Federal agents arrest suspected drug cartel gun smuggler
(11:37 a.m.)
Sun-News report
Article Launched: 04/04/2008 11:47:28 AM MDT

Click photo to enlargeVictor Varela«1»

LAS CRUCES — A suspected gun runner was arrested by agents from the Bureau of Alcoho, Tobacco, Firearms and explosives this week.

Investigators believe the alleged gun-runner carried the guns into Mexico at the Columbus, N.M. border crossing and were intended for use in the ongoing battles between rival cartels and with Mexican law enforcement.

The arrest follows an investigation conducted by the ATF and the Arizona Attorney General's Office, and investigators believe it will disrupt a group of gun smugglers that were allegedly trafficking the arms to a Mexican drug cartel.

Victor Manuel Varela Jr., 23, of Tuscon, AZ was taken into custody by the Arizona U.S. Marshals Fugitive Task Force as part of Operation Gunrunner.

This investigation was initiated based on information that Varela, through a network of straw purchasers, had acquired a number of firearms, including several .50 caliber "Barrett" rifles, for the purpose of supplying them to Mexican cartel members.

A number of the firearms attributed to this group have been recovered by law enforcement and military entities of the Mexican government who were mobilized to address the escalating level of violence in the Juarez, Chihuahua and Palomas, areas of Mexico.

Intelligence received throughout the course of this investigation, which implicates persons located in Mexico is being shared with members of Mexican law enforcement in conjunction with the ATF Mexico City Office.

Varela was remanded to the custody of the Maricopa County Jail, and is being charged by the Arizona Attorney General's Office with control of a criminal enterprise, conspiracy, fraud, forgery and weapons violations.