The Arizona Republic
Federal authorities announced charges today against 34 Arizonans accused of buying about 700 guns in gun stores in the state on behalf of Mexico's Sinaloa drug cartel.
The arrests and seizures are proof that Arizona has become an iron highway for guns headed south of the border, according to federal authorities, who say they don't know how many weapons are being smuggled into Mexico every day.
Dozens of AK-47s, and .50 caliber rifles were among the semi-automatic weapons legally purchased in single-day transactions at Arizona gun stores by straw buyers paid by the cartel, said U.S. Attorney Dennis Burke.
"This is a huge problem in this state. It is a strange phenomenon," Burke said at a press conference at a federal office in Phoenix, where guns similar to the types of those seized were laid out side by side on a table. "Drug cartels go shopping for their war weapons here in Arizona."
At least 17 people were arrested Tuesday in five cases involving a joint crackdown by the Bureau of Alcohol, Tobacco and Firearms, Immigration and Customs Enforcement, the Internal Revenue Service and the Phoenix Police Department.
"Straw buyers have as much blood on their hands . . . as the ones who pull the trigger," said Bill Newell, special agent in charge of the Phoenix ATF.
All of those indicted are U.S. citizens or legal residents. The indictments were unsealed Tuesday and included both ring organizers and straw buyers.
An example of case is that of defendant Joshua Moore, who bought six AK-47 type rifles from a gun store in Prescott in 2009, according to the indictments. Three days later, he bought two AK-47s from a gun store in Glendale. Seven days later, he bought 10 from the same Glendale store. Two days later, he bought five more. Less then a month later, he bought 20 from the same gun store. Three months later he bought 10 more from the same Glendale gun store.
The purchases themselves are legal. Nothing in the law prohibits citizens from buying guns. But authorities say Moore lied on federal firearms applications by declaring that he was buying the guns for himself.
Guns were traced back to buyers after they were seized by customs inspectors at border checkpoints or after being used in crimes in Mexico, authorities said.
In all, 560 of the ring's guns were recovered, a third in Mexico and the rest mostly in Arizona.