she didn’t provide any, Alanis dismissed the case.