Family demands to know if weapons used to kill ICE agent could have
been seized before they crossed into Mexico
By William La Jeunesse
Published March 29, 2012
In this undated photo released by U.S. Immigration and Customs
Enforcement (ICE) on Wednesday Feb. 16, 2011 is seen ICE Special
Agent Jaime Zapata. Zapata, on assignment to the ICE Attache in
Mexico City from his post in Laredo, Texas, died Tuesday Feb. 15,
2011 when gunmen attacked the agents' vehicle as he and another agent
drove through the northern state of San Luis Potosi.
The family of a murdered U.S. Immigration and Customs Enforcement
agent is demanding to know if U.S. agencies could have seized the
weapons used to kill him before they crossed the border into Mexico.
Amador and Mary Zapata also believe their son Jaime, who was only in
Mexico for 9 days before his death, was not adequately trained for
his assignment, a trip on one of Mexico's most dangerous roads in a
$160,000 armored Suburban.
"We want to find out the truth," Amador Zapata said from the living
room of his Brownsville, Texas home. "Who thought of this program?
How come they let those weapons go – when they knew who had bought
them? How come they let them go through the border – without trying
to stop them? That's what we want to know."
Family members of ICE special agent Jaime Zapata receive his body at
the Brownsville South Padre Island International Airport Friday, Feb.
18, 2011 in Brownsville, Texas. U.S. Immigration and Customs
Enforcement said Agent Jaime Zapata died Tuesday after assailants
opened fire on his vehicle as he drove from Monterrey, Mexico, to
Mexico City. (AP Photo/The Brownsville Herald, Paul Chouy)
The Zapatas had four sons employed by ICE, the Immigration and
Customs Enforcement Agency. Jaime, the second oldest, was gunned down
while driving from Mexico City to Monterrey last February by
assassins for the Zeta cartel. The guns used to kill him were
purchased in Texas.
"I don't know anything now that I didn't know the first day," said
Mary Zapata, surrounded by photos and memorabilia associated with her
son's life. "I expected them (ICE supervisors) to sit with us and
give us a report. This is what we have so far. We do not know."
The Zapatas hired former Assistant U.S. Attorney Trey Martinez and
Ray Thomas, a south Texas litigator, to find out the facts.
"The family would like answers. The family would like closure," said
Martinez. "We don't know if this is a gun walking operation but there
is circumstantial evidence that there was."
Martinez is referring to two guns found February 15, 2011 at the
murder scene in Mexico.
One was purchased in August 2010 near Houston on behalf of accused
drug dealer Manuel Gomez Barba. The other in October 2010 by a Dallas
trafficking ring that included Otilio Osorio, his brother Ranferi and
their neighbor Kelvin Morrison.
According to the indictment, Barba began sourcing weapons through
straw buyers in June 2010. He took custody of some 70 weapons through
February 2011, readily informing the buyers their guns were being
bought on behalf of the Zeta cartel.
Barba, who erased gun serial numbers on his kitchen table, took
delivery of the weapon used to kill Zapata on August 20. In October,
the ATF recorded a phone call in which Barba talked about smuggling
and obliterating serial numbers of his guns. Using that evidence, ATF
obtained a search warrant and arrested him four months later, the day
before Zapata was killed.
Barba however was already an accused felon in a 2006 drug case and
was arrested again June 18, 2010 by the DEA for dealing
methamphetamine. Initially detained without bond, agents released him
in July after he agreed to become a snitch. Barba set up a drug buy
which allowed the DEA to arrest two others. In October, he pled
guilty but remained free awaiting sentencing. During that time, he
was allegedly running guns and under ATF investigation. As an accused
felon, Barba was prohibited from possessing a firearm. The ATF
executed its search warrant of Barba on October 8.
Martinez believes the agency may have acted sooner. The ATF says no.
"What the family needs to know is the weapons that Barba was having
straw purchased for him were all purchased in May, June and August
before we even knew who Barba was," said Gary Orchowski, ATF Acting
Special Agent in Charge of the Houston Field Division.
The second gun used against Zapata was smuggled by a ring responsible
for 207 weapons. From June 2010 through February 2011 the Osorio
brothers and six other men began to acquire firearms from Dallas area
According to ATF management logs, agents first observed a member of
the ring buy four AK-47 style weapons from a dealer on July 29 but
did not maintain surveillance. The next day, Morrison bought another
weapon that later showed up in August along with 21 other guns on
their way over the border, including two bought by Ranferi Osorio.
Documents show that in September 2010, the ATF in Dallas traced more
crime weapons back to the ring. In November, Morrison and the Osorio
brothers illegally provided 40 firearms to an ATF informant, and in
January, one of the group told a gun dealer he wanted to buy a large
purchase of assault rifles. Morrison himself bought 24 guns, each
time swearing on a federal affidavit the guns were all for himself.
Martinez claims the ATF could and should have intervened earlier,
potentially preventing the sale or export of the gun that killed Zapata.
The Dallas ATF chief Robert Champion denies his office 'walked guns'
or knowingly allowed guns to go south as in Operation Fast and
Furious. However he did admit to the Dallas Morning News in March
that his agents could have arrested the Morrison and the Osorio
brothers three months earlier that he did – when they delivered the
40 guns to the informant without serial numbers.
"I know people will criticize us for not taking these guys down
immediately," Champion told the paper. "But we weren't sure what they
were up to."
Also he said, the ATF was doing what the DEA had requested.
"This wasn't our case at this point," Champion said. "We were
protecting an investigation that DEA had in Laredo with ATF down there."
The Zapatas say the agency's priorities are misplaced.
"Weapons do not have an expiration," said Mary. "It isn't like
they're good for a week and they're done. They'll be there for
generations to keep on killing."
So far, Martinez has filed a Freedom of Information request for
documents on the case. It was denied, as was his appeal.
He is also trying to find out why Zapata was driving the armored SUV
on Highway 57, a notorious road linking Monterrey and Mexico City
after only nine days in the country. He doesn't believe Zapata had
received the proper evade and escape drivers training or was informed
the vehicle's door locks automatically opened the moment the car was
placed in park.
Returning from Monterrey, Zapata and his partner Victor Avila were
sandwiched by two SUVs and forced off the road by attackers from the
Zeta cartel. Placed in park, the door locks opened allowing gunmen to
hit Zapata 6 times and Avila twice. Once the ICE agents secured their
vehicle, the gunman fired 90 rounds but none penetrated the car.
"We understand there is a written directive for agents not to be on
that road because it is dangerous," said Martinez.
Read more: http://www.foxnews.com/politics/2012/03/29/family-demands-