Rather than face his sentencing on drug trafficking charges, a local politician didn’t show up to court earlier this week.
Ramon Alberto Fuentes, better-known as Beto, was set to be sentenced on Tuesday at U.S. District Court in Tucson for his role in an attempt to smuggle cocaine and another to smuggle heroin in 2017. The minimum sentence for each of the two counts was ten years in prison, according to an agreement Fuentes signed pleading guilty to the charges in 2020.
According to a brief note in online court records, Fuentes’ attorney said on Tuesday that he had met with Fuentes the previous day. The attorney, Jeffrey Rogers, didn’t reply to a reporter's voice mail and email seeking comment.
A reporter’s call to Fuentes’ cell phone number wasn’t initially picked up on Tuesday. Shortly after the first call, a man called back from the same number, but when the NI reporter identified himself, the man said he wasn’t Fuentes and then hung up.
Fuentes, who is a dual citizen of the United States and Mexico, had been released on his own recognizance and even had his passport returned to him in 2019 while his case progressed. In a motion seeking the return of Fuentes’ passport, Rogers stated that Fuentes had business interests in Mexico including the online newspaper El Heraldo de Nogales.
Fuentes signed a plea deal in January 2020, shortly before the COVID-19 pandemic hit, but his sentencing hearing was subsequently delayed on seven different occasions.
Then, on Tuesday, the hearing appeared set to go ahead. But Fuentes wasn’t there.
The judge presiding over the case ordered a warrant for Fuentes’ arrest, court records show.
Failing to appear for sentencing also appears to be a violation of the terms of the plea agreement. According to the deal, if Fuentes breaches the agreement, prosecutors are free to seek a higher sentence or to scrap the plea deal entirely.
Fuentes’ sentencing hearing came barely a week after an election in Nogales, Sonora, in which he was originally set to run for an office equivalent to city attorney on the Labor Party (PT) ticket. The PT later pulled Fuentes from the ticket and replaced him with Jhonatan Librado Grijalva Manzo, a close associate of Fuentes.
The candidate replacement followed a story in the NI that detailed Fuentes’ plea deal and the charges against him. The story was also picked up by a small number of news outlets in Sonora.
Fuentes was also a top advisor to the PT’s candidate for mayor of Nogales, Sonora, Leticia Calderón. But Calderón failed to generate much support in the election, finishing in fourth place with 3.5 percent of the votes.
Given Fuentes’ dual citizenship and his connections in Mexico, his no-show on Tuesday raises questions about whether he is still in the United States. A spokesman for the U.S. Attorney’s Office prosecuting the case didn’t respond to emailed questions asking whether the terms of his release could contribute to him avoiding arrest in the future.
El Heraldo de Nogales – the business cited by name in the request for Fuentes’ passport to be returned – consists of two websites and a Facebook page.
On Wednesday, the front page of one of the websites was filled with broken links and the other page included stories from May and June that were apparently copied from other Sonoran newspapers. The most recent post to the Facebook page was from April 7, promoting Leticia Calderón’s mayoral campaign.
According to the factual basis of his plea agreement, Fuentes was busted once with drugs at the Mariposa Port of Entry and was linked to another drug seizure through phone records.
In January 2017, someone was caught with about 25 pounds of cocaine hidden inside black socks in the airbag of their Chevrolet Silverado as they tried to drive across the border at the DeConcini port. Fuentes admitted to working with the driver after calls and WhatsApp messages connected him to the case.
And in September 2017, Fuentes was stopped when he tried to drive his Chevrolet Malibu through the Mariposa port. A narcotics detector dog sniffed out drugs in some boxes of cement compound that Fuentes had in the back and officials eventually discovered about 7 pounds of heroin in the cement boxes.