Alex Constantine - April 7, 2012
The China Post, April 8, 2012
PHOENIX -- Three men pleaded guilty on Thursday to charges of trafficking high-powered rifles and other guns to Mexico from Arizona under the botched “Fast and Furious” federal sting operation tied to the murder of a U.S. federal agent.
Jaime Avila Jr., Joshua David Moore and Kenneth James Thompson were among a ring of 20 defendants charged with buying and running high-powered firearms including Kalashnikov-type assault rifles, 5.7mm pistols and Barrett sniper rifles to the Mexican cartels.
The purchases were made in the Phoenix area from 2009 to 2010 when a bungled U.S. Bureau of Alcohol, Tobacco, Firearms and Explosives operation allowed more than 2,000 U.S.-bought weapons to slip across the border to Mexico.
Two of those weapons were found at the spot near the Arizona-Mexico border where U.S. Border Patrol agent Brian Terry was killed during a shootout with illegal immigrants in December 2010. It was not clear, however, if those weapons fired the fatal shots.
Fast and Furious was run by the Phoenix field office of the ATF and the U.S. Attorney. Its goal was to try to track guns being smuggled from the initial purchaser to senior drug cartel members.
Avila was named as the primary defendant in the suit. According to court documents, he was recruited in November 2009 by a co-conspirator, Juan Jose Martinez-Gonzalez, to make third-party straw purchases from licensed dealers. He bought 52 firearms, including powerful .308-caliber rifles and two .50-caliber Barrett sniper rifles.
During his involvement with the ring, he became aware that the guns were intended for export to Mexico, where drug cartel violence has killed more than 50,000 people since late 2006.
All three defendants pleaded guilty to charges of conspiring to deal in firearms without a license, making false statements in acquiring a firearm and smuggling guns out of the United States.
Avila and Moore also pleaded guilty to a second count of willfully engaging in firearms dealing without a license.
Upon sentencing on June 25, they face up to 10 years in prison, while Thompson faces up to five years.