Federal documents state a gun smuggling operation allegedly run by three public officials from a tiny New Mexico border town had ties to Mexican drug cartels and some of the weapons were used in several murders.
Last week, federal agents raided Columbus in Luna County arresting Mayor Eddie Espinoza, Village Trustee Blas Gutierrez and Chief of Police Angelo Vega, along with several others. In total, 11 people are accused of smuggling guns into the Mexican cities of Cíudad Juarez and Palomas.
Palomas sits just across the border from Columbus.
For the first time the federal arresting agencies have officially said Espinoza and Gutierrez helped traffic firearms to Mexican drug cartels. Vega and eight others are charged as conspirators.
Prosecutors said the smuggling operation helped the cartels wage their bloody turf wars with shocking efficiency. Federal documents track the guns from New Mexico to the streets of Cíudad Juarez and Palomas and the crimes committed with the weapons.
Agents with the Bureau of Alcohol, Tobacco, Firearms and Explosives or ATF have connected some of the guns to at least eight recent murders in those cities.
Mexican authorities are looking into whether the 11 should be charged in those crimes.
The ATF said guns from the smuggling operation were also seized during drug raids and turned up in a bust of a kidnapping operation in Juarez.
Federal documents also show that the village trustee, Blas Gutierrez, and Police Chief Angelo Vega were working to outfit a village van so they could smuggle 600 pounds of drugs for the cartel.
On Tuesday, a federal judge denied bail for the three public officials.
In total eight men are being held without bond. The two women charged in the case are free on bond.
Agents said one of the eleven suspects has not appeared in court yet. Ignacio Villalobos, 24, is still on the run.