MCALLEN, Texas – The leader of a large straw-purchasing ring who was responsible for the purchase of more than 200 firearms is now headed to prison, announced U.S. Attorney Kenneth Magidson, Southern District of Texas. The investigation was conducted by U.S. Immigration and Customs Enforcement's (ICE) Homeland Security Investigations (HSI) and Bureau of Alcohol, Tobacco, Firearms and Explosives (ATF).
Yahir Ricardo Garcia-Matias, 29, a Mexican national in the United States illegally, was sentenced Wednesday along with nine others responsible for making false statements on ATF Forms 4473 in the acquisition of firearms from federal firearms licensees (FFLs).
According to court documents, Garcia-Matias pleaded guilty to one count of straw purchasing in one case and to being an illegal alien in possession of firearms in another. On Sept. 19, U.S. District Judge Randy Crane sentenced him to 120 months for the firearms possession and another 60 months for straw purchasing. The sentences will run consecutively for a total of 180 months in prison.
Also sentenced Wednesday was Jose Duran-Loera, 26, of Mercedes, Texas, who pleaded guilty to possession of a firearm by a felon and straw purchasing. He was sentenced to 120 and 60 months, respectively, which will also run consecutively for a total of 180 months in federal prison.
Judge Crane sentenced seven others in this case. The defendants are: Humberto Galvan, 22, and Juan Angel Nunez Jr., 25, both of Mercedes; Jose Espinoza, 24, of Weslaco; Angelo Rosa, 23, and Antonio Espinoza, 22, both of Edinburg; Ashley Trevino, 22, of San Juan; and Maria Isela Morales, 22, of Donna. All have pleaded guilty to one count of straw purchasing at varying times.
Galvan, Antonio Espinoza, Jose Espinoza, Rosa, Trevino and Morales were all sentenced to 46-month-terms of imprisonment. Nunez, who pleaded guilty to two different violations of straw purchasing, will serve a total of 108 months in prison.
Court documents indicate that beginning in September 2010, ATF agents began investigating several individuals who had made large numbers of purchases of highly trafficked firearms from The Armory, an FFL in McAllen. Agents interviewed several individuals involved in the case and discovered they had straw-purchased firearms for Loera or Nunez. Loera and Nunez would recruit individuals to make the purchases, give them money to make to purchase, then direct the buyers as to which store to use and what firearms to purchase. After the buyer had acquired the firearms they then transferred them to Nunez or Loera and were paid for making the purchase.
ATF agents identified Garcia-Matias and Nunez as senior members of the straw-purchasing organization. On May 23, ATF agents received information that Nunez was attempting to straw-purchase 10 AK-style rifles. After observing the purchase and once the firearms were loaded into Nunez's vehicle, agents approached and interviewed Nunez. He admitted at that time to straw-purchasing in cooperation with Garcia-Matias, who had provided the money to him. Nunez was followed back to the Rio Grande Valley where he was observed meeting with Garcia-Matias and another defendant, Juan Carlos Solis-Venegas, 39, a Mexican national living illegally in the United States, when Solis-Venegas turned the firearms over to them. After agents observed the firearms being transferred from Nunez's vehicle to the vehicle occupied by Garcia-Matias and Solis-Venegas, all were taken into custody. Solis-Vengas was identified by the parties as the person who brought the money to Garcia-Matias.
In total, Garcia-Matias was held to be responsible for well over 200 firearms.
Solis-Venegas was also charged in this case and subsequently pleaded guilty. He will be sentenced Oct. 4, and will remain in custody pending that hearing.
This prosecution was responsible for sending more than 25 leaders, recruiters and straw-purchasers to prison. Most of the firearms in the case were already in Mexico by the time agents were able to begin their investigation of the offenses. The majority of the prosecution was historical and based upon completed ATF Forms 4473 that were examined. No firearms were allowed into Mexico as a part of this investigation.
Garcia-Matias and Nunez have been in custody, as are Loera and Juan Espinoza. They will remain in custody pending transfer to a U.S. Bureau of Prisons facility to be determined in the near future. The remaining six sentenced Sept. 19 had been on bond but were remanded to custody following Wednesday's hearing.
Assistant U.S. Attorney Steven Schammel, Southern District of Texas, prosecuted the case.