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Drug-Smuggling Architect Sentenced

Wednesday, December 12, 2012

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A renowned Tijuana architect busted for trying to enter the U.S. with more than just a blueprint received a light sentence Monday (Dec. 10) in federal court after saying that he had been forced to become a drug mule.

Eugenio Velazquez, 51, of San Diego, will spend just six months in prison and six months in home confinement for attempting to bring 12.8 pounds of cocaine into the United States at San Diego's San Ysidro port of entry, according to authorities.

Eugenio Velazquez
sandiegored.com / Courtesy of Semanario Zeta

Eugenio Velazquez's story of how he was threatened by narcotraffickers to carry drugs across the border swayed the judge to order a lighter punishment.

The federal judge ordered the unusually light punishment—the architect had faced more than 10 years in prison—after Velazquez told the judge that drug traffickers had threatened to kill him if he refused to carry the drugs, reports said.

The designer behind some of the most prominent Tijuana structures, including the art museum and a new Roman Catholic Cathedral, will report Jan. 11, 2013, to begin serving his sentence, reports say.

Smuggling the Drugs

Velazquez, a dual U.S and Mexican citizen, attempted to bring the drugs in to the country by using a special lane for prescreened and trusted motorists on March 4, 2012.

A drug-sniffing dog alerted border inspectors to five packages hidden inside the battery of his 2004 Nissan Quest, reports said. The value of the contraband was estimated at $464,000.

The architect pleaded guilty in June for importing a controlled substance and faced a minimum mandatory sentence of 10 years.

Judge Swayed

However, U.S. District Court Judge Thomas Whelan was swayed by Velazquez's story when he doled out a light sentence. While the story is one that is common in these types of cases, federal prosecutors were able to verify the facts, giving the judge discretion.

"I never imagined I would be standing here," Velazquez reportedly told the judge. He had no prior criminal record.

Mexico and US border
U.S. Department of Defense

The architect tried to bring nearly 13 pounds of cocaine from Tijuana, Mexico (right), into the U.S. (left).

Doomed Ranch Project

The architect's downfall began with a project to design the facade of a ranch in Tijuana, according to reports that cited court documents filed by his attorney, Jeremy Warren.

Velazquez, who was nervous about drug-related violence in the area, accepted his client's offer to provide personal security while he traveled from his home in San Diego to the ranch. The architect referred a friend who also wanted the protection, reports note. However, after an unspecified amount of time, the client (unidentified in documents) demanded that the men pay $40,000 or drive drugs across the border, reports said.

The court documents said that the client flipped a coin to determine who would transport the drugs and Velazquez lost.

He surrendered his minivan for packing and was told to move the drugs in March.

"Fear and uncertainty are the worst of counselors one could have," the judge said. "They paralyze you and one acts stupidly because your mind plays games on you."

Prosecutors had originally asked for a sentence of two and half years in prison but did not argue after the judge indicated he was leaning toward a more lenient punishment, reports said. The architect's attorney reportedly asked the judge for a one-year sentence of home confinement.

The judge also said the architect's long record of community service and his cooperation with authorities played a role in the sentencing, reports said.

Project Portfolio, Working on Bond

Velazquez's 30-year body of work includes more than 400 residential, commercial and liturgical projects, including an expansion of the Tijuana Cultural Center (known as El Cubo) and the police headquarters.

Tijuana Cultural Center
Wikimedia Commons

Architect Eugenio Velaquez's works include the Tijuana Cultural Center, known as El Cubo.

After the designer was freed on bond, he and a friend reportedly opened an architecture and interior design firm in Chula Vista, CA.

Reports note that he is moving forward with Tijuana's Our Lady of Guadalupe Cathedral, which is now under construction.

"He desperately wants to complete the project, and the church has stood behind him as the architect whose vision has been and will continue to be embodied throughout the structures and grounds," his attorney told the court.


Tagged categories: Architects; Architecture; Criminal acts; Design; Ethics; Laws and litigation

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