A former resident of Rio Rico who was arrested while trying to drive into Mexico in an SUV loaded with three AR-15-style assault rifles, two Glock handguns and three magazine clips, was sentenced to 2.5 years in federal prison, followed by three years of supervised release.
Ricardo Alberto Ruiz Pelayo, 24, originally of Nogales, Sonora, was sentenced last week at U.S. District Court in Tucson after he had previously pleaded guilty to one count of unlawfully smuggling goods from the United States.
Court records show that on Sept. 13, 2018, Ruiz was stopped during an outbound inspection at the Mariposa Port of Entry while driving a blue 2003 GMC Yukon. A U.S. Customs and Border Protection officer had noticed that the vehicle matched a “be on the lookout for” alert from Homeland Security Investigations.
A search of the Yukon turned up the weapons and magazines hidden under the seats. One of the rifles reportedly had a round chambered.
During a post-arrest interview, Ruiz told an investigating agent that he had been recruited for the smuggling job by someone who arranged for him to meet two men in the parking lot of the Walmart in Nogales. The men gave Ruiz the handguns, which he placed under the back seat. He then watched the pair put the rifles under another seat.
Ruiz said he was going to be paid $400 to smuggle the weapons to Nogales, Sonora.
In a pre-sentencing memo, defense lawyer Hugo Reyna wrote that Ruiz is a Mexican national who has a U.S. citizen fiancé and daughter, with whom he had lived in Rio Rico. Ruiz made his living buying cars in the United States and selling them in Mexico, but when than business went into decline, he sought another way to make some money to marry his fiancé.
“Mr. Pelayo has lived a life free of criminal activity,” wrote Reyna, who asked the judge to give Ruiz a 27-month prison term. “His actions in this case stand in stark contrast to how he has conducted himself within his community and society.”
Assistant U.S. Attorney Micah Schmidt recognized the defense’s position, but noted the violence wrought in Mexico with guns imported illegally from the United States. He asked the judge to impose a 51-month prison term.
“(For) this sentencing to be truly fair – to earnestly reflect a grander responsibility to stem the (global) violence facilitated by ‘American guns’ and to address those who seek to profit from it – those who distribute assault-style firepower to the streets of Mexico must be deterred just as much as those who wish to possess them,” he wrote in a response.
The U.S. Attorney’s Office noted in a news release that while Ruiz was residing lawfully in the United States at the time of his arrest, he will be deported to Mexico upon completion of his prison sentence.