A former employee at the U.S. Consulate in Nogales, Sonora who tried to smuggle weapons into Mexico in a consular vehicle was sentenced this week to nearly four years in federal prison.
Luis Manuel Bray Vazquez, a 35-year-old Mexican citizen who worked for the consulate as a driver, was sentenced on Tuesday at U.S. District Court in Tucson to a prison term of 46 months. He had previously pleaded guilty to smuggling goods from the United States.
According to a pre-sentence memorandum filed by the U.S. Attorney’s Office, Bray was the driver and sole occupant of a U.S. consular vehicle – a tan Chevrolet Suburban – that entered the southbound lanes at the Mariposa Port of Entry on Nov. 4, 2020.
When U.S. Customs and Border Protection officers conducting outbound inspections attempted to open the rear cargo area of the vehicle, Bay accelerated and fled, ignoring verbal and visual commands from the next officer he encountered to stop.
Instead, he nearly struck the officer and continued toward Mexico. However, other officers managed to close the metal gates at the port’s exit, stopping Bray before he could drive across the border.
CBP officers searched the Suburban and found several firearms wrapped in plastic and stored inside a cardboard box in the rear cargo area. The guns were identified as five Kalashnikov variant (AK-47 type) rifles, four Kalashnikov variant (AK-47 type) pistols, three AR variant high-powered rifles, one pistol-caliber rifle and one pistol. The officers also found a Barrett .50-caliber rifle in bag on the middle row seats.
“The defendant initially stated this occasion was his second attempt to transport firearms into Mexico, but eventually admitted he had done so on three or four previous occasions,” the government’s memo says, adding that Bray said he knew the guns were destined for a drug-trafficking organization, and that he was paid $150 for each rifle and $50 for each handgun he smuggled into Mexico.
Angela Woolridge, the assistant U.S. attorney prosecuting the case, asked the judge to give Bray a sentence of no less than 46 months in prison.
Defense lawyer Jamiel Allen, in his own pre-sentence memorandum to the judge, asked for a sentence of 27 months or less, citing Bray’s remorse and the “aberrant” nature of his conduct.
“Mr. Bray was proud of his employment at the U.S. Consulate and his co-workers looked upon him fondly. He is quite ashamed of the decision he made,” Allen wrote.
Appeasement or greed?
According to Allen’s memo, several months prior to his arrest, Bray was approached on the basketball court by someone he recognized from middle school. They exchanged telephone numbers and parted ways.
The person and others then began to continuously call or text Bray. Knowing that Bray worked for the U.S. Consulate, Allen wrote, these people “continuously nudged – to the extent a violent organization nudges – him to work for ‘their organization’ and bring boxes of firearms from the United States to Mexico.”
Bray was a family man with a history of honest work, according to Allen, who attached numerous certificates and recognitions his client received from the U.S. Consulate, as well as from his previous employer, Wal-Mart. Bray had never been in this situation before, Allen wrote, but he recognized the seriousness of it when people began to approach him outside his home or at the park to encourage him to work for them.
Bray acknowledged that he was never physically threatened, Allen wrote. But instead of advising his supervisors, he thought he could appease the recruiters.
“In Nogales, Sonora, the potential threat of violence is always looming,” Allen wrote. “Mr. Bray’s anxiety, nervousness and uncomfortableness created the idea that he could make one or two trips and be left alone.”
The government, however, saw another motivation behind Bray’s decision to smuggle weapons.
“The defendant’s motivation for his dangerous crimes was greed; he committed his offenses for profit even though he had a legitimate source of income from his employment with the U.S. Consulate,” Woolridge wrote in her memo. “His claim of having committed his offenses out of fear turned out to be unsubstantiated. The defendant admitted he was never threatened, and the fact that he was paid for each firearm he smuggled negates such a claim.”
In a news release issued Wednesday, Acting U.S. Attorney Glenn B. McCormick pointed to the serious nature of Bray’s offense.
“The trafficking of weapons from the United States into Mexico – especially of the type and quantity smuggled by Bray Vazquez – has devastating repercussions in both countries,” he said, adding that the length of the sentence in the case “should serve as a warning that weapons smugglers, including anyone attempting to hide behind the veil of an official position, will pay a heavy price for their crimes.”