“MX” for Borderland Beat
|Mug shot of Cerbando Acosta Carbajal|
In his past criminal cases, Cerbando Acosta-Carbajal got off lightly for being a small fish in the large pond of crime along the Mexican border.
But Acosta’s latest run-in with federal agents has him facing up to 20 years in federal prison.
Acosta, 29, is charged with trying to smuggle semiautomatic rifles, pistols and thousands of rounds of ammunition into Mexico and is being held in pretrial detention because of his suspected ties to La Linea, the cartel that took over the port of Palomas in Mexico when the hierarchy of the Juárez Cartel fell apart.
Acosta lives in Palomas, Chihuahua, but ran a business in the Columbus, New Mexico area, so he was used to crossing the border on a regular basis, according to court records. He has relatives in the United States and Mexico. He has a New Mexico driver’s license and a Social Security number.
In late January, Acosta was stopped by U.S. Customs Border Protection officers leaving the country in a black Cadillac ATS.
Acosta volunteered to the officers that he had purchased ammunition, which was enough for them to send Acosta and his Cadillac to secondary inspection where they searched the trunk of his vehicle.
Hidden behind bags of laundry, officers found rifles and pistols in more bags in the back of the trunk. The ammunition was found in the spare tire wheel well of the trunk, according to a criminal complaint filed in the case.
Acosta is facing charges that he attempted to smuggle three AK-47 semiautomatic rifles, three semiautomatic pistols, 3,300 rounds of ammunition and 29 magazines for the firearms into Mexico.
But it is his criminal past and ties to Mexican organized crime that have kept him in pretrial detention. Acosta has prior convictions for drug trafficking, money laundering and conspiracy to transport immigrants who were in the country illegally.
Ruled a danger
U.S. Magistrate Judge Kevin Sweazea ordered Acosta held until trial because his criminal history “indicates that he likely has ties to a Mexico-based criminal organization which creates a danger to the community.”
Acosta is charged with being a convicted felon in possession of firearms and ammunition, and attempting to smuggle the weapons into Mexico.
He faces 10 years in prison for each charge.
In 2015, Acosta was indicted on drug charges along with 20 others, including Ignacio Villalobos-Salinas.
Villalobos was, at that time, one of the leaders of La Linea and headed the organization that smuggled multiple kilogram loads of cocaine and marijuana from Juárez to Albuquerque. The organization moved its drug profits into Mexico through the Columbus-Palomas port of entry.
Acosta’s role was to bring drug money from Albuquerque to Palomas. He, like the others, were caught on federal wiretaps discussing and documenting the transactions.
The wiretaps on cell phones recorded Acosta sending photos of a bad batch of marijuana to Villalobos’ organization in Mexico, along with a series of texts dealing with how to replace the bad marijuana.
There also were text messages between Acosta and others telling him where to pick up tens of thousands of dollars in Albuquerque and where to drop the money off in Deming and on some occasions in Palomas.
In 2016, Acosta pleaded guilty to conspiracy and money laundering charges and was sentenced to time served and three years of probation. Villalobos, who has long been on the radar of federal law enforcement, was never arrested in that case.
He was also named, but not arrested, in a case involving Columbus town officials who were buying firearms and transporting them to Palomas for Villalobos in 2011. The town officials pleaded guilty or were convicted.
While on federal probation for the 2015 case, Acosta was arrested in 2018 at a Border Patrol checkpoint on State Road 11 between Columbus and Deming in southern New Mexico.
According to court records, Acosta told agents he had been hired by a man named “El Morado” in Palomas to drive the two men to Albuquerque for $2,000. Acosta said he needed the money to pay his child support and that “El Morado” made the arrangements for him to pick up the two men in Columbus.
In court documents, Border Patrol agents identified “El Morado” as Oscar Munoz-Rivera and said he was one of the main human smugglers in the Palomas-Columbus area. Munoz’s criminal convictions involving human smuggling date to 1999.
Acosta pleaded guilty and was sentenced to three months in prison for violating his probation from the 2015 case and one month for the felony of transporting the immigrants who were in the country illegally.