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Former Az prison guard sentenced to 30 mos. in gun smuggling plot

Corrections officer lied on federal forms in effort to sneak 2 belt-fed rifles and 500 AK-47 magazines into Mexico

A former Arizona Department of Corrections officer will serve 30 months in federal prison after he plead guilty to four counts, including conspiracy, gun smuggling, making false statements when purchasing a firearm, and aiding and abetting false statements in connection with the purchase of a firearm.

Juan Carlos Rubio, 26, was sentenced by U.S. District Judge John C. Hinderaker last week after he pleaded guilty in April to all four counts. Rubio was part of a smuggling ring involving at least two others who worked to buy three weapons from gun dealers in Tucson, and then smuggled the guns, along with 500 magazines made for AK-47-style rifles, through Nogales, Ariz. into Mexico.

On Jan. 4, 2020, Rubio won a $3,075 bid for a DPA RPDS 7.62mm belt-fed semi-automatic rifle from a gun broker website, according to court documents. Rubio directed the website to send the weapon to James 4:10, a biblically themed Tucson-area gun store.

The RPDS, originally designed as a light machine gun by the Soviet Union, was shipped to the gun store. On Jan. 18, 2020 Rubio went to James 4:10 and filled out a federal form, claiming the weapon for himself. However, in reality he purchased the weapon online with money from another man, Jesus Guadalupe Diaz Muñoz, with the intent to smuggle it into Mexico, according to court documents. 

Rubio "lied while purchasing a firearm from a licensed dealer, claiming on the required paperwork that he was buying the gun for himself, when he was actually purchasing it for someone else," wrote Esther Winne, a spokeswoman for the Justice Department.

A few days later, Rubio— along with co-conspirator Lorena Rodriguez—went on a purchasing spree on Jan. 22 and Jan. 23, each buying 250 AK-47 magazines from Classic Firearms. 

Four days later Rodriguez packed all 500 magazines in a red suitcase and went to Nogales, Ariz., where she met Diaz Muñoz and "other co-conspirators" to smuggle the AK-47 magazines into Mexico, according to court documents.

Later that month, on Jan. 31 2020, Rubio also purchased a Zastava NPAP DF 7.62mm, an AK-47-patterned rifle from a private-seller for $700. Munoz funded the purchase, according to court documents.

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In February, the trio continued with another purchase.

According to court documents, Rubio and Diaz Muñoz convinced Rodriguez to buy another gun, offering her $2,000 to purchase the weapon. Rodriguez met with Diaz Muñoz in Nogales, Arizona, and then purchased a KMP Classic Arms Inc. Model 1919A4—a .30-caliber belt-fed rifle based on the WWII-era Browning machine gun—from the gun broker website for $3,650 under directions from Rubio. 

While AK-47-style rifles are popular among cartel members, there are signs that gun smugglers are also picking up belt-fed weapons in Arizona gun stores and attempting to slip them into Mexico. In early June, U.S. Customs and Border Protection officers in Nogales intercepted a Browning .30-caliber machine gun, and nearly 2,000 rounds of ammunition at the Mariposa Port of Entry.

Rodriguez had the weapon sent to Liberty Pawn Shop, a licensed-dealer in Tucson. And, there she too violated federal law by "knowingly" making a "false and fictitious statement" to the pawn shop, telling them she was buying the weapon for herself, when she was buying it for Rubio and Diaz Muñoz. 

Rubio "aided and abetted" Rodriguez, helping her make "a similar false statement to a licensed dealer while purchasing a firearm," Winne wrote. 

While Rodriguez and Rubio worked to buy up an arsenal, court documents showed that Diaz Muñoz was in Mexico, and would come into the U.S. following a purchase. And, over several weeks, the trio worked to smuggle all three weapons into Mexico, along with all 500 magazines.

Warrants were issued for all three, but while Rubio and Rodriguez were arrested in Nov. 2020, Diaz Muñoz was picked up more than a year later in December 2021, according to court documents.

Rodriguez pleaded guilty to all three counts in January, and was sentenced to a year in jail and three years detention. Meanwhile, Diaz Muñoz plead guilty to two counts, conspiracy and smuggling goods from the U.S., and will be sentenced next month.

The case was prosecuted as part of the a federal, state, and local program called Project Safe Neighborhoods, a "centerpiece" of the Justice Department's "violent crime reduction efforts," Winne wrote. 

"PSN is an evidence-based program proven to be effective at reducing violent crime," she said, added that the program allows a "broad spectrum of stakeholders" to work together and "identify the most pressing violent crime problems in the community and develop comprehensive solutions to address them."

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"As part of this strategy, PSN focuses enforcement efforts on the most violent offenders and partners with locally based prevention and reentry programs for lasting reductions in crime," Winne wrote.

The Bureau of Alcohol, Tobacco, Firearms and Explosives conducted the investigation in this case, with help from U.S. Border Patrol and Homeland Security Investigations, a part of U.S. Immigration and Customs Enforcement.

The United States Attorney’s Office, District of Arizona, Tucson handled the prosecution, Winne wrote.

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Paul Ingram/TucsonSentinel.com

A member of the National Guard working at the Mariposa border crossing in Nogales in 2018.