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Ojinaga cartel boss facing life sentence after pleading guilty in smuggling case

Hannah Gentiles for Marfa Public Radio
A view of the international port of entry from Presidio, Texas to Ojinaga, Mexico.

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The onetime leader of a cartel in the Mexican border city of Ojinaga is facing the likelihood of life in prison after pleading guilty in a drug trafficking case that began when authorities found him wandering alone along a rural border highway in Texas.

Sergio Menchaca Pizarro - also known as “El Menchaca,” among other aliases - was arrested in August 2023 after Border Patrol agents spotted him walking along FM 170 near Presidio, just over the border from Ojinaga.

According to court records, the agents discovered Menchaca was a U.S. citizen and initially detained him for entering the U.S. by crossing the river instead of using a proper port of entry.

He was later indicted alongside multiple other people - some of whom have not been named publicly - for allegedly leading the Ojinaga area operations of La Línea cartel.

On June 28, court records show, Menchaca pleaded guilty to an organized crime charge brought against him under a powerful law sometimes known as the “Kingpin Statute” that is designed for high-level prosecutions of drug traffickers.

According to court records, Menchaca’s guilty plea subjects him to a mandatory life sentence under provisions of the law that allow for more severe penalties if a person is found to be a “principal organizer” of a sizable drug smuggling operation.

Menchaca’s defense attorney declined to comment.

Menchaca has also pleaded guilty to human smuggling and firearms charges brought against him and the other defendants in the case. Under the plea deal, he is also facing the prospect of more than $2 million dollars in fines and government seizure of his assets.

Sentencing in the case is currently set for Sept. 20.

Travis Bubenik is All Things Considered Host and Big Bend Reporter at Marfa Public Radio.