LAREDO, Texas — Five Laredo residents pleaded guilty Tuesday to falsifying assault rifle purchases, announced U.S. Attorney Kenneth Magidson, Southern District of Texas. The investigation is being conducted by the Bureau of Alcohol, Tobacco, Firearms and Explosives (ATF), U.S. Immigration and Customs Enforcement's (ICE) Homeland Security Investigations (HSI) and the Laredo Police Department.
Andrew Joshua Guerrero, 19, Jackie Lee Salinas, 21, Victoria Luna, 49, her daughter Vanessa Samantha Luna, 20, and Christopher Veve, 20, all of Laredo, pleaded guilty May 15 to making, or aiding and abetting the making of, false statements on ATF forms in the acquisition of firearms from federal firearms licensees (FFLs). This is commonly referred to as "straw purchasing," prohibited by Title 18, United States Code, Section 924(a)(1)(A).
According to court documents, each defendant admitted to purchasing at least two firearms between April and June 2011 for individuals who provided the purchase money. The rifles were immediately turned over to those individuals after the defendants bought them. The defendants were paid to buy the assault rifles and to lie to the firearms store representatives and on the ATF forms 4473 by certifying they were the actual buyers of the firearms, when in fact they were not. The defendants straw purchased a total of 15 assault rifles, all of them AK-47 and AR-15 variants, which were turned over almost immediately to different individuals who paid the defendants to buy the rifles.
At the hearing on Tuesday, U.S. Magistrate Judge Guillermo R. Garcia asked each defendant if he or she knew whether firearms were headed for illegal export into Mexico. Most of the defendants claimed they did not know; only Guerrero admitted that they were destined for Mexico. Judge Garcia also asked the defendants how they knew what to buy. While all answered they received directions, Salinas stated she "had no idea what rifles they were" when she went to the store, while Victoria Luna replied she is "not familiar with rifles, but just bought what was written on a piece of paper." All admitted to having received payment of less than what was initially agreed.
All five defendants were permitted to remain on bond pending their sentencing hearings, which is set for Aug. 30. At that time, each defendant could face up to five years in federal prison and up to a $250,000 fine.
This case was brought as part of Project Safe Neighborhoods (PSN), a nationwide commitment to reduce gun and gang crime in America by networking existing local programs that target gun and gun crime and providing these programs with additional tools necessary to be successful. Since its inception in 2001, approximately $2 billion has been committed to this initiative. This funding is being used to hire new federal and state prosecutors, support investigators, provide training, distribute gun lock safety kits, deter juvenile gun crime, and develop and promote community outreach efforts as well as to support other gun and gang violence reduction strategies.
Assistant U. S. Attorney Homero Ramirez, Southern District of Texas, prosecuted the case.