An active duty Army National Guardsman has been sentenced to a little more than four years in prison for attempting to smuggle 14 and-one-half pounds of cocaine into the United States.
Jonathan Zarazua, a 28-year-old Austin resident, pleaded guilty on Jan. 13 to possession with intent to distribute a quantity of more than 5 kilograms of cocaine.
Federal court records show he reached a plea deal with prosecutors, who on Tuesday moved to dismiss three other drug trafficking charges, which U.S. District Judge Fernando Rodriguez Jr. dismissed.
The United States Attorney’s Office for the Southern District of Texas said in a news release that at the time of his Sept. 11, 2021 arrest Zarazua was an active duty guardsman employed as a petroleum supply specialist. The release notes he also served on active duty with the United States Army from 2016 to 2020.
U.S. Customs and Border Protection arrested him that day as he tried to enter the United States through the B&M International Bridge.
“He claimed he was returning after visiting his father in Mexico,” the release stated.
However, CBP officers used an x-ray on his vehicle which revealed anomalies and resulted in the discovery of the cocaine hidden in a false compartment under the center console, according to the release.
“Zarazua admitted to smuggling the cocaine for individuals in Mexico and to having smuggled drugs into the United States on at least 30 other occasions,” the release stated. “He further admitted he was specifically recruited because he could use his military status to facilitate crossing the border with illegal narcotics.”
Rodriguez, the judge, noted in handing down the sentence that he was responsible for trafficking numerous loads, according to the release.
He was not the only guardsman arrested for cocaine trafficking that year.
Two days after his arrest, Homeland Security Investigations arrested 21-year-old Derrick Terelle Sankey, a member of the Alabama National Guard.
HSI had received information several days prior to his arrest that he was involved in moving and distributing drugs and set up a sting.
Sankey was in uniform and driving a Border Patrol vehicle when special agents arrested him at a Whataburger in Hidalgo where he had agreed to pick up a kilogram of cocaine that he would deliver to a DoubleTree hotel in McAllen.
He has pleaded not guilty.
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