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Tucson man gets 2 years in prison for trying to smuggle 22k round of rifle ammo across border

Tucson man gets 2 years in prison for trying to smuggle 22k round of rifle ammo across border

  • A member of the National Guard during inspections at the the Mariposa Port of Entry in Nogales in 2018.
    Paul Ingram/TucsonSentinel.comA member of the National Guard during inspections at the the Mariposa Port of Entry in Nogales in 2018.

A Tucson man was sentenced last week to two years in prison for attempting to smuggle 22,000 rounds of rifle ammunition through a border crossing in Nogales last year.

Victor Acosta, 47, was sentenced to 24 months in prison followed by three year's probation, by U.S. District Judge James A. Soto during a hearing in Tucson on March 6. Acosta pleaded guilty to one count of smuggling goods from the United States during a hearing in September.

On March 23, 2022, Acosta drove his 2005 Suzuki XL7 SUV south through the Mariposa Port of Entry in Nogales. As he traveled through the border crossing, an U.S. Customs and Border Protection officer questioned him. Acosta told the CBP officer he was going to Mexico to visit his girlfriend, according to a court document filed by Steven Andujar, a special agent with Homeland Security Investigations, a part of U.S. Immigration and Customs Enforcement.

However, Acosta later admitted he had ammunition in his vehicle, according to court papers. He was escorted to the secondary inspection are where CBP officers found 22 boxes of ammunition each containing 1,000 rounds stashed in his SUV. This includes 16 boxes of Red Army-brand 7.622x39mm rounds used for AK-47 variant weapons, and 3 boxes of Wolf-brand .223-caliber rounds for AR-15-style rifles. 

All of the ammunition Acosta smuggled and intended to export is prohibited by law for export from the United States into Mexico without a valid license, Andujar wrote.

"There is no greater threat to our community than thousands of rounds of ammunition falling in the wrong hands," said HSI Arizona Special Agent in Charge Scott Brown in a statement. "Given the public safety risks, targeting those involved in circumventing our nations firearms and ammunition laws remains a top priority for HSI." 

While Acosta pleaded guilty in September, his attorney Jon M. Sands filed an appeal Friday with the 9th Circuit Court of Appeals against Soto's final judgement.

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

One man attempted to smuggle a rifle and four pistols, as well as over 1,800 rounds through Nogales in June. Another man tried to slip a smorgasbord of ammunition—including over 1,400 rounds and shotgun shells, and primers to make new rounds—through the port in July.

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, the country of 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 investigated the case, and Assistant United States Attorney Brandon M. Bolling handled the prosecution, said Yvette Cantu, a Justice Department spokeswoman.

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