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Phoenix woman sentenced for attempting to smuggle guns & ammo to Mexico

A Phoenix-area woman will serve 30 months in prison for attempting to smuggle two semi-automatic AK-47-patterned rifles, along with 3,000 rounds of ammunition, and a tripod-mount for a .50-caliber sniper rifle, into Mexico last March. 

Ariana Alexa Ramirez, 27, was sentenced Wednesday to one count of smuggling goods from the United States by U.S. District Court Judge Cindy K. Jorgenson after pleading guilty in October. Following her prison term, Ramirez will face three years of supervised release. 

On March 26, Ramirez and her boyfriend 23-year-old Andrian Andrian Enrique Alvarez-Valdez, purchased 3,000 rounds of ammunition from a Phoenix-area gun store. The next day, the pair attempted to cross into Mexico through the Dennis DeConcini Port of Entry in Nogales with a stockpile of ammunition and weapons stashed throughout Ramirez's Ford Explorer. 

Ramirez' two young children were in the vehicle's backseat when U.S. Customs and Border Protection stopped the vehicle during "outbound inspections" and discovered the weapons and ammo. 

In addition to the firearms, CBP officers found 1,000 rounds of .38 Super, and 2,000 rounds meant for the AK-47-style rifles, according to court documents. 

Officials also found six 30-round magazines and one 10-round magazine for the rifles. Additionally, hidden in the backseat, CBP officers found a disassembled tripod intended for the .50-caliber sniper rifle favored by cartel members, said Francisco Burrola, acting special agent in charge of Homeland Security Investigations in Arizona. 

Burrola said that couple were known to investigators before they attempted to cross into Mexico, and the arrests and seizures were part of an investigation that included the Bureau of Alcohol, Tobacco, Firearms and Explosives, and CBP's Office of Field Operations. 

In a news release, the U.S. Attorney's Office said that the couple had smuggled weapons and ammunition into Mexico on "multiple prior occasions" said spokesman Dominic Lopez. 

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"The amount of work invested culminated in extremely dangerous weapons to include thousands of rounds of assorted ammunition being seized and prevented their possible use in violent crimes," said Burrola. 

Burrola said the agency was satisfied with the investigation and the jail times for both defendants, and said that it was important for the general public to know that HSI and other agencies were working on these cases. In the last eight or nine years, firearms smuggling from Arizona into Mexico was rampant, he said, but that's changed as HSI and other agencies have targeted the organizations that attempt to smuggle weapons.

However, ammunition smuggling is much more difficult to halt, he said, because while a weapon has paperwork attached as part of its purchase, someone can walk into a gun store and purchase 15 boxes without checks, Burrola said. 

"Our biggest thing is to hit these organizations quickly," he said. "We don't let any guns walk." 

Alvarez-Valdez received 46 months with credit for time served after he pleaded guilty to two counts of smuggling and was sentenced to 46 months in October, and faces three years of supervised release. 

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Two AK-47-style rifles, 3,000 rounds of ammunition and the tripod for a .50-caliber sniper rifle seized in March 2016 by Nogales-area U.S. Customs and Border Protection officers.