HOUSTON - An American husband and his Colombian wife were arrested and charged this week with smuggling firearms to Colombia. These arrests and charges were announced on Thursday by the following agency heads: U.S. Attorney José Angel Moreno, Southern District of Texas; Special Agent in Charge Robert Rutt, U.S. Immigration and Customs Enforcement (ICE) Homeland Security Investigations (HSI); and Special Agent in Charge Dewey Webb, Bureau of Alcohol, Tobacco, Firearms and Explosives (ATF).
ICE HSI and ATF agents executed arrests warrants on March 8, after the filing of sealed criminal complaints charging Patrick Regan, 40, and his Colombian-born wife, Ximena del Pilar Echeverry Arias, 25, with conspiracy, smuggling goods from the United States and possessing a firearm with an obliterated serial number. The criminal complaints were unsealed March 10. Both defendants made their initial appearances before U.S. Magistrate Judge Nancy Johnson and have been ordered to remain in federal custody pending preliminary examination and detention hearings set for March 11.
"HSI is committed to working with ATF and our international law enforcement partners to combat the illegal export of weapons from the U.S., " added Rutt. "The prosecution of weapons smugglers is a priority as we attempt to secure our borders in both directions. "
"Firearms trafficking empowers terrorists, insurgents and violent gangs to murder, intimidate and control law-abiding people in many countries, including our closest democratic neighbors and friends in North, Central and South America, " said Moreno. "We must and will do everything in our collective power to deny firearms to those who use them to destroy innocent human life and to undermine democratic governance itself. This investigation shows how, through interagency and international coordination, we can begin to regain control over what has become an international problem. "
"It is an ATF priority to interdict the trafficking of firearms out of the country, " said Webb. "We work hand-in-hand with ICE HSI to keep these firearms out of the hands of criminals. "
According to allegations in the criminal complaints, in October 2010, an investigation into the alleged illegal export by Regan of firearms to Colombia was initiated by the ATF. During the course of the investigation, ICE HSI and ATF, working jointly, learned that Regan had acquired an unusually large number of firearms and related equipment beginning in or about October 2009. It was also determined that he had been receiving substantial sums of money via wire transfer from banks in Colombia. The results of the joint investigative effort led to the accusations that Regan made false statements to federally licensed firearms dealers to obtain firearms, obliterated the serial numbers on the firearms and, together with Arias, unlawfully exported the firearms to Colombia.
On Dec. 8, 2010, according to the complaints, agents saw Regan and Arias ship numerous boxes addressed to recipients in Colombia. An examination of those boxes and their shipping labels determined that the name of the addressee was fictitious; the shipping address was an abandoned residence in Colombia; the shipper's name and address were fictitious; and the description of the content of the packages identified as machine castings or pressure washers was also false. The boxes actually contained 16 firearms, including eight Fabrique-Nationale Herstal model Five-seveN, 5.7 x 28mm pistols; and eight Double Star, model STAR-15, 5.56mm complete lower receivers. The lower receivers are components of AR-15-style semi-automatic rifles which are similar to the U.S. military's M-4 rifle. Each firearm had its serial number obliterated.
Agents intercepted two subsequent firearms shipments allegedly made by Regan to Colombian addresses. The first shipment intercepted on Dec. 16, 2010 included three Rock River Arms, model LAR-15, 5.56mm lower receivers. The second shipment intercepted on March 2 included 15 Surplus Ammo & Arms, model LOW15, 5.56mm lower receivers. Each lower receiver, which is by itself is considered a firearm for regulatory purposes, had its serial number removed.
The complaints further allege that records obtained during the investigation showed Arias, while living in Colombia, had allegedly signed for 12 of the 67 similarly suspicious packages addressed to her home and wire-transferred more than $39,000 from a bank in Colombia to Regan's account in the United States over the course of multiple transactions.
Concomitant with the arrests, ICE HSI and ATF agents executed a number of search warrants, including one at Regan's Houston-area residence which resulted in discovering and seizing the following items: 50 additional lower and 13 upper receivers for AR-15-style semi-automatic rifles, an unregistered fully assembled short-barrel AR-15 rifle, two pieces of metal-working machinery, and 13 AR-15-style lower receivers in varying stages of manufacture.
In close collaboration with ATF and Department of Homeland Security liaison personnel stationed at the U.S. Embassy in Bogota, Colombia, investigating agents passed on valuable leads to the Colombian National Police who conducted several searches in Colombia timed to coincide with the arrests in the United States. Thus far, Colombian National Police have arrested three in Colombia and dismantled a workshop where firearms were being assembled from the lower receivers Regan and Arias allegedly supplied and other essential components. Also seized were: about $10,000 in cash, a computer and firearms stocks. The Colombian National Police are still pursuing leads developed from this joint ICE HSI and ATF investigation.
Conspiracy carries a maximum statutory punishment of five years imprisonment and a $250,000 fine upon conviction. Each of the alleged firearms violations - false statements to acquire a firearm, possessing a firearm with an obliterated serial number, and unlawful exporting a firearm - carries statutory maximum punishment ranges of 10 years and a $250,000 fine each.
ICE HSI and ATF conducted this investigation with the assistance of the U.S. Embassy, Bogota, Colombia; the Colombian National Police; and the Houston Police Department.
Assistant U.S. Attorney Mark W. White III, Southern District of Texas, is prosecuting the case.