Blog dedicated to reporting on Mexican drug cartels
on the border line between the US and Mexico

Tuesday, March 19, 2024

Trio Accused of Buying High-Powered Rifle For Mexican Drug Cartel at North Texas Gun Store

"Sol Prendido" for Borderland Beat

Three men, including two Californians, are in federal custody charged with using cash to buy a military-style rifle. Authorities say a Mexican cartel was the true buyer.

M2 belt fed 50 caliber rifle seized by ATF on July 19, 2023, at ATF Dallas central evidence vault in Lewisville.

The newest site for gun traffickers to buy high-powered rifles is a store off the Sam Rayburn Tollway in The Colony, police say. It’s a building that could be mistaken for a medical clinic, and it sits between a furniture store and a burger and beer joint. RifleGear is in the middle of Dallas-Fort Worth suburbia.

In January, three men walked into the gun store carrying thousands of dollars in cash. They were trying to buy weapons with enough firepower to invade a small city, according to federal court documents.

One of the men, Ghaith Alagele, 39, flew to DFW International Airport from his home near Riverside, Calif, to oversee the purchases, federal agents said. He was accompanied by a Dallas acquaintance, Mustafa Shaker, 35. A third man, Oliver Vielman-Solis, was allegedly planning to transport the weapons to Arizona. A confidential informant also was there.

Alagele and Shaker, who spoke Arabic to each other, wanted to buy at least four M249S assault rifles. The semiautomatic weapon, a civilian version of the military M249 SAW light machine gun, is belt fed and can fire rounds as fast as the user can pull the trigger. Stringing belts of ammo together, with the ability to swap out overheated barrels, allows users to fire continuously until they run out of ammo.

Undercover agents monitored the transaction. When the men left, the agents from the federal Bureau of Alcohol, Tobacco, Firearms and Explosives nabbed them. They were arrested on charges of making a firearms straw purchase — essentially illegally buying guns on behalf of someone else. It’s a tactic commonly used by Mexican drug cartels to subvert background check laws and buy guns in smaller quantities to avoid suspicion from law enforcement.

A U.S. Marine reservist fires an M249 SAW (Squad Automatic Weapon) machine gun during combat training in preparation for deployment to Iraq in 2004 at Camp Pendleton in California.

Agents searched Shaker’s tow truck parked near the gun store and found $66,700 in cash wrapped in a raincoat in the back seat, court records show.

The rifle is increasingly popular in Mexico’s drug cartel wars that lead to clashes with Mexican police and military forces. The North Texas case is notable because it represents an escalation in the firepower that cartels are seeking to buy in Texas gun stores. U.S. residents are increasingly buying high-powered assault rifles for Mexican gangsters — a trend ATF recently warned gun sellers about. U.S. authorities have stepped up enforcement near the Mexican border and reported a significant increase last year in the seizure of firearms attempted to be smuggled into Mexico.

The enforcement is pushing illicit arms dealers into North Texas, ATF said.

The men, two Iraqi immigrants and a Guatemalan, are in custody awaiting trial on charges of straw purchasing of firearms, and conspiracy to acquire a firearm from a licensed dealer by false or fictitious statement.

Straw purchases are common. The Justice Department doesn’t publish statistics on the crime, but The Washington Post has reported DOJ pursued about 300 such cases in 2019 and 2020.

Last year, a federal law took effect criminalizing straw purchases. Previously, it was a paper offense — essentially lying on a form.

The Bipartisan Safer Communities Act that President Joe Biden signed into law in June 2022 created the federal straw purchasing criminal offense, carrying a penalty of up to 15 years in prison.

ATF sent an alert in October to licensed gun stores in Dallas and other parts of the state, advising them of attempts by Mexican cartels to acquire assault rifles. The warning said the cartels wanted high-powered weapons like .50 caliber and “belt-fed rifles” and that the criminal organizations were “gearing up” for something, according to gun dealer websites.

Jeffrey C. Boshek II, special agent in charge of ATF’s Dallas division, said it’s rare for his agency to send such a warning, but it was necessary due to recent intelligence.

“We had specific information that they were actively seeking these things, more so than we’ve seen in the past,” he said. “It’s a tool for us to try to stop that.”

Mexico gun traces

Border enforcement is increasing, officials say. The Department of Homeland Security and ATF reported in September that “southbound firearm seizures” in the 2023 fiscal year were significantly higher than the previous year. Twice as many guns were seized last year in Laredo, for example, the agencies said. Homeland Security’s Operation Without a Trace and ATF’s Operation Southbound target illegal firearms smuggling operations along the Southwest border.

Recent ATF studies have shown that 70% of guns recovered in Mexico originated from the U.S., and that Texas accounted for 43% of those traced crime guns.

That means more firearms trafficking cases are being filed in North Texas federal courts. Some evidence reflects the urgency among cartel operatives to acquire as many guns as possible.

“The thing is I need them, man,” one alleged trafficker said in a social media message. “Seriously, I need them. I have credit … to always be buying those things. You know what l mean? We’re in urgent need of them down there because war there is ugly.”

The man, Belisario Martinez, was working for a Fort Worth-based drug trafficking organization, distributing cocaine to the U.S. and sending .50 caliber rifles to Mexico, court records allege. Martinez is charged with drug and firearms offenses in federal court in Fort Worth. He pleaded not guilty during his first court appearance in December and remains in custody.

Steven "Stainless" Cooke, a general in the Aryan Brotherhood of Texas, holds a Barrett .50 caliber sniper rifle in an undated photo provided by the ATF.

Dallas was one of the top U.S. counties (tied for sixth with Los Angeles County) with most Mexico gun traces from 2020 to 2022, according to a recent report by the Wilson Center, a nonpartisan think tank in Washington, D.C. Harris County ranked third. Hartford, Conn., had the most Mexico-traced guns.

Another alleged trafficker, Adrian Abraham Soria, traveled in 2022 from his Houston home to North Texas to buy assault rifles, according to an indictment. Soria paid cash in a Farmers Branch gun store for a Barrett .50 caliber rifle. Mexican authorities recovered it four months later in Matamoros, Mexico, according to court records.

Soria was a prolific gun buyer until his arrest, court records show. Over an eight-month period, he bought at least 12 “high-powered rifles” from Texas gun dealers for a total of about $155,000 in cash, according to his indictment. Soria has agreed to plead guilty in Plano federal court to a count of conspiracy to acquire a firearm from a licensed dealer by false or fictitious statement, court records show.

Particularly attractive to cartels are the FN M249S and the Barrett .50 caliber rifle, both of which are well stocked in North Texas. The former, the civilian version of the SAW, is effective at providing rapid suppressive fire, especially if modified to be fully automatic. The larger, more powerful .50 caliber weapon can penetrate inches of concrete and take out armored vehicles and shoot down helicopters. Both rifles are easily convertible to fully automatic, making them almost identical to weapons used by the U.S. military.

Derek Peters, an ATF agent, said during the January detention hearing for Alagele and Shaker that he believed from the evidence that the Jalisco New Generation cartel in Mexico financed the firearms plot. Known by its Spanish initials, CJNG, the powerful cartel is battling its main adversary, the Sinaloa cartel, across Mexico.

He said Alagele was the leader. Alagele and Shaker were seeking as many assault rifles as they could find, Peters said. The store they chose, RifleGear, opened in 2020 inside a 40,000-square-foot facility with a 28-lane shooting range.

The pair are Iraqi immigrants who are legal U.S. residents, according to court testimony. Alagele came to the U.S. in 2010 and settled with his family in California where he works at a car wash. Shaker arrived in 2015 and drives a tow truck, according to testimony.

An M249S assault rifle, made by FN America, costs more than $10,000 and is difficult to find. The men wanted at least four. Store employees said they had one for sale and would have to order the others, court records show.

The suspects also wanted to buy multiple Barrett .50 caliber sniper rifles that can hit targets a mile away, authorities said.

The third defendant, Vielman-Solis, was planning to hide the rifles in his SUV and transport them to someone in Arizona, authorities said. Vielman-Solis, 23, is a Guatemalan native and legal U.S. resident living in California, according to court testimony.

A tipoff

The firearms investigation began in December with a tip ATF received that Shaker was looking for as many as 10 each of the high-powered weapons, court records show.

Agents followed the men to The Colony gun store. Peters said a confidential informant was with the defendants and bought the M249S rifle for them. Alagele and Shaker wanted the informant to also buy or order as many Barrett .50 caliber rifles as possible, but none were in stock, Peters said. Alagele and Shaker were charged because agents said they arranged and directed the straw purchase.

RifleGear declined to comment.

Peters testified that Vielman-Solis has previously bought and sold Glock handguns, AK-47 rifles, and M2 rifles. The M2 is a belt-fed, .50 caliber rifle often mounted onto Humvees and tanks.

Peters said during the January detention hearing that he was continuing to investigate the men but he had no information tying them to other gun sales.

Shaker’s attorney, Ed Richardson, said during the detention hearing that the government did not provide any evidence his client took part in other gun sales.

Noor Khadim, who is Shaker’s former partner and mother of his child, said the two of them left Iraq to get away from guns. Asked by U.S. Magistrate Judge Kimberly Priest Johnson if Shaker owned firearms, she said, “Impossible.”

Hekmat Alagele said on the witness stand that his brother, Ghaith, is not a flight risk and is not dangerous. He said his brother has no intention of moving back to Iraq and he never saw him with a gun.

“He does not like guns,” he said.

Although prosecutors allege Ghaith Alagele arranged arms sales for a Mexican drug cartel, Peters said under defense questioning he had no information tying Alagele directly to any of those criminal organizations.

Defense attorneys say most people don’t know the rules that prohibit buying a gun for someone else. 

Prosecutors say straw buyers should know buying powerful rifles with cash for unknown buyers is fishy.

Assistant U.S. Attorney Matthew Johnson told the judge at the hearing that the men were “caught red-handed in a conspiracy to traffic firearms.” If they didn’t know the guns were bound for Mexico, they should have, he added.

“Do they get credit for intentional ignorance?” he asked.

Former U.S. Attorney for the Northern District of Texas Erin Nealy Cox (left) with ATF Special Agent in Charge Jeffrey C. Boshek II announce three arrests in Project Guardian, an effort to reduce gun violence, at a press conference on March 12, 2020 in Dallas.

Richardson said the government was making a “whole lot of assumptions.” At best, prosecutors had a case of a man who “needed money and made a stupid decision,” he said.

“They were here to make money,” Richardson said.

Attorneys for Alagele and Vielman-Solis could not be reached for comment.

The Giffords Law Center said in a 2023 report that “Texas was by far the leading source of weapons trafficked into Mexico — more than nearly every other state combined.” Giffords gave Texas an “F” grade for the strength of its gun laws in its most recent scorecard.

Boshek said a customer buying multiple assault rifles from a store isn’t necessarily a red flag, particularly in a gun-friendly state like Texas. “A lot of people buy a lot of guns,” he said.

But if someone buys a rifle in Texas that’s recovered in Mexico several days later, that’s an indicator of illegal firearms trafficking, he said. ATF’s gun trace data shows the trafficking trends, he said, not the upfront sales.

“The back end is way more important,” Boshek said.

Dallas News


  1. Because Holder's Operation Fast and Furious was a good idea. Smh

    1. Always hitting the past, which is not related to the present issue.😭

  2. 🤣🤣 operation guardian🤣🤣 they the ones allowing it pass by

  3. But but but but, ALMO says the manufacturers are the ones bringing the guns into Mexico, SEDENA says they see them come in at the border and do nothing.

    1. When did he say this? He stated that the manufacturer are making weapons that are getting into cartel hands. Not that they were sending them! 💀 let’s think next time

    2. 1:25 you should be sleeping.
      Yes according to one of his many daily speeches, he said " the manufacturers of weapons are bringing guns into Mexico", we all know it's gun traffickers bringing them into Mexico, don't you understand he wants to milk, the gun manufacturers in a lawsuit, to have more money.

    3. "if you MUST think, for gods sakes, think CLEARLY, man!!"
      ..Donald Pleasance
      The Great Escape

  4. "General" Steven Cooke with the Aryan Brotherhood. Gotta love these gang members and militia guys. Hi, I'm Colonel Sanders, General Electric or Captain America. They all give themselves some high rank. The real question is, does Steven Cooke even know how to shoot a Barrett rifle? Does he know anything about sniper tactics?

    1. Good article!
      Photo caption hints white boy Cooke just ONE of a presumably legion of generalissimos..
      In the Aryan Peckerwood Army hierarchy, you stay a lowly colonel until you've proven your prowess whacking a moving target with fifty-cal at a mile range..
      Nothing to it,
      A baby could do it..
      I claim to know NOTHING of the facts of this case, but the whole thing smells like 3 day old fish..
      Gun store an alphabet agency sting op, obviously..
      Two lavacarro hadjis set up like bowling pins, the actual buyer who signed the pink slip was the goddam govt snitch, ferpetes'sakes, and the icing on the cake was the director making a last minute politically correct casting call, switching the Spanish-speaking sidekick role from tex-mex patsy to Guatemalan nacionál so as not to ruffle any brown political feathers on either side of Rio Bravo once the shit hit the fan..
      Or more likely just my conspiracy theory gone wild, heaven knows I've been wrong before, jaja..

    2. @2:11PM The rise of Steven "El Jefe Máximo" is well-chronicled. From butt-boy of Big Al in Blood In Blood Out to trailer park officership.

    3. Did you know that the barret is an antimaterial rifle and not a sniper rifle?

  5. In essence,when it comes down to it, it's the Republicans who are indirectly supplying cartels with guns. Yes more cartel talk from these frauds .

    1. Huh wtf now you saying they go down to give the Cartels guns, I have to say you going coo-coo.

    2. Republicans get money from gun makers is called lobbying. It shld be called bribery. They are also the ones that block any gun restriction laws in usa even when the usa is getting raped by mass shooters. Motherfucking facts son.

    3. @12:55 Yes. Like the 2020 election the Repubs were trying to steal and falsely putting it on the Dems,the Capitol riot was a tourist visit,they are trying to pull another lie.

  6. Sad that cartels are not terrorists, would love to see the gunshop owner going to jail, stripped of all his possessions and later on never be able to obtain a gun legally. And all this for aiding terrorists.

  7. Arabic's from Iraq were getting rich by selling and bringing rifles to Mexico. Elmo who do want to blame that on?

  8. Attention cabinet of ALMO, please take note as to how guns are ready coming into Mexico.
    Also have good clean no curupt Mexican customs checking what is getting into Mexico. Oh and checking randomly does not cut it.

    1. Hablador es una narco presidente.


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