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2 men face trial after ammo smuggling results in car fire

A Phoenix-area man will face trial in September in federal court in Tucson for attempting to smuggle thousands of rounds of ammunition and parts for machine guns into Mexico; a scheme that was uncovered when the ammunition, stashed in the engine compartment, began to cook off, igniting his vehicle. 

Francisco Eduardo Santana-Lopez, 19, was indicted on three counts by a grand jury in July for conspiracy and smuggling, along with co-conspirator Aaron Jazziel Cordova. 

According to court documents, Santana-Lopez and Cordova allegedly tried to smuggle into Mexico 200 rounds of .50-caliber ammunition, 2,000 rounds of 7.62x51 mm rifle rounds, as well as 2,000 of 7.62x39 mm rounds for AK-47-patterned rifles, a parts kit and tripod assembly for a WWII-era machine gun, parts for a modern M240E machine gun, and four M203 grenade launcher barrels. 

Santana-Lopez also allegedly purchased a .50-caliber Barrett sniper rifle, one of the weapons of choice for cartel members, in Phoenix and smuggled the weapon to people in Mexico, the indictment said. 

The two men began purchasing the ammunition and parts in June 2017 from on-line retailers and had them shipped to an address in Phoenix, according to court records. 

Their scheme unraveled when they attempted to smuggle a large cache of ammunition by storing some of the rounds in the engine compartment of their Chevy Cobalt. As they headed toward Nogales, Ariz., the ammunition began to cook off, igniting the vehicle. 

The two men, along with an unidentified woman, abandoned the vehicle at the Pilot Travel Center near Rio Rico, while the rounds continued to detonate, sending customers and employees at the convenience store ducking for cover, reported the Nogales International. 

No one was injured during the incident and firefighters from Rio Rico Fire District put out the car fire, but investigators found that the engine compartment had been packed with ammunition. 

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In July, Santana-Lopez pleaded not guilty, and will face a jury trial on September 5. No trial date has been set for Cordova. 

TucsonSentinel.com's original reporting and curation of border and immigration news is generously supported in part by a grant from the Ethics and Excellence in Journalism Foundation.

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