Thursday, November 29, 2012

AZMEX F&F EXTRA2 29-11-12


Fast and Furious link to NM border town smugglers
By Associated Press
Originally published: Nov 29, 2012 - 5:43 pm

ALBUQUERQUE, N.M. -- A gun smuggling ring run by former town
officials in Columbus, N.M., had a direct link to targets of the
failed ``Fast and Furious'' gun-tracking operation run by federal
officials in Arizona, records show.

Federal prosecutors have sought to distance the Columbus smuggling
case from the Arizona investigation, which has been the subject of a
two-year congressional investigation and a battle between Republicans
and Attorney General Eric Holder.

But reports obtained by the Albuquerque Journal (
SgbB9U ) show federal agents were aware in early 2010 that members of
the Columbus ring had been stopped by authorities a few months
earlier with weapons purchased by a suspect involved in the Fast and
Furious case.

That connection apparently dried up, and Columbus town trustee Blas
``Woody'' Gutierrez began buying guns himself and paying others to
buy guns for him from a New Mexico dealer, according to reports the
Journal obtained from the Bureau of Alcohol, Tobacco, Firearms and
Explosives and U.S. Border Patrol. Gutierrez has pleaded guilty to
gun smuggling and other charges but hasn't been sentenced.

In the Fast and Furious case, ATF agents in Phoenix allowed high-
powered weapons purchased by straw buyers to ``walk'' into Mexico and
had a failed plan to track and seize them. Of the 2,000 weapons
purchased in Arizona, 1,400 were never recovered. Two were found
where Border Patrol Agent Brian Terry was killed in a southern
Arizona shootout on Dec. 15, 2010.

In the New Mexico investigation, federal agents connected more than
200 gun purchases to the Columbus ring and recovered 40 weapons,
according to the Journal report. Most of the AK-47-like firearms that
were recovered were seized by law enforcement in January and February
2011 shortly before the Columbus indictment.

More than a year before the indictments, Gutierrez and another
convicted member of the Columbus group, Miguel Carrillo, were stopped
by Border Patrol agents driving around town, the documents show.

When agents searched their vehicle on Jan. 14, 2010, they found 10
semiautomatic weapons and noted the serial numbers. The agents at
that time ran the serial numbers through one law enforcement computer
database but came up empty. They also found no criminal arrest
warrants for Gutierrez or Carrillo, so the weapons were returned to

Three months later, federal ATF agents in New Mexico wrote a report
showing that three of the guns were purchased on Jan. 9, 2010, by
Jaime Avila Jr. from a Phoenix-area gun shop. Their report refers to
the Fast and Furious investigation by number.

Avila was convicted as a member of the gun smuggling ring in Arizona
targeted in the Fast and Furious investigation. Two guns he purchased
on Jan. 14, 2010, were found at the scene of Agent Terry's death.

Three other weapons found in the Gutierrez car on Jan. 10 also back
to Fast and Furious.

Avila has pleaded guilty in the Fast and Furious case and awaits

In the Columbus case, Gutierrez has pleaded guilty to 37 counts of
smuggling, illegally purchasing firearms and conspiracy. His plea
agreement has been sealed, and he hasn't been sentenced.

Carrillo pleaded guilty to five counts of conspiracy, smuggling and
making false statements to acquire firearms. He was sentenced to 46

The connection to the Columbus gun smuggling surfaced only after
Gutierrez, Columbus Mayor Eddie Espinosa, police Chief Angelo Vega
and their confederates were indicted in March 2011. All pleaded guilty.

Sen. Charles E. Grassley, R-Iowa, sent a letter to Alan Bersin,
commissioner of U.S. Customs and Border Protection, asking about the
traffic stop of Gutierrez. Bersin declined to provide Grassley with
any information about the case, the Journal reported.

Gutierrez began buying guns himself and paying others to buy guns for
him from a gun dealer in Chaparral, N.M, according to the documents.
Except for the three guns identified as coming from Arizona in
January 2010, authorities say all of the guns in the 82-count
indictment against the Columbus ring were purchased in New Mexico.

The Columbus operation was supplying La Linea, the security arm of
the Juarez Cartel, according to the documents. The Fast and Furious
gun smuggling ring in Arizona was supplying weapons to the Sinaloa
Cartel, which was fighting the Juarez Cartel for control of its drug
smuggling pipeline, according to federal authorities.

Mexican law enforcement recovered 12 guns traced back to Columbus-
including three weapons found at the scenes of five people killed in
Palomas. One of the pistols recovered in February 2011 was in
Gutierrez's car during the Jan. 14, 2010, traffic stop by Border
Patrol agents.

Other weapons seized in Mexico were found during narcotics raids and
the site of another homicide in Juarez.

A request for comment from U.S. Attorney's Office in New Mexico was
forwarded to the U.S. Attorney's Office for the Western District of
Texas. Spokesman Daryl Fields said there would be no comment about
the Columbus investigation at this time.

Information from: Albuquerque Journal,

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