Charges dropped against man in federal gun probe of '06-07
Tim Steller Arizona Daily Star |
Posted: Friday, October 28, 2011 12:00 am
A federal prosecutor dismissed charges Thursday against Ricardo
Mendez Jr., one of nine people charged as a result of the cross-
border gun-smuggling investigation called Operation Wide Receiver.
That 2006-2007 Tucson investigation has become a topic of interest at
a congressional committee investigating the more recent, Phoenix-
based Operation Fast and Furious.
The dismissal occurred just five days before Mendez's trial was
scheduled to begin in Tucson's U.S. District Court on Tuesday.
Mendez was a minor player amid the broader investigation, in which a
Tucson firearms dealer sold hundreds of guns to "straw buyers" who
sent them to criminal groups in Mexico. Mendez bought just one gun
but did so alongside one of the lead defendants, Carlos Armando
Celaya, who bought 21 guns that day in March 2007.
As recently as Monday, Assistant U.S. Attorney Laura Gwinn and
defense attorney John Kaufmann appeared in federal court as U.S.
District Judge David Bury decided pretrial motions.
Gwinn, a Justice Department prosecutor from Washington, D.C., said in
a document filed Thursday that she spoke with a co-defendant about
Mendez after a recent plea deal was signed. That co-defendant - whom
Kaufmann identified as Celaya - said Mendez was not part of the gun-
trafficking conspiracy and had bought the gun for himself, Gwinn said
in the filing.
Bury dismissed the case with prejudice, meaning it cannot be refiled.
Celaya pleaded guilty Oct. 12 to conspiring to illegally export
firearms, making false statements and providing a firearm to an
illegal immigrant. In the plea agreement, he acknowledged being part
of a group that bought 282 firearms for buyers in Mexico, including
his cousin in Sonora.
The House Oversight and Government Reform Committee is investigating
Operation Fast and Furious, in which about 2,000 firearms were sold
to people intending to sell them to criminals in Mexico. The earlier
Operation Wide Receiver resulted in 400 to 500 firearms going to Mexico.
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