"The night before, I went to buy groceries, [and] I took all the groceries out [of the trunk]," he recalled. "I knew there was nothing there."
Andres was charged with drug possession with the intent to distribute. He spent six months in various U.S. jails awaiting trial.
"It was really difficult to be there, knowing you're surrounded by criminals. I tried not to talk to people there. Sometimes, it was scary because of the gangs. ... It was depressing."
He could've taken what's called a "safety valve" plea -- it's an option for first-time drug trafficking and drug possession offenders with little or no criminal history.
Andres maintained his innocence and instead opted for a jury trial, hoping his peers would be able to see the truth. But they didn't.
On May 10, Andres was found guilty of possession and intent to distribute marijuana. He faced up to three years in prison. Had he had a criminal record, he could've been sentenced to up to 20 years in prison.
How the scam works
Drug cartels were well aware of the SENTRI pass system and concocted a plan to take advantage of it. Jesus Chavez and Carlos Alberto Gomez, both Mexican citizens living in Texas, were recently accused in a 20-page criminal complaint of doing just that.
According to the complaint, Chavez and Gomez allegedly paid lookouts to monitor SENTRI pass drivers -- noting the time of day, as well as the make, model and color of their cars -- as they drove over the bridge.
The lookouts targeted students and professionals who typically have consistent routines.
Once they identified a possible target, they followed the car as it returned to the Mexican side of the border. Then, they approached the car at night, copied the vehicle identification number (VIN) off the dashboard and gave the number to Chavez and Gomez.
They also planted GPS tracking devices on the car so they could monitor its movements between Juarez and El Paso.
The complaint alleges that Chavez and Gomez took the VIN to a Texas-based locksmith who had access to key code sources for the vehicles. With that information, the locksmith made two keys for each vehicle -- one for Chavez and Gomez, and the other for Juarez-based accomplices.
The co-conspirators allegedly used their copy of the key to unlock the trunk of the target vehicle at night and place two duffel bags inside. The bags contained about 60 pounds of marijuana each and were both secured with zip ties.
The unsuspecting driver transported the drugs across the border unknowingly, and according to the complaint, Chavez and Gomez retrieved the drugs using their key once the driver was in the United States.
It was a simple, effective plan. But there was one problem: All the cases had striking similarities. And that caught the eye of a judge -- but not until after innocent people, like Andres, had been convicted of smuggling drugs.
'A common pattern'
Three days after his conviction, Andres was called back to court for a status hearing.
"That's when I found out my lawyer had filed a motion for acquittal," Andres said. "[The judge] said there had been similar cases to mine, [and] he told the prosecution to investigate."
Senior U.S. District Judge David Briones, a 17-year judicial veteran, had noticed the pattern in the cases.
"I got information about [District Judge Philip R.] Martinez's trial this week with almost the exact same facts: Two bags in the trunk, each with about 50 pounds tied together, and the individual was again inspected at the [commuter] lane," Briones told Andres' attorneys and the prosecutors at the status hearing that afternoon in May.
"I, quite frankly, think that an injustice has been done," he said.
The judge dismissed the case against Andres, and he was released that day.
"When the judge dismissed [the case], I thought he really was wise," Andres said. "How could he see all the things that surrounded it -- the previous cases, the lack of evidence? I was really impressed to hear those words from his mouth. I'm really thankful for the wisdom he showed."
Six weeks later, the charges against him were dismissed. By then, the judge had alerted the FBI, which had launched an investigation. In late July, federal investigators issued a criminal complaint.