Man accused of illegally exporting 63 bales of used clothing through Donna bridge

A long line of cars wait to be processed into the United States at the Donna-Rio Bravo International Bridge on Wednesday, Dec. 20, 2023. (Dina Arévalo | [email protected])
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A United States citizen was arrested at the Donna-Rio Bravo International Bridge for attempting to export 63 bales of used clothing into Mexico without a license to export or import merchandise, according to a criminal complaint.

Norberto De La Fuente Rodríguez, who was born in 1979, was charged with smuggling goods from the U.S.

On Tuesday, U.S. Customs and Border Protection Officers encountered De La Fuente as he drove a white Ford van toward the outbound inspection area of the bridge while they were conducting outbound inspections of vehicles and merchandise, the complaint said.

The officers immediately took notice of De La Fuente’s strange behavior.

“(CBP officers) stated that De La Fuente appeared to stop upon the road leading to the outbound inspection area of the port of entry upon noticing that (officers) were actively conducting outbound inspections of vehicles,” the complaint said.

“De La Fuente was seen reversing his vehicle and parked at a nearby bus stop approximately 100 meters from the outbound inspection area, exiting his vehicle and watching the (officers) as they conducted inspections,” the complaint stated.

When he noticed the officers stopped outbound inspections, De La Fuente was then seen sprinting to his vehicle and driving “rapidly” toward the inspection where he was stopped by the officers in order to conduct an inspection of his vehicle and its cargo.

It was then revealed that De La Fuente was in possession of 63 bales of used bulk clothing bound for Mexico.

“(CBP officers) know through experience that the shipment of used clothing in such quantity is part of a large informal commercial enterprise that occurs on the U.S./Mexico border, and that it is exceedingly common for drivers such as De La Fuente to cross the U.S./Mexico border with great regularity engaged in the unregulated exportation of goods to avoid reporting requirements,” the complaint said.

In an interview with Homeland Security Investigations special agents, De La Fuente admitted that the clothing was not his property and was bound for exportation to Mexico where it was to be distributed to many waiting recipients in Matamoros.

He added that the value of the clothing exceeded the declarable amount and was estimated to be greater than $3,000.

De La Fuente further stated that he’s not a registered customs broker, had no license to import or export merchandise and didn’t make or was aware of any export declaration for the merchandise.

However, agents noted that De La Fuente was aware that importation and exportation of merchandise from the U.S. is controlled by U.S. laws and regulations as evidenced by administrative violations CBP officers imposed on him in several previous incidents.

According to the complaint, De La Fuente had been previously apprehended for commercial merchandise in 2019 and was educated on the procedures for shipping such merchandise.

He made a first appearance in McAllen federal court in front of U.S. Magistrate Judge J. Scott Hacker on Thursday morning where he was temporarily held without bond pending a detention hearing, court records show.