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on the border line between the US and Mexico

Sunday, August 16, 2020

A shootout in Mexico left 23 dead and led ATF agents to Houston

Gus "P" for Borderland Beat   HoustonChron

The first shot sounded like a transformer exploding.

Narcedalia Padrón Arizpe was at city hall Nov. 30 in Villa Union, the small Mexican border town where she serves as mayor.

Then bullets began hitting the building, ripping chunks of stucco from the walls. They slammed through glass, smashed through computers and left fist-sized holes in windows.

She dove for cover. Outside, a convoy of armored pickups emblazoned with CDN rumbled through the streets. Cartel gunmen, many who looked to be teens, spent hours shooting up the town with high-powered rifles — with an arsenal later connected to a home just south of Houston.

“The whole pueblo convulsed,” Arizpe said. “Everything was perforated.”

State security forces responded hours later. Battles over two days claimed the lives of 17 cartel gunmen, four police officers and two unarmed residents of Villa Union. The attack by the Cartel del Noreste left residents traumatized and fearing for their lives, Arizpe said.

Investigators recovered 27 large-caliber weapons, including six .50-caliber Barrett rifles, 22 vehicles, and bulletproof helmets and vests.

 Law enforcement in the two countries began investigating how American arms ended up fueling a violent gun battle in a town 43 miles across the border. U.S. agents tracked arms connected to the shootout. So far, prosecutors have charged 15 people in Texas in purchases of more than 100 guns suspected of having been trafficked to Mexico.

But experts in Mexico and the U.S. say law enforcement is fighting a losing battle, armed with low-grade charges that are little deterrent against trafficking rings motivated by a lucrative $125 million shadow industry.

The City Hall of Villa Union is riddled with bullet holes after a gunbattle between Mexican security forces and suspected cartel gunmen, Saturday, Nov. 30, 2019.

Two investigations
Five days after the Villa Union shootout, police in Brownsville responded to reports of a business getting shot up, and arrested a man named Victor Camacho. During the arrest, they found four assault-style rifles wrapped in blue painter’s tape, a Glock pistol and a stockpile of high-powered ammunition, including ammo fit for military-grade submachine guns.

Bureau of Alcohol, Tobacco, Firearms and Explosives agents traced the weapons back to Zeroed-in-Armory, a Pearland gun shop owned by 32-year-old man named Khalid Abdulaziz. He ran the business out of a house on Roy Road in Brazoria County, about 13 miles southeast of downtown Houston.

The stop of Camacho led to two investigations: one into the ZIA gun shop and one into how the guns moved across the border.

Mexico has struggled for decades to control drug smuggling, human trafficking and cartel violence. The country has strict gun laws, bans the sale of assault weapons, and has only one store where citizens can legally buy guns.

“You have a largely unregulated market for guns north of the border, and a severely restricted market for guns in Mexico,” said David Shirk, a political science professor at the University of San Diego.

The pipeline of weapons flowing from the U.S. to Mexico arms enables violent cartels and contributes to the nation’s soaring homicide rate.

Citing a 2016 U.S. Government Accountability Office report on efforts to combat firearms trafficking, Alicia Kerber Palma, Mexico’s Consul General in Houston said about 41 percent of firearms seized in Mexico from 2009-2014 and traced back to the U.S. came from Texas. Many of those weapons are purchased to be used in crimes just across the border, she said, adding that efforts to stop organized crime or drug trafficking would be hobbled without addressing gun smuggling.

Houston sees high numbers of gun trafficking cases, said Fred Milanowski, Special Agent-in-Charge of ATF’s Houston Field Division. Investigators began seeing a spike in trafficking in the Houston region about three years ago, prompting ATF to put a new team together to focus on the problem, Milanowski said.

Last year, members of ATF Houston’s crime gun strike force arrested 143 people and identified more than 1,100 weapons they suspect were trafficked, according to internal numbers provided to the Chronicle.

Traffickers smuggle the weapons in small shipments, which makes stopping the flow of guns more difficult.

“It’s just not difficult to buy firearms in the U.S. and drive across the border pretty much undetected,” said J.J. Ballesteros, a retired ATF agent.

Soldiers escort five alleged members of the Zetas drug gang during their presentation to the press in Mexico City, Thursday, June 9, 2011. More than 200 weapons were seized after the five men were arrested near the city of Villa Union, in Mexico's Coahuila state.

The gun shop

Court records say traffickers bought scores of weapons from the ZIA gunshop.

Israel Chapa Jr. of Houston was a purchaser, and ATF agents said he bought 156 weapons over a six-month period starting in July. One of those — a belt-fed .50 caliber rifle bought by Chapa on Nov. 19 — was later found among Cartel del Noreste weapons by Mexican security forces after the Villa Union shootout.

When investigators found Chapa on Dec. 13, he said he’d sold all of the weapons purchased at ZIA to a man named “Jose.” He later changed his statement to say the majority of the weapons were sold to Camacho, the man police stopped in Brownsville.

ATF agents said Chapa used straw purchasers for some of his gun buys. One woman bought 19 weapons from ZIA between Nov. 7 and Dec. 18.

She told investigators, according to a federal criminal complaint, that Chapa would give her large sums of cash, and when she went to ZIA she would either say she was there to “pick up a shipment” or she’d say “what’s up man.”

A ZIA employee would have the weapons ready even though she hadn’t ordered in advance, and she would drive the weapons to north Houston, dropping them off with a man in a dark Cadillac Escalade, she told investigators.

Investigators later used this information to charge Chapa with making a straw purchase.

Firearms traffickers frequently recruit straw purchasers — typically people who don’t have criminal records that would make it illegal for them to buy weapons — to make large buys. Smugglers give straw purchasers money to buy guns — and pay them $100 for each gun they obtain — and then sell them in Mexico for twice or three times what they originally paid.

A soldier stands guard outside the City Hall in Villa Union, Coahuila state, Mexico, on Dec. 2, 2019. Mexican security forces were searching for the gunmen involved in the armed attack on Villa Union on Nov. 30 and Dec. 1.

After the ATF learned of the local link to the Villa Union shootout, agents spent months building a case against people they say were involved in a gun-running ring that bought and transported hundreds of guns into Mexico. They used confidential informants to make purchases at the ZIA gun shop.

One of the informants was a convicted felon and thus prohibited from buying firearms. The other was not a felon and therefore could pass the FBI National Instant Criminal Background Check.

On March 27 the two informants went to ZIA. The felon discussed purchases with Abdulaziz, according to a federal criminal complaint filed in the case. When Abdulaziz asked for a driver’s license in order to do a background check the informant said he had a criminal background. Abdulaziz suggested that the person with him could make the purchase; he put the sale through under the name of the second informant and then handed the weapons to the person he understood to be a felon, investigators said.

At a subsequent visit to the store in April, the felon informant made clear his intention to take the weapons to Mexico.

“If you come in here buying this gun and you already know you are going to go flip it, that’s illegal,” Abdulaziz said, according to the complaint. “It’s all about your intention. . . . If you are buying it because you want it, and then you decide you want to sell it later, well that’s up to you. You can sell anything you want. Just a head’s up.”

Before finalizing the sale he asked the straw buyer (the informant without a record) to affirm that it was not being bought for anyone else. “You are allowed to buy a thousand of them if you want. You just can’t buy for anyone else.”

Paper violations

Former federal law enforcement officials and other experts say lack of U.S. laws that explicitly target firearms trafficking or ban sales of assault weapons leave them outgunned, forced to cobble together cases with other charges.

And after investigations such as the ZIA case, agents often can only charge the lower rungs of the operations. And the charges available to them are for “paper violations” with weaker penalties, such as lying on paperwork connected to gun sales.

“Those technically are paper violations, but those are the violations that we have to charge because of the lack of a firearms trafficking statute,” Milanowski said.

Though weapons have been smuggled into Mexico for decades, the problem intensified after the U.S. assault weapons ban was lifted in 2004, said Eugenio Weigend, who studies gun violence and firearms trafficking at the Center for American Progress, a left-leaning think tank based in Washington, D.C.

In the years since, Mexican police armed themselves with increasingly powerful American guns. Federal agents say they’ve seen cartels respond in kind, obtaining weapons more commonly used by military forces, such as .50-caliber belt-fed rifles — which are powerful enough to down helicopters.

The NRA and other lobbying organizations have blocked efforts to strengthen restrictions on arms purchases or pass laws to crack down on trafficking.

“We have a major problem with gun violence,” said David Chipman, a retired ATF Special Agent who now works for Giffords, a nonprofit aimed at reducing gun violence. “Dealing guns should be a significant federal violation.”

Ken Magidson, the region’s U.S. Attorney until 2017, said federal agents and prosecutors use a variety of tools to combat cartel violence. That includes undercover infiltration of groups, filing organized crime or racketeering charges, or prosecuting drug cases or specific acts of violence — as well as filing similar charges to those brought in the ZIA case.

But prosecuting the violations is hard, former agents say, because the people traffickers recruit usually have no criminal record, meaning they are unlikely to receive any significant prison time if convicted and have little incentive to cooperate with investigators.

That makes the case less attractive for federal prosecutors to pursue, said Chipman.

“What they have to charge someone with is lying on a form, or dealing without a license,” he said. “It lacks jury appeal. It’s a more difficult case to make.”

Coahuila state Gov. Miguel Riquelme Solis looks at a police vehicle shot during a gunbattle between Mexican security forces and suspected cartel gunmen in Villa Union, Mexico, Saturday, Nov. 30, 2019. Four police officers and two civilians were killed after an armed group in a convoy of trucks stormed the town, prompting security forces to intervene.

Gun seller, gun buyers

Agents began to identify people who made straw purchases at ZIA, records show. They traced the pistol Brownsville police had found in Camacho’s car to one of the Houston straw puchasers. Documents filed in federal court show the operation bought more than 150 weapons suspected of being trafficked to Mexico.

In the end, grand jurors issued indictments for aiding and abetting a false statement on background check forms. Investigators brought cases against at least 15 people linked to the case.

Camacho, who was found with guns as well empty gun boxes linked to arms that ended up in Mexico, was charged with possessing a Barrett .50 caliber rifle without a legitimate serial number that had been transported in “interstate or foreign commerce” and with making false statements on ATF forms.

Abdulaziz faces 13 charges, including selling a firearm to a prohibited person and making false statements on ATF forms.

Abdulaziz and the other defendants’ cases have not yet been set for trial.

Christian Navarro, the attorney representing Chapa, said that his client has pleaded not guilty. “Mr. Chapa will continue to plea his innocence as we learn more about the government's charges against him. As far as I'm concerned, Mr. Chapa is innocent of the government's charges."

The gunshop owner’s attorney, Cordt Akers, said Abdulaziz is innocent and didn’t intentionally sell to traffickers.

“He found out about the shootings the same way we all did. He found out about it on CNN,” Akers said.

Akers acknowledged that many of the guns sold ended up in Mexico but said investigators’ criminal complaint shows Abdulaziz warned buyers if they were engaging in illegal activity he wouldn’t sell them weapons.

He said federal agents had no proof Abdulaziz committed crimes.“That proof doesn’t exist because that's not the truth,” he said.

Villa Union

That is little comfort to Arizpe, the Villa Union mayor.

Eight months after the attack, the memories are no less vivid.

She had a stroke afterward, and spent five days in the hospital. She refused to resign and has since recovered. She felt responsible for the town and her friends, she said.

The state’s governor ordered bodyguards to accompany her everywhere after the attack; she couldn’t see her family — she was worried they might be killed in retaliation. She found herself looking over her shoulder every time she left her house.

“It seems very unjust a little boy could get a gun and kill someone,” she said. “They brought fear and killed innocents.”



  1. U.S. wants Mexican drugs to stop flowing north yet does little to nothing to prevent guns from flowing from the U.S. south into Mexico.
    When a CBP agent was asked about this a few years back he said it was nearly impossible to prevent shit going south. Yet Americans think it is possible to pevent drugs comming north???

    1. Gun dealers need to have their stocks confiscated, specially after doing their little toothless paperwork crimes,
      the NRA won't be there for them anymore, the russians won't be helping them soon and they are going bankrupt persecuted by NY States attorney, and NO, they can't just pack up and go to tejas to escape NY...
      fack the NRA.

    2. Its actually very simple all this can end the day dumbass mexican govt. allows citizens to arm themselves. Cartels would end in 1 day. Civilians would have something to fight back with.

    3. 12:17 wake up, it is US Customs job to see what enters USA, it is not USAs job to see what leaves Mexico. The last I heard they have Mexican customs at Tijuana..go talk to the Mexican government and good luck 😂.

  2. Yeah, let's disarm law abiding citizens then law abiding criminals too will allow suit.

    Or let's blame gun sellers for the failure and corruption of the Mexican state.

  3. Gus P is a researcher for BB.

    He is a perpetual machine assisting me in finding articles and information. He is very dedicated and dependable. It would be a very sad day if we lost him.

    Shout out also to "SR" and Neal who also send in links and information, vids and images.

    And all of the many of you who on occasion send in info and material.

    thank you....thank you. It is much appreciated and seldom acknowledged

  4. What would stop arms shipments from Albania, Croatia, or any other country who would fill the void if shipments from the US stopped?

    1. The void has already been filled. Im betting most of the ak-style weapons are acquired outside of the US as well as ALL of the fully automatic weapons seen in recent years.

  5. Great body count for the roaches. Need them higher though to get rid of the trash.

    1. 3:30 makes you think those roaches were planted and raised to appear to be fighting weapons trafficking from tejas to México by the really rich untouchable veteran US traffickers.

  6. Thanks Chivis! Keep up the great work!!!!! "SR".

  7. This article was on the front page of the Houston Chronicle today , great read

  8. chuntaros weren’t made to play with guns they too fuckin stupid

  9. A sad state of affairs here in the USA when you can get a life sentences for growing pot, but sell a 1000 machine guns to straw buyers so they can then be resold in Mexico and get the NRA's citizen of the year award. The USA is one fu*ked up nation with blood on our hands.

    1. Nothing you wrote is true.
      The NRA is staunchly against straw buyers for firearms or illegal gun purchases.
      The cartels are mostly killing people with looted M16s from Mexican Government Armories or are using Chinese or Eastern Europe imported through Africa, because it’s cheaper.
      Getting a retail purchased firearm from the United States to Mexico has got to me the most expensive proposition possible, and it makes no sense.
      Nobody here in America can buy a NEW machine gun.

    2. 4:17 I agree with 9:28, you went alittle bit overboard in throwing USA under the bus. 😂

    3. 10:59 the NRA and the weapons dealers do not represent the US of A, they just exploit the good Will and the laws to get away with murder,
      The Las Vegas shooter acquired his weapons on the US legally and so did Timothy McVeigh.
      The NRA also got over 35 millón dollars from Bladdermir Putin, and had among their member pushers Mariia Butina a russian spy and recruiter, but they do not represent the US of A.

  10. Yeah, let's change our constitution and reduce our freedoms cause our southern neighbor can't get its shit together. Stfu. when the article quotes a 'left-leaning think tank' as a source, it became all too obvious it is nothing more than another agenda-pushing false narrative of the left.

  11. Everybody involved in the process of publishing this article is uninformed about the types of weapons used. One of the weapons is described as a ".50 BMG rifle".. incorrect. By the looks of the image it's obviously a machine gun.

  12. Is any USA goverment officials being charged for the Fast and Furious case

    1. Que menso that's old and over with. Go help mom with the nopales.

    2. 10:55 nothing is over,
      Erik Prince is still being accused of being the real author of Benghazi attack on the US Embassy in Libya, and more...

    3. As far as I know, no one has.

  13. Damn, I did one of those previously Villa Union Posts., I recognize the building. geeez, they probably just got it patched up from the last attack.
    I know a guy who was a good contractor and had a construction business on the Central Californian Coast who MOVED to Arizona to open up a Gun Shop to do this.

  14. Hold the sellers accountable.

    1. Like US weapons dealers do not know mexicans pay for their weapons with drug proceeds...
      Probesitos, the also know people from other countries to do their wholesale supply, selling even weapons stolen from The Vietnam War US depots they stole and stored in Taiwan.

  15. boils down to the US Intelligence Community does not want any competition in the selling and moving of arms south and drugs north and the irony is they use law enforcement as their enforcers, some unwittingly innocent and some corrupt.


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