Mexican architect given light prison term for smuggling drugs to U.S. under duress

Mon Dec 10, 2012 11:05pm EST
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By Marty Graham

SAN DIEGO (Reuters) - A Tijuana architect who admitted smuggling drugs across the U.S.-Mexico border was ordered on Monday to serve six months in prison in an unusually lenient sentence taking into account that he committed the crime under threats to his family.

Eugenio Velazquez, who designed one of Tijuana's most widely recognized landmarks - the cube-shaped addition to the Tijuana Cultural Center - also was ordered to remain under home confinement for six months following his release from federal prison.

Velazquez had pleaded guilty to a single count of illegally importing narcotics under a deal with prosecutors that spared him what would have been a much harsher penalty.

Prosecutors said they agreed to recommend the lighter-than-usual sentence because Velazquez was able to corroborate assertions that he had been coerced into trying to sneak cocaine into California out of fear for the safety of his family.

Claims of coercion in similar cases frequently go unproven, they said.

"People we arrest have been saying it all along," said Joe Garcia, the deputy special agent in charge of the San Diego office of Immigrations and Customs Enforcement. "More times than not, we are able to debunk those claims."

For Velazquez, who also designed the new Tijuana police station and is currently designing a new Roman Catholic cathedral in Baja, Mexico, his ordeal began with a coin toss, according to court documents.

A new client had offered Velazquez and an unnamed physician protection for their families, then told them at gunpoint they owed $40,000 for that protection or could pay it off by smuggling drugs.   Continued...