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2nd member of gun-smuggling duo sentenced to 12 years in prison

2nd member of gun-smuggling duo sentenced to 12 years in prison

Pedro Adan Sevilla & Francisco Dario Mora purchased 40 weapons and 25K rounds of ammunition in gun stores across Arizona in 2019

  • A modified Mini Draco AK-47
    David Pearson/FlickrA modified Mini Draco AK-47
  • A part of the list of firearms purchased by Mora and Sevilla submitted by federal officials.
    Court records A part of the list of firearms purchased by Mora and Sevilla submitted by federal officials.
  • Weapons seized by Nogales-area Customs and Border Protection officers during a smuggling attempt in November 2017
    CBPWeapons seized by Nogales-area Customs and Border Protection officers during a smuggling attempt in November 2017

A 25-year-old man was sentenced to 12 years in prison Monday by a federal judge in Tucson after he pleaded guilty to straw-purchasing dozens of firearms and thousands of rounds of ammunition and smuggling them into Mexico, as well as trafficking fentanyl into the United States.

Pedro Adan Sevilla, a resident of Phoenix, Ariz., was sentenced by U.S. District Judge Scott H. Rash following a plea agreement, in which he admitted to purchasing dozens of firearms and ammunition with a co-conspirator, and smuggling them into Mexico. Sevilla also pleaded guilty to possession with intent to distribute fentanyl, and to possession of a firearm during, and in relation to, a drug-trafficking crime.

In his plea agreement, Sevill said that he worked with Francisco Dario Mora, a Tucson resident. The 28-year-old Mora was sentenced in April 2021 to five years in prison for his role in the scheme to smuggle dozens of weapons, said Esther Winne, a Justice Department spokeswoman.

Along with Sevilla's sentencing, Rash issued an forfeiture order, seizing the firearms and ammunition, and requiring both defendants to pay the federal government $32,663.48. Sevilla will also be forced to pay $12,970 for the cash federal agents seized from his home during a raid.

In September 2019, the Bureau of Alcohol, Tobacco, Firearms and Explosives began investigating Mora and Sevilla after weapons they purchased from gun dealers in Arizona were recovered by Mexican law enforcement officials. During the investigation, the ATF found that the two men purchased 40 different firearms, largely "pistols" styled on AK-47s and AR-15s semi-automatic rifles.

The men also purchased 25,000 rounds of ammunition, as well as dozens of 30-round magazines, and a high-capacity drum magazine for an AK-47 rifle.

During an interview with federal agents after his arrest, Sevilla said that he met Mora in Mexico in April 2019, and Mora paid him to illegally "straw purchase" firearms and ammunition to be exported into Mexico, according to court records.

Over four months in 2019, the two men went on a purchasing spree, spending at least $45,000 to buy up guns and ammunition at stores across Arizona—most of them "pistols" which fire rifle rounds — guns that have become the "weapon of choice" for cartel members, federal officials said.

In June, Mora began with a run to J&G Sales, Ltd. in Prescott, where he bought 200 magazines. Several days later, he went to Diamondback Shooting Sports in Tucson and bought 20 more magazines. On June 25, he returned to J&G Sales, Ltd. and bought 10,000 rounds in ammunition—including 5,000 rounds of .38-caliber Super and 5,000 rounds of .45-caliber ammunition. In July, he went to Mo Money Pawn for a Century Arms International Mini Draco 7.62mmx39mm "pistol." That same day, he also went to Ammo A-Z in Phoenix and bought a Glock 9mm pistol,  and then he went to Bear Arms Firearms in Scottsdale for another CAI Micro Draco.

Just over two weeks after hitting Ammo A-Z for the Glock, he returned and scooped up another CAI Micro Draco, and an Omni Hybrid 5.56 "pistol" made American Tactical Imports. Mora then went to SnG Tactical in Tucson for two more CAI-produced Dracos, and then returned to Bear Arms Firearms for another Glock, and another CAI-model "pistol."

In August, he sought 20 30-round magazines, as well as a Draco 7.62x39mm caliber "pistol" made by CAI from Diamondback Shooting Sports in Tucson. Mora also went to Tombstone Tactical for a CAI Mini Draco 7.62x39mm "pistol" and a Glock 19 9mm pistol. By September, he returned to J&G Sales and purchases 500 magazines.

One weapon sold to Mora appeared in Zapopan, Jalisco, Mexico, just 27 days after he purchased it, federal officials said.

Meanwhile, Sevilla started at Mo Money Pawn in Phoenix on July 2, and purchased a CAI Micro Draco 7.62mmx39mm "pistol." The same day, he picked up another CAI weapon from Ammo A-Z, and a third from Bear Arms Firearms. A few days later, he hit J&G Sales, Ltd. and purchased 15,000 rounds, including Wolf-brand 7.62mm, 2,000 rounds of .40-caliber bullets, and 8,000 rounds of Aguila .38-caliber Super. Five days after he'd gone to Mo Money Pawn, he returned and picked up another Micro Draco.

From July 2 to August 18, Sevilla had picked up 19 weapons from eight different stores, along with 15,000 rounds, according to court documents.

After weeks of investigation, the ATF executed search warrants on residences and vehicles tied to Mora and Sevilla in Tucson and Phoenix on November 13, 2019. During the search of Sevilla's residence in Phoenix, agents found 19 grams of cocaine, and 5.42 kilograms of fentanyl pills—or around 11.9 pounds—and well as six bags containing fentanyl pills. They also found nearly $12,970 in cash hidden in a locked safe, as well as five AR-15-syle "pistols," including one in "close proximity" to the locked safe, and a digital scale, agents said.

Sevilla admitted that he personally purchased 21 weapons, and said that he had the AR-15-style pistol to "protect the fentanyl."

Federal officials said that ATF conducted the investigation in this case, with assistance from the United States Border Patrol and Homeland Security Investigations. Assistant U.S. Attorney Serra M. Tsethlikai, District of Arizona, Tucson, handled the prosecution. 

Mexico sues over 'ant operation'

Last year, the Mexican government filed a lawsuit against seven U.S. gun manufacturers, and a Boston-area wholesaler, arguing that the companies are responsible for a "deadly flood" of weapons that invariably "wreak havoc in Mexican society."

In the lawsuit, filed in Boston in August 2021, the government said around 70 to 90 percent of the guns recovered at crime scenes in Mexico were trafficked from the U.S., and were made by Smith & Wesson, Beretta, Century Arms, Colt, Glock, and Ruger. They also singled out Barrett, because the company's .50-caliber sniper rifle is a "weapon of war prized by the drug cartels."

The lawsuit also blamed Interstate Arms—a Boston-area wholesaler—for the problem, arguing that the company "expressly markets itself as selling 'military-style' arms." These marketing techniques "are "disproportionately likely to motivate and attract dangerous individuals who harbor militaristic ambitions or want to attack large numbers of people," the lawsuit read. "It is the perfect message for drug cartels and other criminals who want to do battle with the military and police in Mexico."

"These weapons are intimately linked to the violence that Mexico is living through today," said Foreign Minister Marcelo Ebrard during a press conference announcing the suit.

"For decades, the government and its citizens have been victimized by a deadly flood of military-style and other particularly lethal guns that flows from the U.S. across the border, into criminal hands in Mexico," the lawsuit reads. "This flood is not a natural phenomenon or an inevitable consequence of the gun business or of U.S. gun laws. It is the foreseeable result of the Defendants’ deliberate actions and business practices."

Weapons made by the companies ended up in Mexico through "operación hormiga," or an "ant operation," the lawsuit argued. People purchase small numbers of firearms through straw purchases in gun stores—including stores in Tucson and Phoenix—and smuggle the weapons into Mexico.

Federal law enforcement in the U.S. have regularly tried to blunt the smuggling of firearms and ammunition into Mexico. On July 23, U.S. Customs and Border Protection officers in Nogales, Ariz., seized over 1,000 rounds for rifles and 9mm pistols concealed in the trunk and center console of a vehicle. Meanwhile, officials with Homeland Security Investigations, a part of U.S. Immigration and Customs Enforcement announced Operation Without a Trace, a program that seized more than 1,125 firearms and over 680,000 rounds of ammunition over two years.

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