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A U.S. Customs and Border Protection (CBP) press release from May notes that officers intercepted a shipment containing narcotics on May 7 when a secondary inspection was ordered for a 1998 Freightliner trailer hauling a shipment manifested as motor vehicle parts. A canine and non-intrusive imaging system examination was done.

Finding anomalies in the trailer, they prepared to open the doors, but before they could, the driver admitted that he knew drugs were inside. The trailer contained 198 bundles of weed, weighing about 4,600 pounds (2,087 kg) and having an estimated street value of US$875,000 (about $1.1 million).

That is when the kidnapping hoax began to take form. Maldonardo-Espino “claimed a Mexican drug cartel was holding his wife hostage and forced him to smuggle the narcotics,” notes the statement from U.S. Attorney Ryan Patrick.

The driver had painted a horrific picture of coercion, in which he was forced to smuggle cannabis into the U.S. since the cartel had taken his wife hostage.

The hoax was revealed, though, when the authorities simply contacted his wife by phone and she “appeared to be calm and not under distress.” The resident of Nuevo Laredo, Mexico eventually came clean that the story was simply a lie.

U.S. District Judge Marina Garcia-Marmolejo didn’t take kindly to the reported hoax. The court reasoned that “falsely claiming your family is being threatened hurts others — those that actually do have that happen,” notes the SDTX statement. “More who falsely claim the cartel is threatening them could cause authorities to be less inclined to believe them,” it adds.

A canine and non-intrusive imaging system examination was done to identify anomalies and pinpoint the drugs. / Photo: U.S. Customs and Border Protection Photo by U.S. Customs and Border Protection

Citing the stiff sentence from the judge, Homeland Security Investigations (HSI) “will continue to work closely with our law enforcement partners to protect our communities and bring drug smugglers to justice,” adds Special Agent in Charge Shane Folden, a special agent with HSI’s Immigration and Customs Enforcement.

Maldonardo-Espino will remain in custody pending transfer to a U.S. Bureau of Prisons facility to be determined in the near future. He could have faced up to life in prison, notes an earlier statement from SDTX.

Mexico has taken a big step towards legalizing cannabis with the Senate’s approval in a landslide vote this week. Texas, for its part, has a number of weed-related bills before its House, but weed remains illegal in the state.