Ramon Alberto Fuentes, the Ambos Nogales businessman and former mayoral candidate who pleaded guilty to federal drug-smuggling charges last month in Tucson, is working as an advisor to a Sonoran state legislative representative and insisting that he is innocent.
Fuentes, a 52-year-old U.S. citizen, served a term as a Nogales, Sonora city councilman from 2000-2003, ran unsuccessfully for mayor of Nogales, Ariz. in 2014 and published the now-defunct Spanish-language newspaper El Heraldo. On Jan. 29, he pleaded guilty at U.S. District Court in Tucson to illegally importing cocaine and heroin from Mexico in 2017 and his sentencing date was set for April 13.
On Tuesday, Fuentes appeared in a live Facebook broadcast from Hermosillo, Sonora, with political commentator Hiram Rodriguez, who told him he had heard that Fuentes is set to be sentenced on April 13 at a court in the United States.
“No,” Fuentes responded, shaking his head. “No, the issue is something that’s already in the past and I have never had problems in the United States.”
Fuentes was indicted by a federal grand jury on Aug. 1, 2018 on four felony drug counts. He was subsequently released on his own recognizance and ordered to surrender his U.S. passport. In February 2019, a judge allowed him to have his passport back “to travel to and from Mexico for business purposes,” according to a court document.
Fuentes is now working as an advisor to Leticia Calderón Fuentes, a member of the Social Encounter Party (PES by its Spanish acronym) who represents Nogales, Sonora in the state legislature. In his interview Tuesday with Rodriguez, Fuentes suggested that the work Calderón is doing is making certain unnamed people uncomfortable, and that there might be a political motive behind the talk of his legal troubles in the United States.
“I don’t have problems,” he said. “Here I am, I come and go from the United States, my family lives in Tucson.”
Rodriguez responded: “It’s all made up? You’re saying that it’s all made up?”
“Yes,” Fuentes said, then insists he can’t say any more because of pending legal concerns.
Fuentes talked more about Calderón and the work she’s doing before Rodriguez returned to the issue at hand.
“One question: Did you really have a problem with drug trafficking?” he asked Fuentes.
“No, no, never,” Fuentes responded.
He said he got himself involved in a “situation” with somebody. “But I cleared it up. I cleared it up at the time with the American authorities, and that’s where I’m at.”
He also suggested some kind of U.S.-based conspiracy against him.
“My involvement in the politics of the United States had a lot to do with it,” he said, mentioning an unidentified woman senatorial candidate – now an elected senator – whom he was helping out.
“That was on the U.S. side, where they fabricated it all, which as I told you, I can’t give more details about that, and from there that’s where the attack began,” he said.
From there, he said, someone in Mexico decided to “take advantage” and “magnify” the situation.
He contrasted his own case with people who have been caught trafficking drugs by U.S. authorities and who are now serving sentences.
“If I had had a problem like that, I wouldn’t be here with you,” he insisted.
The plea deal
According to the factual basis included in Fuentes’ plea agreement, investigators linked him through phone communications to the seizure of 25 pounds of cocaine at the Dennis DeConcini Port of Entry on Jan. 30, 2017, as well as to a bust at the Mariposa port on Jan. 13. 2017, in which officers found almost $211,000 in unreported U.S. currency in a pickup headed for Mexico.
As part of his plea deal, Fuentes admitted that from January to October 2017, he conspired with others to smuggle cocaine into the United States from Mexico. That admission formed the basis of his plea to one count of cocaine smuggling.
Also according to his plea agreement, on Sept. 14, 2017, Fuentes was sent for a secondary inspection at the Mariposa port as he tried to enter the United States in a Chevy Malibu registered in his name in Arizona. According to his plea agreement, officers opened the car’s trunk and found three boxes of cement compound, each of which turned out to contain one package of heroin. The total weight of the drugs was more than seven pounds.
That incident formed the basis of Fuentes’ guilty plea to one count of heroin smuggling.
In exchange for Fuentes’ guilty pleas on two of the counts in the indictment against him, federal prosecutors agreed to drop the other two charges, which were also drug related.