Drug war guns came from Houston
Weapons at center of case cost $1,000 each on retail market
May 18, 2009, 10:13PM

Ten Houston men, including three brothers, were charged Monday in a conspiracy to ship 151 military-style weapons south of the border. It’s the region’s biggest arms-trafficking case since the Obama administration vowed to do more to stem the flow of U.S. guns to Mexican drug cartel soldiers.

Many of the weapons, which court papers indicate were bought by deceiving Houston firearms dealers, were civilian variants of M-16 assault rifles, a weapon used by the U.S. military, and now favored by warring cartels.

The weapons, which go for up to $1,000 apiece on the retail market, were bought in cash, sometimes two or three in a day at the same gun store, court documents indicate.

Some of the weapons linked to the trafficking cell were traced from underworld kidnappings and murders committed by the Gulf Cartel trafficking syndicate to Houston stores.

In some instances, U.S. agents learned of the weapons after they were recovered at crime scenes in Mexico. In others, they were discovered by scouring records required to be kept by firearms dealers, but their whereabouts remain unknown.

A core of the charged men, aged 22-28, knew each other from their time at Klein Forest High School, according to authorities.

The charges, which cover actions from March 2006 to July 2007, speak to an ongoing problem in Houston, which the Bureau of Alcohol, Tobacco, Firearms and Explosives contends is the top spot in the U.S. for the sale of weapons later recovered in Mexico.

While Texas has a high concentration of gun stores, in Mexico it is illegal in almost every instance for civilians to have guns.

Mexico’s cartels are desperate for weaponry as they fight each other and the Mexican government.

Authorities contend cartels need U.S. citizens with clean records to buy the weapons as they pass background checks. They commit a crime by claiming the weapons are for their own use.

Tackling a backlog
According to an ATF affidavit, one of the men charged Monday bought 21 guns, worth nearly $28,000, over a two-month period.

President Barack Obama and Mexican President Felipe Caldron spoke extensively about arms trafficking during Obama’s recent trip to Mexico.

Calderon contends Mexico can do more to slow the northward flow of drugs if the U.S. does more to slow the southward flow of weapons.

The Obama administration has dispatched more federal agents to the U.S.-Mexico border to search for southbound weapons. Most recently, more than 100 ATF agents were deployed to the Houston region.

Their mission here is largely to tear through a backlog of cases in which authorities are trying to determine how guns made their way from Houston to cartel crime scenes.

In addition to the M-16 style weapons, other firearms frequently bought are guns that chamber a round of ammunition that is reputed to penetrate body armor under certain circumstances, and is known in Mexico as mata policias, or cop killers, federal prosecutors said.

Conspiracy charges
Those charged include: Jesus Saul Pineda, 26; Miguel Angel Pineda, 22; Juan Manuel Pineda, 24; Christian Joel Garza, 27; Emmanuel Contreras, 24; Hector Quintana, 25; Reginald Keith Menefee, 23; Jecorey Dwann McGrough, 28; Robert Allen Meachum, 27 and Rodrigo Garza II, 28.

All are charged with conspiracy to make a false statement to purchase a firearm, an offense that carries up to five years in prison.

Additionally, Garza is charged with eight counts of aiding and abetting various co-defendants in the purchase of the weapons, as well as dealing firearms without a license.

Monday’s indictment is linked to two other Houston men who have pleaded guilty in recent weeks.

John Hernandez, who also attended Klein Forest, was sentenced to eight years in prison. Among the weapons he supplied were firearms used in the “Acapulco Massacre