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Firearms, Ammunition & Explosives

3 men sentenced to federal prison for smuggling assault rifles

LAREDO, Texas — Two Mexican nationals and a resident of Laredo were sentenced on Tuesday to federal prison for conspiring to smuggle assault rifles into Mexico, announced U.S. Attorney Kenneth Magidson, Southern District of Texas.

The investigation was conducted by the following federal agencies: U.S. Immigration and Custom Enforcement's (ICE) Homeland Security Investigation (HSI); the Bureau of Alcohol, Tobacco, Firearms and Explosives; and U.S. Customs and Border Protection (CBP).

On Nov. 8, U.S. District Judge Diana Saldana handed down the sentences. Miguel Ramos-Ramos, 37, and Rafael Antonio Garza-Martinez, 48, two Mexican truck drivers living in Nuevo Laredo, Mexico, were each sentenced to 12 months and a day in federal prison for their roles in the conspiracy to smuggle four AR-15 assault rifles. Ramos-Ramos hired Garza-Martinez and also acted as a lookout. According to court documents, federal undercover agents posed as firearms traffickers and met with Garza-Martinez in Laredo on June 10, 2011. The agents then provided Garza-Martinez an unloaded AR-15 assault rifle wrapped in a towel and three rifle cases which, unbeknownst to him, were empty. The men were arrested immediately thereafter. In handing down the sentences on Nov. 8, Judge Saldana noted that although the truck drivers could be considered low-level workers, they were still important members of the trafficking organization.

Another member of the conspiracy, Juan Antonio Villatoro, 24, of Laredo, was also sentenced on Tuesday. Villatoro received a sentence of 36 months for obtaining more than $38,000 in one day to purchase firearms to be smuggled into Mexico and for recruiting various "straw purchasers" of firearms. Federal law requires purchasers of firearms to certify in writing that the firearm is not being purchased for someone else. Persons who buy firearms for others, but certify otherwise, are known as "straw purchasers."

All three pleaded guilty on Aug. 15, 2011. The defendants have been in custody since their arrests. They will remain in custody pending transfer to a Bureau of Prisons facility to be determined in the near future. Following their release from prison, all three men will serve a three-year term of supervised release.

Assistant U.S. Attorney Homero Ramirez, Southern District of Texas, is prosecuting this case.