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Monday, December 6, 2021

Federal Prosecutors Seek Prison Sentence For Man Who Trafficked Oregon Guns To Mexican Drug Cartel

"Sol Prendido" for Borderland Beat

The federal courthouse in downtown Portland.

One of Mexico’s most violent and powerful drug cartels ran a gun trafficking operation in Oregon to supply cartel members with high-power firearms, according to court records filed by the U.S. Department of Justice.

Between September 2019 and October 2020, the Jalisco New Generation Cartel paid a handful of people to purchase “nearly 150″ weapons from gun shops in the Portland and Salem areas. Many of the firearms were then stripped of their serial numbers and shipped out of state with the intent to smuggle them into Mexico, court records show.

Federal law enforcement don’t know the exact number of weapons purchased in Oregon that made it across the border, in part because it’s difficult to trace weapons after their serial numbers are removed. 

At least one firearm purchased in Oregon was recovered near the U.S.-Mexico border, according to an agent with the Bureau of Alcohol, Tobacco, Firearms and Explosives who spoke on condition of anonymity because of ongoing investigations.

The practice is known as a straw purchase, where one person buys a firearm from a federally licensed dealer that’s actually intended for another person, in this case a cartel.

In Oregon, the Jalisco cartel’s operation was overseen by David Acosta-Rosales, who pleaded guilty in September to a single count of conspiracy to make false statements in the acquisition of firearms. His attorney declined to comment. Acosta-Rosales is expected to be sentenced in federal court Monday.

Cartel violence has gripped Mexico for decades, but the county has extremely strict gun laws. 

Government officials often point to the United States’ gun manufacturers as enablers of the bloodshed. In August, Mexico sued America’s largest gun manufacturers, alleging gun companies like Glock, Smith and Wesson, Colt and Beretta are ultimately responsible for the tens of thousands dead at the hands of cartels. Last month, the gun companies asked a federal judge in Boston to dismiss the case.

Every year there’s an estimated half a million guns trafficked from the United States into Mexico, the country’s lawsuit states.

“Almost all the guns recovered at crime scenes in Mexico — 70% to 90% of them — were trafficked from the U.S.,” Mexico’s lawsuit states.

“For decades the Government and its citizens have been victimized by a deadly flood of military-style and other particularly lethal guns that flows from the U.S. across the border, into criminal hands in Mexico.”

The federal investigation into the Jalisco New Generation Cartel’s operation in Oregon offers a glimpse into the cycle of violence fueled by drug profits and illegal firearms.

“We’ve seen firearms being trafficked down to Mexico from pretty much every state, including Alaska,” said ATF spokesman Jason Chudy.

Acosta-Rosales received cash from Mexico that he used to recruit others, including his son, to help purchase firearms for the cartel, according to a sentencing memo prepared by prosecutors in Oregon’s U.S. Attorney’s Office.

“His ‘boss’ in Mexico wanted specific types of high-powered and especially deadly firearms, such as AR-15 and AK-47 platform rifles, semi-automatic .50 caliber Barrett rifles, and premium military type assault rifles,” the government’s memo states.

The Mexican government’s lawsuit lists several of the same firearms as weapons sought by cartels. “Barrett manufactures a .50 caliber sniper rifle that can shoot down helicopters and penetrate lightly armored vehicles and bullet-proof glass,” the lawsuit states. “It has become one of the cartels’ guns of choice.”

Federal prosecutors say Acosta-Rosales knew that the firearms he purchased were going to Mexico to be used by the Jalisco New Generation Cartel.

“In fact, to meet the cartel’s bloodthirst, rifles weren’t enough,” court documents state. “They also wanted grenades, grenade launchers and belt-fed machine guns,” which Acosta-Rosales “obliged.”

On Oct. 1, 2020, Acosta-Rosales made a $14,000 down payment on a 40 mm grenade launcher as well as a .50 caliber semi-automatic, tripod-mounted rifle, the prosecutors’ memo states. 

One week later, he arrived at an undisclosed restaurant parking lot, carrying another $2000 for the remainder of the weapons purchase. Prosecutors say he met people driving a U-Haul, the weapons in back. Shortly after Acosta-Rosales grabbed the keys from undercover agents, he was arrested. Those weapons never made it out of Oregon, according to prosecutors.

“The main cell leader, David Acosta, was arrested when he met with an ATF agent to obtain a belt fed firearm and a grenade launcher,” the ATF agent told OPB.

Prosecutors recommend Acosta-Rosales receive more than six years in prison.

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