These AK-47 and AR-15 rifles were seized in a recent operation that netted more than 200 firearms. Photo: Robin Jerstad, For The Express-News / SA
My San Antonio News
Authorities said Wednesday that in breaking up a San Antonio-based smuggling ring that funneled guns to the Zetas drug cartel across the border from Eagle Pass and Del Rio, they seized 203 weapons but were unable to stop every shipment.
Officers said they confiscated mostly assault-style rifles and one .50-caliber Barrett sniper rifle in five separate shipments between May and August 2010. But they said they also learned that three other shipments with an unknown number of weapons made it to Mexico before they started investigating.
They arrested 22 defendants — all from the San Antonio area — accused in the smuggling, nine of whom have been sentenced to prison terms ranging from one year to 14.
The defendants include eight housewives, authorities said. One defendant recruited his mother as a “straw buyer” and his aunt to be a transporter, said Crisanto Perez, assistant special agent in charge of the ATF in San Antonio.
Authorities said the smuggling organization was led by Marino Castro Jr., 27, and Edward Levar Davis, 33. Davis was sentenced to 14 years in prison for his role. Castro is awaiting sentencing in Del Rio.
The announcement came a day after Keith Edwards, 23, was sentenced in Del Rio to 87 months and Ricky Gonzales, 22, got 42 months.
It was made by U.S. Attorney Robert Pitman and his prosecutors, joined by agents with the U.S. Bureau of Alcohol, Tobacco, Firerams and Explosives, U.S.
Immigration and Customs Enforcement's Homeland Security Investigations and the Bexar County Sheriff's Office.
“What we're talking about today really is just a part of the larger cycle of corruption of society by the illegal drug market,” Pitman said. “These prosecutions are meant to hold those responsible for putting ... firearms in the hands of violent drug traffickers accountable for the part that they play.”
The case began when ATF agents received a tip that one of the defendants was acting as a straw buyer of firearms from licensed gun dealers here for shipment to Mexico.
A straw purchaser is a U.S. citizen with a clean background who generally is paid to lie on sales paperwork to buy guns for someone else.
Buyers were paid $100 to $200 for each gun, which typically retail for $800 to $1,400, depending on the manufacturer.
Jerry Robinette, special agent in charge of ICE-Homeland Security Investigations in San Antonio, described the licensed gun dealers as “our eyes and ears” who cooperate with law enforcement in such cases.
The tip grew into four separate investigations, and agents connected their leads to the same cell. They said the case wasn't connected to this week's arrest of 13 others suspected of providing tactical rifles to the Zetas.
The ATF's Perez warned the public to be aware that the criminal element is recruiting younger people. Half of the defendants in the Castro-Davis case were between the ages of 22 and 25.
“One hundred dollars to buy a gun for someone is not worth ruining your life,” Perez said. “You will be investigated, you will be arrested and you will be prosecuted.