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11-29-2012, 02:28 PM #1
Fast and Furious link to N.M. border town smugglers
Fast and Furious link to NM border town smugglers
Posted at: 11/29/2012 7:48 AM
By: The Associated Press
ALBUQUERQUE, N.M. (AP) - Records show a gun smuggling operation run by former town officials in Columbus, N.M., had a direct link to targets of the bungled "Fast and Furious" operation run by federal officials in Arizona.
Federal prosecutors have sought to distance the Columbus gun smuggling case from the Arizona probe.
But reports obtained by the Albuquerque Journal show federal agents were aware in early 2010 that the leader of the Columbus ring had been stopped a few months earlier with weapons purchased by a suspect involved in the Fast and Furious case.
That connection apparently dried up and ringleader and town trustee Blas "Woody" Gutierrez began buying guns himself and paying others to buy guns for him from a New Mexico dealer. He has pleaded guilty to gun smuggling but hasn't been sentenced.
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11-29-2012, 09:07 PM #2
Columbus Gun Smugglers Linked to ‘Fast & Furious’
By Mike Gallagher / Journal Investigative Reporter on Thu, Nov 29, 2012
A gun smuggling operation run by former Columbus town officials had a direct link to targets of the bungled “Fast and Furious” operation run by federal officials in Arizona, according to reports obtained by the Journal.
Federal prosecutors have sought to distance the Columbus gun smuggling case – code-named “The Good, The Bad and The Ugly”- from the Arizona probe, which has been the subject of a two-year congressional investigation and a running battle between Republicans and Attorney General Eric Holder.
But reports obtained by the Journal show that in April 2010, federal agents were aware that the leader of the Columbus ring – town trustee Blas “Woody” Gutierrez – had been stopped a few months earlier with weapons purchased by a suspected “straw man” involved in the Fast and Furious case in Arizona.
In the Fast and Furious case, agents of the Bureau of Alcohol, Tobacco, Firearms and Explosives 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 by the Arizona ring, 1,400 were never recovered and two were found at the murder scene of Border Patrol Agent Brian Terry 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. Most of the AK-47-like pistols that were recovered were seized by law enforcement in January and February 2011 shortly before the Columbus gang was indicted.
More than a year before the indictments, Gutierrez and another member of the Columbus group, Miguel Carrillo, were stopped by Border Patrol agents driving around town.
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 and didn’t find anything amiss.
Nor did they find any criminal arrest warrants for Gutierrez or Carrillo, so the weapons were returned to Gutierrez.
But three months later, in April, federal ATF agents in New Mexico wrote a report showing that three of the weapons found that night 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 a member of the gun smuggling ring in Arizona that was the target of the Fast and Furious investigation. Two guns he purchased on Jan. 14, 2010, were the weapons found at the scene of Agent Terry’s murder.
Three other weapons found in the Gutierrez car on Jan. 10 eventually traced back to another Fast and Furious suspect, Uriel Patino.
Avila has pleaded guilty in the Fast and Furious case and awaits sentencing. 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 months.
A request for comment to the U.S. Attorney’s Office in New Mexico was forwarded to the U.S. Attorney’s Office for the Western District of Texas, which didn’t respond.
The U.S. Senate and House of Representatives judiciary committees have been investigating the Fast and Furious case since Border Patrol Agent Terry was shot and killed south of Tucson in December 2010.
The connection to the Columbus gun smuggling gang surfaced only after Gutierrez, Columbus Mayor Eddie Espinosa, Chief of Police Angelo Vega and their confederates were indicted in March 2011.
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.
Some time after the traffic stop, the Columbus-Arizona gun connection appears to have dried up.
Gutierrez began buying guns himself and paying others to buy guns for him from a gun dealer in Chaparral, N.M. Except for the three guns identified as coming from Arizona in January 2010, all of the guns in the 82-count indictment against the Columbus gang were purchased in New Mexico.
The Columbus gang was supplying “La Linea,” the security arm of the Juarez Cartel.
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.
Mexican law enforcement recovered 12 guns traced back to the Columbus gang – including three weapons found at the murder scenes of five people in Palomas.
One of the pistols recovered at a Palomas murder scene 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.
— This article appeared on page A1 of the Albuquerque Journal
ABQJournal Online » Columbus Gun Smugglers Linked to ‘Fast & Furious’
11-30-2012, 03:18 PM #3