Reporting on the Mexican Cartel Drug War

Fed Wiretap Leak Linked to Gun Smugglers

Monday, November 26, 2012 |

By Mike Gallagher
Journal Investigative Reporter
Albuquerque Journal

Bordeland Beat

The husband of a federal prosecutor, charged with leaking wiretap information about a federal probe into a smuggling operation that provided guns, ammunition and body armor to the Juárez Cartel, was a longtime friend of one of the key players in the ring, the Journal has learned.

Former Police Chief Angelo Vega

Danny Burnett, who retired as superintendent of the Los Lunas School District in 2003, and former Columbus, N.M., Police Chief Angelo Vega were friends from their days in Lincoln County, where Vega was a deputy sheriff and Burnett an educator in the 1990s.

Vega was charged with providing security for the gun smuggling operation, earning $20,000 in a two-month period while running interference for Columbus Town Trustee Blas “Woody” Gutierrez. Both Vega and Gutierrez have pleaded guilty.

Vega was helping Gutierrez by buying police equipment, including bulletproof vests, identifying law enforcement undercover vehicles and generally running interference with federal and state law enforcement agencies.

Burnett, who is married to veteran Assistant U.S. Attorney Paula Burnett, has pleaded innocent. His attorney, Jacquelyn Robins, says she expects her client to be “exonerated.”

Paula Burnett resigned as chief of the U.S. Attorney’s Criminal Division and resumed her duties as a prosecutor. She has not been charged with any wrongdoing.
In court records, Burnett is accused of telling “John Doe Number One” about a wiretap investigation. That person, in turn, allegedly passed the information on to “John Doe Number Two.”

People familiar with the Columbus gun smuggling ring investigation have confirmed that Vega is John Doe Number One and Gutierrez is John Doe Number Two.

The U. S. Attorney’s Office for the Western District of Texas, which is handling the case, declined to comment beyond what is in Burnett’s indictment.

Prosecutors out of El Paso are handling the case because Burnett is married to a prosecutor in the Albuquerque U.S. Attorney’s office.

U.S. District Judge Claire V. Eagan of the Northern District of Oklahoma agreed to preside over the case at the request of then chief U.S. District Judge Bruce Black.
Eagan’s initial rulings in the case provide some indication as to how Danny Burnett might have found out about the wiretap, concluding that the case will present “unique” discovery issues because some of the documents involved are emails to or from federal prosecutor Paula Burnett.

“It is not always clear what emails are related to the criminal charges against defendant or if the e-mails are privileged,” Eagan wrote.

At the time of the alleged leak by her husband to Vega, Paula Burnett was head of the criminal division of the U.S. Attorney’s Office in Albuquerque overseeing all criminal prosecutions, including the Columbus investigation.

Federal wiretap orders used in criminal investigations have to be approved by the local U.S. Attorney’s Office and the Department of Justice in Washington before being presented to a federal judge for approval.

Vega’s career
According to federal court documents, during February 2011 The Bureau of Alcohol, Tobacco, Firearms and Explosives wiretapped the telephones of Gutierrez, owner of the Poncho Villa Saloon, as part of an investigation into a gun running operation shipping weapons to Mexico.

Several of the weapons the group smuggled were found at murder scenes in Palomas and Juárez.

According to several people familiar with the Columbus investigation, Burnett became a friend and mentor to Vega when the two men lived in Lincoln County. Vega’s law enforcement career is checkered by two criminal charges.

In 1996, he was indicted by a Lincoln County grand jury on two counts of extortion and one count of intimidation of a witness. He pleaded guilty to a misdemeanor charge as part of a plea agreement.

In 1998, he was appointed police chief of Carrizozo and was arrested in 2001 on stalking and harassment charges, which were later dropped. He left Carrizozo in 2005 and took a job with the state as director of the J. Paul Taylor Juvenile Justice Center in Las Cruces.

In 2007, Vega became a marshal for the town of Mesilla, and left in 2009 to become chief of police in Columbus.

Busy month
If members of a gun smuggling ring operating out of Columbus were tipped off that federal agents were using wiretaps to investigate them, it didn’t keep them off the telephones.

And it didn’t stop them from buying guns to ship to Mexico.

February 2011 was a busy month for the smuggling ring, particularly for Police Chief Vega and town trustee and bar keep, Gutierrez.

According to court records, the two men purchased police gear on Feb. 10 to send to members of La Linea, the enforcement arm of the Juárez Cartel that was then in pitched battles with the Sinaloa Cartel.

♦ On Feb. 12, 2011, State Police stopped Gutierrez and seized 10 firearms bound for his contacts in Mexico.

♦ On Feb. 14, federal agents using a “delayed notice” search warrant seized 20 AK-47 type pistols, 30 high capacity magazines and a Dremel tool used to grind serial numbers off the guns from an apartment in El Paso that Gutierrez and others used to store the weapons for shipment to Mexico.

Gutierrez’s consternation over the disappearance and replacement of the weapons filled wiretap transcripts over the next several days.

♦ On Feb. 14, Burnett allegedly leaked information about the federal wiretaps to Vega.

♦ On Feb. 16, Vega tried to help Gutierrez retrieve the 10 weapons seized by State Police with Vega vouching for Gutierrez to federal agents.

♦ On Feb. 18, Vega agreed to buy four bulletproof vests for Gutierrez to send to one of the leaders of La Linea.

♦ On Feb. 23, Gutierrez arranged the purchase of 10 AK-47 type pistols and 1,500 rounds of ammunition. The same day Vega made a telephone call to an ATF agent stating that Gutierrez is not involved in gun smuggling.
The arrests were made in March.

Ten of the 11 defendants, including Gutierrez, have pleaded guilty. The one defendant who has not pleaded guilty, Ignacio “Nacho” Villalobos, is a fugitive.
Vega has not been sentenced. He pleaded guilty in August, and his plea agreement is sealed.

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12 Borderland Beat Comments:

Anonymous said...

These pigs are killers of Mexicans. Lynch 'em.

Anonymous said...

Only trying to defend there turf from greedy fuk Chapo anyways.

Anonymous said...

Those guys weren't nearly big enough to deal weapons. Corporations with pentagon connections pour weapons into conflicts all over the world. And by the way, corporations moving products both within groups under a parent company and other companies account for more and 40% of our trade and maybe 70% of the dope market. Still, the bad men stories on this site are interesting.

Anonymous said...

Buggs, I live in the US and believe anyone who is responsible for protecting us from "The bad guys" and abuses there power, should get double the sentence. As if the US isn't already guilty of being the most addicted country on Earth, this continues to happen?? May they rot in Hell. My apologies to all effected in Mexico due to even more greed perpetratored on them. Thanks for this story, once again a story not covered by the US media.

Anonymous said...

These parasites should be given the death penalty for treason. How many lives were affected by this, and to commit these crimes under the color of authority with the access to information on people they have who knows how many have died on both sides of the border due to their greedy criminal ways. His life is over for 20,000? really?? what a fool

Anonymous said...

Árticle clearly shows the Us corruption. N yet pepple turn around n constantly blame mexicans

Anonymous said...

Absolute "Scum Bags" with badges of authority no less.? How the fuck do egg heads like this get into any type of position of authority..? I would imagine that the town of Columbus can't have more than a General Store and Post office
for an Ass Hole like this to become it's Cheif of Police. The guy's been told allready that he's under investigation by the Fed's and he still keeps selling weapons; just unbeleivable.

Anonymous said...

So small potatoes. All you angry arm chair warriors forget about what Eric Holder did and then lied through his teeth to the entire country? idiots...you love the latest face to point fingers at but suffer from short memory and fat asses that can't get away from the computer to do anything meaningful.

Anonymous said...

Crazy world we live in, little by little the criminals are getting police officers to work for them one way or another. The same thing is happening in San Diego Ca, Logan Heights gang members have friends in the San Diego police and no one is doing nothing about it.

Anonymous said...


Southwest Side cocaine crew member sentenced to 60 years

BY KIM JANSSEN Federal Courts Reporter kjanssen@suntimes.com November 27, 2012 2:18PM
Reprints


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Updated: November 27, 2012 6:37PM



A member of a brutal Southwest Side cocaine crew that murdered rivals and teamed up with a corrupt cop was sentenced to 60 years in prison Tuesday.

Jorge Uriarte — one of three brothers who prosecutors said worked for admitted drug kingpin Saul Rodriguez — was handed the sentence by Federal Court Judge Joan Gotschall, almost a year after he was convicted on racketeering, gun and drug charges alongside five co-defendants.





The crew kidnapped, robbed and killed rivals as well as sold drugs. Former Chicago cop Glen Lewellen — a onetime narcotics officer — was part of their drug conspiracy, a jury found.

Uriarte is the third member of Rodriguez’s crew to be sentenced.

His brother Hector and Lewellen are due to be sentenced in January. Rodriguez, who pleaded guilty and testified against his former buddies to avoid the death penalty, faces 40 years behind bars under a plea deal.

Anonymous said...

Don't you think these guys should be worried, after stealing hundreds and hundreds and hundreds of kilos of cocaine from Chapo Guzman. I wonder if he is mad at them.

I guess they never think about what might happen if they get caught.

Lewellen is a cop, so maybe they will leave him alone.

Anonymous said...

i remember hearing about this but, like all stories in this region it gets burried within a few days, New Mexico is just that, mexico... same good old boy types just a bunch of sweaty fatasses doing desperate shit....

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