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Federal authorities toppled a major gun trafficking operation intended to arm Mexican drug cartels with over 100 “military-grade” firearms, according to court documents.

Five men were arrested on March 20 and accused of illegally buying weapons throughout Texas to allegedly smuggle them across the border. 

“These firearms included FNH SCAR rifles, Barrett .50 caliber rifles, FNH M294S rifles, and M1919 rifles, all of which are highly prized by Mexican drug trafficking cartels for their firepower and battlefield reliability,” the federal criminal complaint says. 

“They are symbols of cartel profit, power, and prestige due in part to their high price to purchase and operate … Mexican drug trafficking cartels use these weapons to engage in battle with their enemies and exert control over their claimed territory.”

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Gerardo Rafael Perez Jr. is the alleged ringleader of the operation that was intended to arm cartels in Nuevo Laredo, Tamaulipas, Mexico. 

Four straw purchasers – identified as Gerardo Ibarra Jr., Gerardo Corona Jr., Francisoc Alejandro Benavides and Mark Anthony Trevino Jr. – illegally secured weapons in western, southern and northern districts of Texas, the criminal complaint alleges.  

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Straw purchasing of firearms is the illegal act of buying a gun for another person who is prohibited from owning the weapon or does not want their name associated with the transaction.

It became a crime in 2022 after the bipartisan gun safety bill – authored by Texas Sen. John Cornyn – passed and went into effect. 

Mexico Cartel guns marines

The straw purchasers allegedly bought the guns from unlicensed dealers, including Jose Emigdio Mendoza, who was named as a defendant in the complaint. 

Luis Matias Leal, who went by several nicknames including “Wicho,” “Poncho” and “El Tio,” allegedly funded the operation, and Antonio Osiel Casarez allegedly smuggled the guns into Mexico and returned to the U.S. “with bulk cash,” according to court documents. 

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Mendoza allegedly sold at least 22 guns for $169,900 between December 2022 and March 2023, the criminal complaint says. 

The scheme began to unravel in late January 2023, when federal firearm licensees in San Antonio denied a sale because of “suspicious circumstances of the attempted purchase,” according to court documents. 

READ FULL FEDERAL INDICTMENT

Mendoza – who allegedly sold the guns – along with two suspected straw purchasers, Ibarra and Corona, were arrested and charged last March. 

Perez Jr., the alleged ringleader, and Casarez, who is accused of smuggling the guns across the border, were arrested last September in Laredo, Texas, where law enforcement found a large cache of weapons and over hundreds of rounds of ammunition. 

 

The suspects – all 30 or younger – face a 14-count federal indictment. 

If convicted, the conspiracy to traffic firearms charges carry a penalty of up to 15 years in prison and conspiracy to straw purchase guns carries a maximum sentence of 25 years.

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