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Firearms, Ammunition & Explosives
10/11/2012

4 more sentenced in Columbus, NM, firearms trafficking case

LAS CRUCES, N.M. — Four more defendants were sentenced in federal court Tuesday for their roles in a firearms straw-purchasing and trafficking operation. This case was investigated by U.S. Immigration and Customs Enforcement's (ICE) Homeland Security Investigations (HSI).

U.S. District Judge Robert C. Brack handed down the following sentences:

  • Alberto Rivera, 42, of the Village of Columbus, N.M.: 90 months incarceration followed by three years of supervised release;
  • Manuel Ortega, 27, of Palomas, Mexico: 70 months incarceration followed by three years of supervised release;
  • Miguel Carrillo, 31, of Columbus: 46 months incarceration followed by three years of supervised release;
  • Gabriela Gutierrez, 32, of Columbus: 24 months incarceration followed by three years of supervised release.

In July 2011, Rivera, Ortega and Carrillo pleaded guilty to federal conspiracy, false statements and firearms smuggling charges. On April 4, Gabriela Gutierrez pleaded guilty to conspiracy to smuggle firearms and make a false statement in acquiring a firearm.

According to court records, from about July 2010 to February 2011, the defendants were involved in a firearms straw-purchasing and smuggling scheme spearheaded by former Village of Columbus Trustee Blas Gutierrez.

About 190 firearms, primarily AK-47-type pistols and 9 mm pistols, were fraudulently purchased from Ian Garland, owner of Chaparral Guns in Chaparral, N.M., by Blas Gutierrez and others, including Rivera, Carrillo, former Village of Columbus mayor Eddie Espinoza, Ricardo Gutierrez, and Eva Gutierrez. Each falsely stated on Bureau of Alcohol, Tobacco, Firearms and Explosives (ATF) Form 4473 that he or she was the actual purchaser of the firearms.

Court records also reveal that these straw-purchasers had reason to know that the purchased firearms were illegally destined to people in Mexico. Gabriela Gutierrez's role was recruiting one straw-purchaser and paying other straw-purchasers for their criminal efforts.

To date, eight of 12 convicted defendants have been sentenced. Former Village of Columbus Police Chief Angelo Vega, Blas Gutierrez, Ricardo Gutierrez and Eva Gutierrez are still awaiting sentencing. Eva Gutierrez's sentencing, originally scheduled for this week, was continued until a later date. No other sentencing dates have been scheduled.

In addition to HSI, the following agencies assisted with the investigation: ATF and the Drug Enforcement Administration, with assistance from the Comandante Chihuahua State Police in Palomas, Mexico, and the Secretariat of Public Security in Juarez, Mexico.

The U.S. Marshals Service, U.S. Customs and Border Protection's (CBP) Border Patrol, CBP Field Operations, New Mexico State Police, Las Cruces Police Department, El Paso Police Department, and other federal, state and local law enforcement agencies also provided assistance during the investigation.

Assistant U.S. Attorneys Greg McDonald and Steve Spitzer, Western District of Texas, are prosecuting this case.