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2 men sentenced to prison for attempts to smuggle guns, ammo into Mexico

2 men sentenced to prison for attempts to smuggle guns, ammo into Mexico

Both stymied after X-ray machines led CBP officers to firearms, ammunition

  • The Dennis DeConcini Port of Entry in Nogales, Sonora in November 2021.
    Paul Ingram/TucsonSentinel.comThe Dennis DeConcini Port of Entry in Nogales, Sonora in November 2021.

Two Mexican men were sentenced to prison Wednesday for attempting to smuggle weapons and thousands of rounds of ammunition into Mexico through Nogales, Ariz., in two separate cases from last summer.

Luis Carlos Martinez-Chacon, 35, was sentenced to 24 months in prison, followed by a year's probation, by U.S. District Judge John C. Hinderaker during a hearing in Tucson. 

Martinez-Chacon, from Chihuahua, Mexico, was arrested on June 29, 2022, after he attempted to drive his 2001 Honda Accord through the Dennis DeConcini Port of Entry in Nogales, Ariz. An X-ray of his vehicle revealed "anomalies in the dashboard." U.S. Customs and Border Protection officers searched the vehicle and found multiple weapons and hundreds of rounds of ammunition.

Stashed in his vehicle was a FN57 rifle that had its serial number filed off, as well as a 9mm Berretta pistol, a 9mm Glock 19 pistol,  a .45-cal Colt M 1911 and a Smith and Wesson 629 Classic .44 Magnum. Officials also found seven magazines for the weapons, as well as 960 rounds of .223 Wolf ammunition, 880 rounds of .223 TUL ammunition, and six rounds of .45-caliber ammunition.

According to court records, after his arrest Martinez-Chacon waived his Miranda rights, and told agents with Homeland Security Investigations, a part of U.S. Immigration and Customs Enforcement, that he had traveled from Nogales, Sonora, to Arizona and met three men who took him to a residence. There, he told agents, the men stuffed the weapons and ammunition into the dash of his Honda, according to a complaint filed by HSI Task Force Officer Jesus A. Castillo.

A jury trial was scheduled for late December, however, in September Martinez-Chacon agreed to plead guilty, accepting a maximum penalty of $250,000 and 10 years imprisonment, and three years probation, according to a court filing by his attorney Esmeralda Gaxiola. 

In the agreement, Martinez-Chacon admitted to smuggling firearms into Mexico. "The people who recruited me also wanted to smuggle marijuana and currency. I helped load the firearms and ammunition into my vehicle. I was supposed to deliver the firearms to another person in Mexico," he said. While Martinez-Chacon told HSI agents, he expected payment for smuggling the weapons, it's not clear how much he was paid for the failed effort.

Hinderaker sentenced a second man for ammunition smuggling on Wednesday.

Adan Gomez-Lopez, a 26-year-old man from Nogales, Sonora was sentenced to two years in prison, followed by one year of probation after pleading guilty to attempting to smuggle ammunition into Mexico.

On July 1, 2022, Gomez attempted to drive through the DeConcini border crossing in a gold Chevrolet Tahoe. When CBP officers asked Gomez to stop, he "initially did not stop and stared straight ahead," according to court records.

CBP officials X-rayed the Tahoe and found "several anomalies in the rear quarter panel area and speaker box," wrote HSI Task Force Officer Bret L. Earls. Officers found baggies containing ammunition stuffed into "non-factory compartments," he wrote.

Inside the baggies, officers found a smorgasbord of  ammunition, including: 510 rounds of .223-caliber rifle ammunition; 103 rounds of 5.56mm; 600 rounds of 6.5mm rounds; 35 rounds for a 9mm pistol; 100 rounds of .30-caliber ammunition, 20 rounds of .308-caliber ammunition, 50 shells of 12-gauge shotgun shells, and 1,100 primers for making additional rounds. They also found a "full set" of body armor.

Gomez said he expected payment in exchange for delivering the ammunition to an individual in Mexico, Earls wrote. Gomez was facing trial in November, however, weeks before it was slated to begin, he agreed to plead guilty. Gomez's attorney, Jon M. Sands, asked the court to keep his sentence to not more than 18 months because he was supporting two young children and his blind father in Nogales, Sonora.

While U.S. officials press hard to mitigate drug smuggling, thousands of firearms from the U.S. have been linked to murders in Mexico. In 2021, the government of Mexico launched a lawsuit against U.S. gun manufacturers, and a Boston-area wholesaler, arguing the companies are responsible for a "deadly flood" of weapons that invariably "wreak havoc in Mexican society."

A U.S. federal judge dismissed the country’s $10 billion lawsuit, however, in October, Mexico filed a new suit against five Arizona gun stores, arguing the gun dealers "systematically participate" in cartel violence.

"We are suing them because clearly there is a pattern, we contend that it is obvious that there is weapons trafficking and that it is known that these guns are going to our country," said Mexico’s Foreign Affairs Secretary Marcelo Ebrard in a video released last October.

From October to January, CBP officials in Arizona have intercepted 33 rifles and 23 handguns, along with nearly 14,000 rounds of ammunition. Across the U.S. border, CBP officials have intercepted 472 handguns and 191 riles headed to Mexico, and nearly 62,000 rounds in the last four months, according to CBP data.

HSI agents conducted the investigation in both cases.

Assistant United States Attorney Sarah B. Houston handled the prosecution against Martinez-Chacon, while Assistant United States Attorney Brandon M. Bolling prosecuted Gomez, said Yvette Cantu, a Justice Department spokeswoman.

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