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November 2, 2017San Antonio, TX, United StatesFirearms, Ammunition and Explosives

Former US Army recruiter from San Antonio sentenced to more than 16 years in federal prison for straw purchasing firearms for Gulf Cartel

SAN ANTONIO — A former U.S. Army sergeant was sentenced Thursday to more than 16 years  in federal prison following his role in a straw purchasing scheme that involved firearms smuggled to the Gulf Cartel.

This sentence was announced by U.S. Attorney Richard Durbin, Western District of Texas. This case was investigated by Bureau of Alcohol, Tobacco, Firearms and Explosives (ATF), and U.S. Immigration and Customs Enforcement’s (ICE) Homeland Security Investigations (HSI), with assistance from U.S. Army Criminal Investigations Command.

Julian Prezas, 37, from San Antonio was sentenced Nov. 2 by U.S. District Judge Orlando Garcia to 200 months in prison, three years of supervised release, and he must pay a $600 special assessment fee.  On Dec. 12, 2016, Prezas pleaded guilty to five counts of making a false statement during the purchase of firearms and one count of attempting to export into Mexico defense articles on the U.S. Munitions List without obtaining a license or written authorization. By pleading guilty, Prezas admitted to conspiring with others from April to August 2015 to illegally purchase more than 40 assault rifles.  

According to court records, Prezas was the actual purchaser of the firearms even though his co-defendants, other former U.S. Army soldiers, falsely indicated on their ATF form 4473 that they were buying the firearms at the time of purchase. Furthermore, Prezas, at times while in uniform and in a government vehicle, admittedly delivered the firearms to multiple individuals, one of whom was delivering them to members of the Gulf Cartel in Mexico.

“Stopping the flow of weapons illegally exported into Mexico is a top priority for HSI,” said Shane M. Folden, special agent in charge of HSI San Antonio. “These weapons often contribute to fueling the violence committed by drug cartels, which drastically affects communities both in Mexico and in the United States. This sentence sends a strong message to weapons traffickers that law enforcement will work aggressively with our federal law enforcement partners to combat this egregious and dangerous criminal activity.”

“It is deeply troubling that a member of the United States military flagrantly violated federal firearms laws, and engaged three other servicemen in a straw purchasing scheme. This defendant was keenly aware that the firearms were destined for the Gulf Cartel in Mexico. While this may be rare, the sentencing sends a clear message that no one is exempt from obeying the law,” said Fred Milanowski, special agent in charge of ATF Houston.

Earlier this year, Judge Garcia sentenced Prezas’ co-defendants, Thomas John Zamudio, 33, Ricardo Esparza Salazar, 47 and Christopher Brown, 32 to two years of probation after they pleaded guilty to making a false statement during the acquisition of a firearm.

Assistant U.S. Attorney Joseph Blackwell, Western District of Texas, is prosecuting this case.

Updated: 11/03/2017