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Men arrested in Texas for trafficking military-grade firearms to a Mexican Drug Cartel

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U.S. Army Staff Sgt. Anthony Ramos, an instructor assigned to 1st Battalion, 124th Cavalry Squadron, Texas Army National Guard, shows a Guatemalan police officer how to look through the sights of an M1919 Browning .30-caliber machine gun during live-fire training at the Guatemalan military academy, San Juan Sacatepéquez, Guatemala, May 20, 2013. The U.S. Army worked with the U.S. Border Patrol to train the newly formed Guatemala Inter-Agency Border Unit for the mission of interdicting the flow of illicit activities on the Guatemalan borders. (U.S. Army photo by Kaye Richey/Released)


Cesar Rodriguez
Laredo Morning Times, Texas
(TNS)

Mar. 26—A Laredo man and four other people have been arrested in South Texas for trafficking military-grade firearms to a Mexican Drug Cartel, according to the U.S. Attorney’s Office of the Western District of Texas.

Aside from Laredo, authorities also arrested people in Hebbronville and Falls City.

Authorities alleged that Gerardo Rafael Perez Jr., 23, also known as “Jerry,” of Laredo, coordinated the acquisition of more than 100 firearms throughout Texas to be smuggled across the border and delivered to a drug trafficking cartel in Nuevo Laredo, Tamaulipas, Mexico.

Perez used straw purchasers, including co-defendants Francisco Alejandro Benavides, 23, also known as “Frankie,” and Mark Anthony Trevino Jr., 24, to procure firearms from a variety of sources in the Western, Southern, and Northern Districts of Texas.

The suspects would acquire guns from unlicensed dealers of firearms, or from federal firearm licensees, where straw purchasers would make false representations to secure the firearms, according to court documents.

Luis Matias Leal, 30, also known as “Wicho,” “Poncho” and “El Tio,” allegedly provided the money instructions to facilitate the conspiracy while Antonio Osiel Casarez, 26, would smuggle the firearms into Mexico and return to the United States with bulk cash, authorities said.

“The high-powered firearms allegedly acquired by Perez’s organization included FNH SCAR rifles, Barrett .50 caliber rifles, FNH M294S rifles, and M1919 rifles,” authorities said.

Perez, Casarez, Leal, Benavides and Trevino were all named in a superseding indictment filed March 6. They were arrested March 20. These five defendants were charged with one count of conspiracy to traffic firearms and one count of conspiracy to straw purchase firearms.

Perez, Casarez, Leal and Benavides are further charged with one count of conspiracy to smuggle goods from the United States and one count of conspiracy to possess firearms in furtherance of a drug trafficking crime.

Perez also faces two additional firearms trafficking charges. Leal, Benavides and Trevino are also charged with falsifying information when buying a firearm and an additional count of straw purchasing.

Co-defendants Jose Emigdio Q. Mendoza, Gerardo Antonio Ibarra Jr. and Gerardo Corona, Jr. were initially named in an earlier indictment. Authorities said that Mendoza was engaged in dealing firearms without a license, selling military-grade weapons to members of the Perez conspiracy. Ibarra and Corona were the alleged straw purchasers for the organization.

“Several of the defendants are alleged to have contacted Mendoza to purchase the firearms, including SCAR rifles, Barrett .50 caliber rifles and M249 rifles. Mendoza is alleged to have sold at least 22 such firearms to his co-conspirators from December 2022 to March 2023 and received approximately $169,900, at a markup from the retail price of the guns so he could derive a profit for himself,” the U.S. Attorney’s Office said.

Mendoza was arrested in San Antonio on March 11, 2023. Ibarra and Corona were arrested in September and October. The Bureau of Alcohol, Tobacco, Firearms and Explosives and Homeland Security Investigations are investigating the case. Assistant U.S. Attorney William Calve is prosecuting the case.

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