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08/20/2012

South Texas federal jury convicts CBP officer of straw-purchasing firearms

BROWNSVILLE, Texas — A local federal jury convicted a U.S. Customs and Border Protection (CBP) officer Monday on two counts of making a false statement on an official federal form, and one count of making a false statement to a federal agent. This conviction was announced by U.S. Attorney Kenneth Magidson, Southern District of Texas. This case was investigated by U.S. Immigration and Customs Enforcement's (ICE) Homeland Security Investigations and the FBI.

Manuel Eduardo Pena, 38, a CBP officer, was convicted Aug. 20 after the jury deliberated four hours.

According to court documents, an HSI special agent testified that he witnessed Pena buy a firearm Dec. 5 at the Academy Sporting Goods Store in Brownsville. The Bureau of Alcohol, Tobacco, Firearms and Explosives (ATF) Form 4473, which is required to be completed by anyone purchasing firearms, indicated Pena stated he was purchasing the firearm for himself. However, special agents witnessed Pena take the firearm from the store and deliver it to another person in exchange for money. In addition, the person Pena sold the firearm to testified that the gun was intended for him, not Pena.

The evidence presented indicated that Pena made a second straw purchase Dec. 19 at the same store. HSI and FBI special agents were present and again witnessed Pena purchase the firearm, state on ATF Form 4473 that the firearm was for him, and then transfer the gun to the same individual. The FBI took possession of both firearms.

Pena was arrested May 24, at which time he lied to an FBI agent claiming he had bought the guns for his own personal hunting use. He stated he used the guns at his deer lease before leaving them with a friend. In fact, the FBI possessed the guns, and they clearly were straw-purchased for another person.

Pena tried to convince the jury the gun purchases were part of a "communal purchase" of firearms for a hunting lease.

Pena has been a CBP officer for 12 years and the charges are unrelated to his official duties.

U.S. District Court Judge Hilda G. Tagle, who presided over the trial, set sentencing for Nov. 19. Pena faces up to five years in prison and a maximum $250,000 fine on each count. Previously released on bond, Pena was allowed to remain on bond pending his sentencing.

Assistant U.S. Attorneys Oscar Ponce and Karen Betancourt, Southern District of Texas, prosecuted this case.