Man pleads guilty to gun charges in botched probe
Latest chapter in Operations Fast and Furious saga
by Jacques Billeaud - Apr. 5, 2012 12:16 PM
PHOENIX -- A man who bought two rifles found at the scene of the
fatal shooting of a federal agent near the Arizona-Mexico border
pleaded guilty Thursday to two felony charges in the federal
government's botched gun smuggling investigation known as Operation
Fast and Furious.
Authorities say Jaime Avila Jr. was a member of a 20-person ring
accused of buying guns and smuggling them into Mexico for use by the
Sinaloa drug cartel. Two AK-47 variants bought by Avila from a
suburban Phoenix gun store were found in the aftermath of a December
2010 shootout that mortally wounded Border Patrol Agent Brian Terry
near Nogales, Ariz.
Avila, 25, faces up to 10 years in prison after pleading guilty to
dealing guns without a federal license and conspiracy to deal guns
without a license, make false statements in a gun purchase and
smuggle goods out of the U.S. A sentencing hearing is set for June 25.
Prosecutor Timothy Coughlin told the judge that Avila served as a
straw purchaser for the ring and bought 52 guns on its behalf,
including two .50-caliber rifles, though the indictment charged him
with buying six guns.
There was no mention during the hearing of Terry's death or the guns
found at the shootout scene.
Federal authorities have faced harsh criticism since Terry's shooting
for allowing suspected straw gun buyers to walk away from gun shops
with weapons, rather than arrest the suspects and seize the guns there.
Terry was killed in a shootout with bandits in a canyon north of
Nogales. The shooting broke out as Terry and three other agents tried
to catch five suspected illegal immigrants believed to be bandits who
rob illegal immigrants as they sneak into the United States.
Manuel Osorio-Arellanes of El Fuerte, Mexico, was shot during the
gunfight and is charged with second-degree murder in Terry's death.
Osorio-Arellanes isn't charged with being a member of the alleged gun
Avila, who hasn't been charged in Terry's death, was accused in the
gun smuggling case of claiming to buy five AK-47 variants and one .50-
caliber rifle for himself when he was actually making the purchases
on behalf of the ring.
Mexico's drug cartels often seek out guns in America because gun laws
in Mexico are more restrictive than in the United States.
The goal of the U.S. government's gun smuggling investigation was to
catch weapons-trafficking kingpins, but firearms agents lost track of
many weapons they were trying to trace to smuggling ringleaders, and
some guns ended up at crime scenes in Mexico and the U.S.
The investigation is the focus of an inquiry by congressional
Several agents of the U.S. Bureau of Alcohol, Tobacco, Firearms and
Explosives have said they were ordered by superiors to let suspected
straw buyers walk away from Phoenix-area gun shops with AK-47s and
other weapons believed headed for Mexican drug cartels, rather than
arrest the buyers and seize the guns there.
The federal agency lost track of some 1,400 of the more than 2,000
weapons whose purchases attracted the suspicion of the Fast and
So far, three members of the alleged gun smuggling ring have pleaded
guilty, and two other alleged ring members were expected to change
Trial for the remaining alleged members of the gun smuggling ring is
set for Sept. 25. They have pleaded not guilty to the charges against
Read more: http://www.azcentral.com/news/politics/articles/