On June 30, 2020, a woman who was under investigation for possibly being involved in drug smuggling was seen driving a gold-colored Mercedes west on Mt. Hopkins Road at the northern end of Santa Cruz County, court records show.

Two days earlier, Border Patrol agents had seen suspected drug-smugglers in the vicinity, so agents inspected the area from where the Mercedes had come. According to a criminal complaint filed at U.S. District Court in Tucson, they saw footprints and tire tracks that they believed indicated a recent vehicle load-up.

Deputies with the Pima County Sheriff’s Department then stopped the northbound vehicle, driven by a woman named Selene Maria Camacho and carrying a passenger named Anastacio Alvarez Lion, a Mexican national who had been deported from the United States in March 2019. They also discovered three backpacks containing approximately 1.5 kilograms of cocaine, 342.5 grams of heroin, and 19.2 kilograms of methamphetamine, as well as a loaded handgun magazine.

Alvarez later pleaded guilty to conspiracy to distribute cocaine, heroin and methamphetamine, as well as to illegal reentry after removal. Last Friday, a federal judge sentenced the 41-year-old resident of Nogales, Sonora to five years in prison.

Following his arrest, Alvarez reportedly told investigators that he was an “arete” – trusted supervisor – for a Mexico-based drug trafficking organization, and that he had worked previously with Camacho. In this instance, he reportedly admitted to being the guide and supervisor for a group of nine other Mexican nationals who had crossed the border illegally. Three reportedly carried backpacks filled with drugs, with the other six carried food and water for the trip. Alvarez said he was supposed to accompany the load to its delivery point in Phoenix, then report back to smuggling organization.

He said he expected to be paid $100 for each pound of drugs, plus a $10 per pound premium for his special role in the operation, according to documents filed by the prosecution.

Prior to his arrest, Alvarez had been deported six times after illegally entering the United States, court records show. On four occasions, he was convicted of misdemeanor illegally entry offenses and served prison terms of 30 and 75 days, and two terms of 180 days.

In a pre-sentencing memorandum, Alvarez’s defense lawyer told the judge that Alvarez had come to the United States with the drug load seized in June 2020 in order to avoid paying a smuggling fee to illegally enter the country and to go to California to work and support his five children.

As for Alvarez’s post-arrest statements that he had been a trusted member of the operation, the lawyer said that at the time of his arrest, Alvarez had been walking for 10 days and his food and water ran out after eight days. After that, the only things he consumed for two days were marijuana and cocaine, so he was not in his right mind and told the investigators what they wanted to hear.

Other evidence described by the prosecution suggests he might have had an opportunity to eat real food shortly before his arrest.

According to documents related to the case, Camacho, the driver, was under surveillance on the day of the bust and was seen at a fast food restaurant prior to being observed on Mount Hopkins Road. Federal authorities say they later confirmed that she had purchased 50 hamburgers at the restaurant.

Camacho is currently awaiting sentencing for her role in the bust after pleading guilty last July to one county of conspiracy to possess with intent to distribute cocaine, heroin and methamphetamine.

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