ATF Announces 7 New Gunrunner Groups and Phoenix Gun Runner Impact Teams’ Successes
PHOENIX — Deputy Director Kenneth E. Melson of the Bureau of Alcohol, Tobacco, Firearms and Explosives (ATF) today announced the formation of seven new Project Gunrunner firearms trafficking groups during a news conference in which he and Dennis K. Burke, United States Attorney, District of Arizona, announced the results of ATF’s Gun Runner Impact Team (GRIT) initiative, a nearly 100-day deployment of ATF resources to the Phoenix Field Division to disrupt illegal firearms trafficking by Mexican drug trafficking organizations.
As a result of the 2010 emergency supplemental appropriation for border security, ATF received $37.5 million for Project Gunrunner, ATF’s comprehensive firearms trafficking strategy to disrupt the illegal flow of firearms into Mexico. With this funding, ATF will establish and place firearms trafficking groups along traditional and newly-discovered firearms trafficking routes and hubs in Atlanta; Dallas; Brownsville, Texas; Las Vegas; Miami; Oklahoma City; and Sierra Vista, Ariz.
“Lives are being lost to violent crime every day on both sides of the U.S. and Mexico border,” said Melson. “Through Project Gunrunner and its GRIT initiative, ATF is shutting down the supply routes of firearms traffickers along the border and further inland.”
The GRIT initiative brought more than 80 experienced ATF personnel from around the country to Arizona and New Mexico. GRIT special agents initiated 174 firearms trafficking-related criminal investigations and seized approximately 1,300 illegally-trafficked firearms and 71,000 rounds of ammunition, along with drugs and currency. ATF’s industry operations investigators conducted more than 800 federal firearms licensee compliance inspections.
“We are fighting on a crucial front here today to reduce violence in our own communities, and to disrupt and dismantle the southbound supply of weapons to the cartels,” said Burke. “We will not be a gun locker for the cartels, who have made murder and mayhem their modus operandi. We will not tolerate violent criminals and others who illegally possess, purchase or sell firearms.”
Burke announced that 96 defendants have been arrested, charged, convicted or sentenced since June 2010 on gun-related charges. The majority of defendants include violent felons, drug traffickers who use weapons, and those trafficking firearms to Mexico. Cases involved more than 370 guns — many of them AK-47 style rifles and other “weapons of choice” of drug cartels — and hundreds of thousands of rounds of ammunition smuggled into or destined for Mexico. Some of the guns seized in the investigation, including a .50 caliber weapon, were recovered at crime scenes in Mexico.
Recent examples of firearms prosecutions in the District of Arizona:
- U.S. v. Arizmendiz et al.
In July and August, two leaders of a firearms trafficking conspiracy that supplied at least 112 firearms — mostly AK-47 style — to the Sinaloa Cartel, were sentenced. Alejandroi Medrano, 23, and Hernan Ramos, 22, both of Mesa, Ariz., were sentenced to 46 and 50 months in prison, respectively, for leading a conspiracy involving 10 defendants who straw purchased firearms from gun dealers in Phoenix and Tucson, Ariz., in order to supply them to a member of the Sinaloa Cartel known as “Rambo.”
- U.S. v. Gaeda et al.
On June 3, following an ATF investigation involving more than 250,000 rounds of ammunition, ATF agents arrested Emmanuel Casquez, Elias Vasquez, and Charice Gaeda for unlawfully exporting ammunition to Mexico. Agents had learned the three were purchasing vast quantities of ammunition and searched a vehicle headed for the border port at Nogales and recovered 9,500 rounds of ammunition; a search of a residence ensued and an additional 27,000 rounds of ammunition were recovered.
- U.S. v. Ibarra et al.
In July, a 20-count indictment announced charging 10 straw purchasers, recruited by then 17-year-old Francisco Ibarra, to buy at least 25 firearms. ATF believes the firearms were trafficked into Mexico.
For more information on ATF and Project Gunrunner, please go to the ATF website, www.atf.gov.