SAN ANTONIO, Texas — Two San Antonio men have been sentenced to federal prison for their roles in a firearms straw purchasing and trafficking operation. The sentence was announced by U.S. Attorney Robert Pitman; Special Agent in Charge Gary Orchowski, Bureau of Alcohol, Tobacco, Firearms and Explosives (ATF), Houston Division; and Special Agent in Charge Jerry Robinette, U.S. Immigration and Customs Enforcement's (ICE) Homeland Security Investigations (HSI).
Keith Edwards, 23 and Ricky Gonzalez, 22, were sentenced Tuesday to 87 and 42 months, respectively, in U.S. District Court in Del Rio, Texas. They are two of 22 defendants who have pleaded guilty to federal firearms charges in connection with this investigation.
The other defendants include San Antonio area residents: Marino Castro, Jr., 27; Edward Levar Davis, 33; Jake Lee Cardenas, 22; Ricky Castillo, 23; Ronald Joseph Edwards, 27; Samuel Antonio Escobar, 23; Roxanne Bernal-Guerra, 32; Oralia Naranjo-Ortega, 45; Roxann Marie Rodriguez, 24; Rosendo Rodriguez, Jr., 37; Carlos Veliz, Jr., 23; David Hance-Colon, 25; Brittany Hernandez, 20; Linda Luevanos-Gonzalez, 37; Joanna Elaine Flores, 25; Crystal Marie Adame, 20; Israel Cantu, 31; Maria Montelong-Zavala, 50; Jose Ytuarte, 31; and Antonia Naranjo-Lopez, 46.
According to court documents, the defendants, under the direction of ringleaders Castro and Davis, conspired to illegally purchase firearms from San Antonio-area firearms dealers. Once retrieved from straw purchasers, Castro and Davis arranged to transport the firearms to a staging location in Eagle Pass, Texas, where they were to be smuggled into Mexico to members of the Los Zetas drug trafficking organization. Between May and August 2010, authorities intercepted five different shipments attributed to this trafficking cell and seized over 200 firearms, including handguns, AK-47 and AR-15-style assault rifles, and one .50 caliber Barrett sniper rifle.
"People who make false statements in connection with the purchase of firearms need to know two things: first, it is likely that those firearms are being used by those who eventually receive them to commit violent crimes, often against innocent victims; and two, that their role in facilitating the acquisition of firearms by criminals – even if that role is being paid a couple of hundred dollars for buying a firearm and passing it off to a middle man – will net them a federal prison sentence of up to ten years," stated U.S. Attorney Pitman.
To date, nine of the defendants have been sentenced to federal prison terms — Davis, 14 years; Castillo, 10 years; Edwards, 87 months; Cardenas, 72 months; Linda Gonzalez, 57 months; Ricky Gonzales, 42 months; Colon, 37 months; Ortega, 21 months; and Veliz,12 months. Marino Castro is scheduled to be sentenced at 11:00am on May 21, in Del Rio before U.S. District Judge Alia Moses. Antonia Lopez died of cancer prior to sentencing. Sentencings for the remaining defendants are scheduled throughout February, March and April.
"This is an example of how federal and state agencies working together can deny the criminal element the tools of their violent trade. Lives were saved by denying the criminals hundreds of firearms," stated Orchowski.
"One of HSI's top priorities is the dismantling of organizations involved in the smuggling of firearms to Mexican drug cartels," said Robinette. "The collective expertise and authorities of our law enforcement partners during this investigation significantly contributed to preventing hundreds of rifles and handguns from reaching violent criminal organizations and prosecuting those who were responsible."
This case was jointly investigated by special agents with ATF and HSI, with assistance from the Bexar County Sheriff's Office.
Assistant U. S. Attorney Benjamin Seal, Western District of Texas, is prosecuting the case.