LAREDO, Texas — A south Texas gun store owner who owns two local businesses was sentenced Wednesday to more than five years in federal prison following his conviction for attempting to smuggle more than 600 ammunition magazines to Mexico.
This investigation was led by U.S. Immigration and Customs Enforcement's (ICE) Homeland Security Investigation (HSI), with the assistance of U.S. Customs and Border Protections; the Bureau of Alcohol, Tobacco, Firearms and Explosives; and the Laredo Police Department.
Arturo Gonzalez, 42, owner of J.C. Twiss El Canonazo sporting apparel and firearm accessories stores in Laredo, appeared before U. S. District Judge Marina Garcia Marmolejo sentenced Gonzalez to 63 months in federal prison, plus three years of supervised release after he completes his prison sentence. Judge Marmolejo assessed Gonzalez a $7,000 fine, payable immediately.
The following four other individuals were also sentenced Wednesday on related charges: Juan Carlos Ordonez-Guzman, 28, of Nuevo Laredo, Mexico; Juan Fernando Guzman Jr., 35, a U.S. citizen living in Nuevo Laredo; Jorge Sosa, 45, and Leticia Moncada Infante, 57, both of Laredo; all pleaded guilty for their roles in the offense. Ordonez-Guzman received a 36-month sentence; Sosa, Guzman and Infante were each sentenced to 24-month terms of federal imprisonment. The judge ordered all four to serve three years of supervised release after they complete their prison sentences. Ordonez-Guzman is expected to face deportation proceedings after he completes his prison term.
"Today's sentencing sends a clear message to individuals involved in smuggling weapons, ammunition and other related items," said Special Agent in Charge Janice Ayala, HSI San Antonio. "Keeping these items out of the wrong hands is a top priority for HSI. Our special agents will continue working jointly with our law enforcement partners and utilize our expertise in export enforcement to keep our citizens safe and secure."
According to court documents, Sosa testified that Gonzalez had directed him to provide ammunition to Mexican couriers. Gonzalez personally delivered boxes containing AK-47 assault rifle magazines to Infante at the north Laredo store on Shiloh Drive on Nov. 28, 2012, after the store's closing hours. She told jurors she had received a telephone call in advance from a Mexican contact. She was to proceed to the store, receive the boxes, and deliver them to a Mexican semi-tractor driver whom she would meet at a prearranged time and location who would smuggle the boxes to Mexico.
Additional testimony from other witnesses and court records confirmed Infante waited in her car as Gonzalez loaded several boxes from his store into the trunk of her car. Those boxes were delivered moments later to a truck driver who was arrested trying to drive into Mexico with them.
During the course of the investigation, an HSI special agent posed as another courier sent by a Mexican buyer. Gonzalez directed the special agent to receive boxes containing another 288 AK-47 assault rifle magazines in an alley behind the north Laredo Store on Nov. 30, 2012. After noting the number of people watching, Gonzalez directed the special agent to proceed to the back alley of his store. The HSI special agent testified he never received any paperwork. Nor was he asked for identification from Gonzalez. A short time later, the special agent delivered the boxes to another Mexican truck driver who was arrested attempting to smuggle the boxes into Mexico.
Sosa, a former employee of Gonzalez, testified that Gonzalez introduced him to at least two persons from whom he had received money and directed him to accept cash from them on his behalf. He also testified Gonzalez directed him to deliver the last load of 360 AK-47 assault rifle magazines to Guzman at Sosa's personal storage unit. Sosa and Guzman testified that both met at Sosa's storage unit on Dec. 7, 2012, where Guzman picked up five boxes containing a total of 360 magazines. Guzman was apprehended shortly after the event.
Additional evidence was presented that Gonzalez had told Guzman he feared law enforcement was closing in on him and that it would be better if Guzman did not pick up the last set of magazines from Gonzalez or at the store. Gonzalez apparently wanted to get the magazines out of his store and have them moved to a storage unit owned by Sosa. The undercover recording had Gonzalez saying "this is the plan" before instructing Sosa to move the magazines to the storage unit, where Guzman would pick them up.
Gonzalez testified and admitted that he had in fact delivered the boxes to Infante and the undercover agent on Nov. 28 and 30, but that he was not doing anything illegal. During his testimony, Gonzalez admitted he did not check for identification prior to delivering the assault rifle magazines. In his defense, Gonzalez stated that he had received an unusually large order from a Laredo hunter for 1,500 rifle magazines. Although never having met the gentleman before, Gonzalez quoted a price of $30,000 for the order, which the man immediately paid for in cash that he happened to be carrying with him. Gonzalez could not remember the man's name, did not record the man's phone number or contact information, did not photograph his identification information, and did not provide any receipt or document to the buyer. Gonzalez reiterated that story today.
Gonzalez claimed he had no intention of providing any AK-47 rifle magazines to Guzman. He further claimed Sosa moved the magazines to the storage unit and delivered them to Guzman without Gonzalez's knowledge or consent.
The jury disagreed and convicted him on all three counts as charged.
Evelyn Linaldi-Delfin and Jesus Roberto Cisneros-Villarreal, who also pleaded guilty in the case, are set for sentencing April 8, 2014. They are in custody pending that hearing.
All AK-47 assault rifle magazines referenced in this case were intercepted and recovered in the United States. No magazines were transported to Mexico.
Previously released on bond, Gonzalez was taken into custody following the sentencing Wednesday where he will remain pending transfer to a U.S. Bureau of Prisons facility to be determined in the near future. Guzman and Ordonez-Guzman will remain in custody pending their transfer, while Sosa and Moncada were allowed to remain on bond and voluntarily surrender in the near future.
This sentence was announced by U.S. Attorney, Kenneth Magidson, Southern District of Texas.
Assistant U.S. Attorney Jose Homero Ramirez, Southern District of Texas, prosecuted this case.