note: more F&F
Note: still wondering what ever happened to those "Ten years"?? The
light sentences continue. Don't miss the last paragraph.
3 get prison after trafficked guns turn up in Mexico
March 19, 2012 6:53 PM
McALLEN — A federal judge sent three men to prison after guns they
trafficked into Mexico turned up in a shootout where nine people were
Chief U.S. District Judge Ricardo Hinojosa sentenced Pharr resident
Rene Cantu Jr., 26; Abiel Hernandez, 26, a resident alien from
Mexico; and Juan Manuel Bugarin, 31, of Pharr, to prison after they
pleaded guilty in a gun trafficking case last year.
The judge handed down a 52-month sentence for Cantu. Hernandez
received a nine-month sentence, and Bugarin received a six-month
Each man pleaded guilty in September to making a false statement on a
federal form when purchasing a firearm — commonly known as "straw
Hernandez and Bugarin each bought four AK-47 assault rifles from The
Armory, 2714 N. 10th St., McAllen. Both men told the Bureau of
Alcohol, Tobacco, Firearms and Explosives they were paid to purchase
the guns for someone else, a superseding indictment filed in the case
Agents learned Cantu had bought 32 firearms for another person over a
four-month period, prosecutors said in a statement Monday. The court
found Cantu guilty of the weapons bought by Hernandez and Bugarin,
because he recruited them to make the purchases.
Two of the guns purchased by Cantu were recovered at an undisclosed
location in Mexico, where grenades and a grenade launcher were
recovered by the Mexican military. Eight drug cartel members and one
member of the Mexican marines were killed in the battle.
Hernandez and Bugarin remain free on bond and were ordered to
surrender within the next two months to begin serving their prison
time. Cantu remains in custody pending his transfer to a federal prison.
Gun-tracking operation caught top suspect, then let him go
Federal agents stopped the main target of the ill-fated Operation
Fast and Furious in May 2010. After they questioned him, he
disappeared back into Mexico, and the program went on to spiral out
By Richard A. Serrano, Washington Bureau
March 19, 2012
Reporting from Washington— Seven months after federal agents began
the ill-fated Fast and Furious gun-tracking operation, they stumbled
upon their main suspect in a remote Arizona outpost on the Mexican
border, driving an old BMW with 74 rounds of ammunition and nine
cellphones hidden inside.
Detained for questioning that day in May 2010, Manuel Fabian Celis-
Acosta described to agents from the Bureau of Alcohol, Tobacco,
Firearms and Explosiveshis close association with a top Mexican drug
cartel member, according to documents obtained this weekend by the
Times/Tribune Washington Bureau.
The top Fast and Furious investigator, Special Agent Hope
MacAllister, scribbled her phone number on a $10 bill after he
pledged to cooperate and keep in touch with investigators.
Then Celis-Acosta disappeared into Mexico. He never called.
Had they arrested him red-handed trying to smuggle ammunition into
Mexico, Fast and Furious might have ended quickly. Instead, the
program dragged on for another eight months, spiraling out of control.
Celis-Acosta continued slipping back and forth across the border,
authorities say, illegally purchasing more U.S. weapons and financing
others. He was not arrested until February 2011, a month after Fast
and Furious closed down.
The operation, run by the ATF's Phoenix field office, allowed illegal
gun purchases in Arizona in hopes of tracking the weapons to Mexican
drug cartel leaders. Instead, about 1,700 guns vanished, and scores
turned up at crime scenes in Mexico. Two were found south of Tucson
where U.S. Border Patrol agent Brian Terry was shot to death in
Why ATF agents did not arrest Celis-Acosta immediately is not clear.
He was their prime suspect and the subject of secret wiretaps
approved by the Justice Department.
"Due to the fact that the criminal case is still ongoing in the
courts, and the inspector general's office is still investigating, we
cannot comment about this," ATF chief spokesman Drew Wade said.
Other law enforcement officials, speaking anonymously because of
ongoing investigations, acknowledged it was a crucial blunder in a
deeply flawed program. "I don't know why they didn't arrest him," one
said. "They certainly could have."
But, another argued, agents may have viewed Celis-Acosta as a
possible conduit to the cartels. "He was cooperating and talking a
lot and giving up a lot," he said. "From an investigative standpoint,
that's pretty good information you're getting. Maybe he can hook you
into even bigger fish."
Fast and Furious, which is under investigation by the Justice
Department's inspector general, Rep. Darrell Issa (R-Vista) and Sen.
Charles E. Grassley (R-Iowa), began Oct. 31, 2009. From the start,
Celis-Acosta, 24, was the main target, according to internal ATF
documents that have not been publicly released. An ATF flow chart
listed him at the top of more than two dozen individuals involved in
the gun-smuggling ring.
The documents state that Celis-Acosta led the smuggling ring and that
he was paid from drug proceeds to illegally acquire firearms for
cartels. He carried a permanent U.S. resident card, a Social Security
number and an Arizona driver's license. He moved easily between homes
in Mexico and Phoenix. Eventually arrested by U.S. marshals at a
relative's home in El Paso, he pleaded not guilty to gun-smuggling
charges as one of 19 Fast and Furious defendants. None of the 19 has
gone to trial.
According to an ATF "Report of Investigation," prepared by
MacAllister, authorized by her supervisor, David J. Voth, and
reviewed by William D. Newell, then the ATF special agent in charge
in Arizona, U.S. authorities stopped Celis-Acosta as he headed south
through the border town of Lukeville, Ariz.
The document said an ammunition magazine containing 74 rounds was
hidden in a spare tire, and the phones in the dash. In the trunk of
the 2002 BMW 754i was a ledger referring to money given to "Killer"
and a list of firearms.
Celis-Acosta first said he did not know the ammunition was inside. He
said a friend's mother bought the BMW "with a credit card."
MacAllister was called to the scene, and Celis-Acosta began to open
up. He admitted he knew "a lot about firearms." He conceded he was en
route to a birthday party for "Chendi," a close associate who he said
was a Mexican cartel member and "right-hand man" to Joaquin "Chapo"
Guzman, head of the Sinaloa cartel.
Celis-Acosta said Chendi moved 6,000 pounds of marijuana a week into
the U.S., terrorized Mexican police, wore a $15,000 wristwatch and
lived in a home with "a lot of gold" inside and a landing strip outside.
MacAllister checked with the Drug Enforcement Administration and
learned Chendi — real name Claudio Jamie Badilla — was a "large-scale
marijuana and multi-kilogram cocaine trafficker."
MacAllister asked Celis-Acosta whether he "would be willing to
cooperate." When he said yes, they confiscated the ammunition and let