A noted Tijuana architect received a lenient sentence for cocaine smuggling after authorities confirmed that he'd been forced to do so after being threatened by an unidentified client, highlighting the plight of unwilling drug mules in Mexico.
The architect, Eugenio Velazquez, was sentenced to six months in prison, although the minimum mandatory sentence for smuggling a controlled substance into the US is 10 years. Velazquez was arrested in March after US border authorities found a nearly 13-pound shipment of cocaine in his vehicle at the San Ysidro border crossing in San Diego.
A US federal judge issued the sentence after Velazquez's defense team was able corroborate assertions that he'd been forced at gunpoint into smuggling. According to Velazquez, a dual US-Mexico citizen who lives in San Diego, he was hired by a client to design a ranch outside of Tijuana. After the client demanded a $40,000 payment in return for providing Velazquez with security while crossing the border, the client threatened Velasquez and his family, saying that if he couldn't pay up, he would have to smuggle drugs into the US.
Velazquez, who is known for designing Tijuana's Cultural Center, said he was "satisfied" with the judge's ruling.
InSight Crime Analysis
Velazquez, an upper-middle-class professional with a successful career, does not fit the profile of a typical drug mule. The impoverished and unemployed frequently turn to drug smuggling or other forms of crime in order to survive economically.
Rather than economic need, there are other reasons why Velazquez's profile may have proved attractive to drug traffickers. He had a special permit that allowed him to cross the San Diego-Tijuana border rapidly. And as Proceso notes, professionals fearful of putting themselves further at risk are more likely to plead guilty to federal drug charges in the US, rather than agreeing to collaborate with investigators and naming names.
The Velazquez case calls attention to the forcible recruitment of unwilling drug smugglers by Mexican cartels. Migrants are frequently used to transport marijuana shipments across the US-Mexico border. Other victims have been used as forced labor. As documented in InSight Crime's special on human trafficking, these include young professionals and engineers used to work as communications technicians.