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Phoenix brothers sentenced to prison for buying, selling guns illegally

Phoenix brothers sentenced to prison for buying, selling guns illegally

'Ghost gun' & inert grenade sold to undercover agent

  • A member of the National Guard working at the Mariposa border crossing in Nogales in 2018.
    Paul Ingram/TucsonSentinel.comA member of the National Guard working at the Mariposa border crossing in Nogales in 2018.

Two brothers from Phoenix were part of a scheme to buy and sell guns through social media, including several weapons they sold to an undercover officer even after they were told the weapons would be smuggled into Mexico.

Earlier this month, on July 8, 21-year-old Jay Derek Ramirez Ramirez was sentenced to 12 months and one day in prison by U.S. District Judge Susan M. Brnovich in Phoenix. His brother, 23-year-old Juan Ali Ramirez Ramirez was sentenced to three years in prison by Brnovich on June 22.

Through July and August 2020, the Ramirez brothers bought and sold at least 40 firearms for profit. This includes dozens of weapons purchased at auction, including AR rifles, as well as a weapon that included 3D printed parts—known as a "ghost gun"—as well as suppressors, high-capacity magazines, body armor, and a stolen weapon. At one point, Juan Ali Ramirez sold an inert grenade to an undercover officer, telling her he could make the grenade live and could get more.

The Ramirez brothers used Instagram to sell weapons, and then hosted sales at the tire shop Llantera El Hispano.

As the U.S. Attorney's Office wrote just after Jay Derek Ramirez was sentenced, "some of the firearms the brothers purchased and resold have been connected to crimes in the valley or were found in the hands of prohibited possessors."

In recent months, federal officials have prosecuted several people for buying weapons and ammunition for cartels in Mexico, as well as people who tried to smuggle weapons across the U.S.-Mexico border in vehicle, or in the case of two men, by strapping AR-15-style weapons across their torsos. One man, a former Arizona Department of Corrections officer bought three weapons — including a Russian light-machine gun — from gun dealers in Tucson and worked with others to smuggle the weapons into Mexico, along with 500 magazines.

One man also attempted to smuggle a .30-caliber Browning machine gun, along with 2,000 rounds through the border crossing in Nogales, Ariz.

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

Ramirez brothers receive 'warning letter' from ATF

The Ramirez brothers first came to the federal government's notice in May 2015, when Juan Ali Ramirez bought a DPMS A15 .223-caliber rifle from a Cabela's in Glendale, Ariz.

Weeks after the purchase, the weapon was recovered by the Phoenix Police Department's gang enforcement unit, wrote George Fulton, a task-force officer with the Bureau of Alcohol Tobacco Firearms and Explosives in court records.

Meanwhile, Ramirez bought several more weapons. In September 2019,  Ramirez bought a Delton Lima .223-caliber AR-15-style pistol from Ammo A-Z in Deer Valley, Phoenix. Three days later, he returned to Ammo A-Z and bought a Sharps Bros Overthrow receiver, a Zeuss Arms Paw .223-caliber pistol, a FN PS90 5.7x28mm rifle, and a Charles Daly Honcho 12-gauge shotgun. Days later, he picked up a Diamondback DB15 .223-caliber rifle from Ammo A-Z. 

Investigators confirmed he bought a least 10 weapons in 2019, according to court records. 

By January 2020, a researcher—identified in court records only as Ramos—ran a series of record checks on Ramirez's purchases and found that while Ramirez reported making around $6,490 in 2019, and a little over $22,000 in the three previous years, he also had four cars, including a 2018 Jeep Grande Cherokee, 2013 Chevy Corvette, a 2019 Ford F-150 and a 2018 Dodge Challenger.

Investigators interviewed Ramirez at the tire shop Llantera El Hispano, and he allegedly told the agents he could not remember the purchase or sale of the .223-caliber rifle he bought in 2015. He also told the special agents firearms were a "hobby" and he would "frequently buy, sell and trade firearms" online using social media and the site Armslist.

Ramirez said he had 12 weapons in a safe at home, and eventually agreed to take investigators to his home where he had 14 weapons in a safe. The Special Agents "noted there were fourteen firearms, which appeared to be similar in design to the firearms he purchased."

The agents ultimately gave Ramirez a "warning letter" for dealing in firearms without a license.

Weapon could 'get you in trouble'

A few months later, in July 2020, an agent with the DEA said he received photos of three suppressors for sale, as well as a video of Ramirez holding a AR-15-style pistol with a suppressor—popularly referred to as a "silencer" — attached.  In one video, Ramirez fires the weapon, and agents tracked the images back to the tire shop.

An agent began surveillance, and spotted Ramirez and his brother Jay Derek Ramirez Ramirez speaking with a man, later identified as Eldridge Gittens. Ramirez walked over to a GMC pickup with a license plate from Chihuahua, Mexico, and removed a black plastic case for a Springfield XD pistol. Gittens gave Ramirez cash, and then Ramirez gave him a "cylindrical tube" and Gittens gave Ramirez more cash.

The agents contacted Phoenix police detectives, and were told Gittens was convicted felon. Later, Gittens returned to Llantera El Hispano and bought another firearm.

On July 27, the ATF watched as Ramirez carried a black rifle into the tire shop. Later , Ramirez came out holding a Stribog SP9A1 pistol and took photos of the rifle in front of the blue GMC pickup. That photo later appeared on Instagram, where Ramirez was posting photos as Boosted_Juan.

That same say, an unknown man arrived at the tire shop and handed a FNH PS90 rifle to a Ramirez in exchange for cash.

On July 30, Phoenix police searched Gitten's home and found a gun in a washing machine. Not only had the weapon been sold to a someone who could not own a firearm, but the weapon had been modified with an "auto-sear," allowing the weapon to fire nearly automatically, violating federal law.

Gittens told detectives after his arrest that Juan Ali Ramirez told him to be careful with the firearm because "the auto-sear could 'get you in trouble,'" Fulton wrote.

Federal agents and Phoenix police continued investigating the brothers, and sent an undercover agent to purchase weapons. She spoke to Juan Ali Ramirez, and he told her he would "buy firearms he did not like" and then resell those guns to "make money to purchase more expensive firearms. He also showed the undercover officer an inert MKII grenade. During their conversation, Ramirez told the officer he knew how to modify inert grenades available to the public, and make them live, or capable of exploding.

The undercover agent told Juan Ali Ramirez she would take grenades and firearms purchased from the brothers and smuggle them into Mexico. The brothers sold her undercover a Bushmaster Carbon-15 rifle for $650 and the hand grenade for $1,000.

He also tried to sell the undercover agent on a Glock 17 with a polymer 80 frame. The weapon, identified as a "Ghost gun" contained parts printed by a 3D printer. Ramirez told the undercover officer he could "get any type of firearm."

The undercover officer left and handed the grenade over to bomb squad technicians, who "determined the device was inert."

She returned later that day and purchased five weapons — including a Ruger P95, a Ruger 9E, a Ruger 95DC, a Ruger SR9 and an Anderson AM-15 rifle — for $2,850.

On Aug. 4, she returned a bought two AK-style rifles, a Zastava M92PV, a Zastava M70 and two pistols—a Sig Sauer P320 and a Springfield XD40—all for $4,200.

She also talked with Ramirez about getting "auto-sears" like the weapon agents found at Gitten's home, converting the cache of firearms into automatic weapons, violating federal law. During their conversation, Juan Ali Ramirez asked if she was a cop, but was satisfied by her answer that the weapons were going to Mexico.

Fulton said he traced some of the weapons, and found that four Ruger pistols had been purchased during a July 20 auction. The weapons were sold from Sierra Auction during a "bulk" purchase of 37 weapons.

According to the sale, Juan Mondragon bought the weapons for $19,205 on a credit card. A salesman later told agents that while Mondragon bought the weapons, it was Juan Ali who packed the weapons into a plastic container while Mondragon filled out the federal forms required to purchase more than three dozen firearms.

Meanwhile, on August 7, the undercover agent returned to Llantera El Hispano after texting with Ramirez. She bought two rifles, a DPMS LR-308 and an Anderson AM-15. She also bought a Glock 23 pistol. During this exchange, Ramirez also said he had a firearm with a "short barrel."

She told Juan Ali Ramirez again she was running the weapons to Mexico.

The brothers continued selling weapons through Instagram, including at one point when they set up a raffle, getting people to bid on two weapons—an AR-15 complete with suppressor, and a M9 Beretta pistol.

"First place takes both Pew pews," the brothers wrote on Instagram, encouraging people to bid on the two guns.

After his arrest, Ramirez said he put a false address on the ATF Form 4473 when he purchased weapons from Ammo A-Z, and  later he said after his first contact from the ATF when they gave him a warning letter, he filled out the application to obtain a license, "but did not complete the paperwork to obtain the license."

He also told Fulton, he stopped purchasing guns from stores, and instead went to Armslist to "conduct person to person purchases."

Ultimately, the two brothers filed a plea agreement, that from July 16, 2020 to Aug. 27, 2020, they sold at least 13 firearms, buying them at a lower price at gun stores, and then reselling the weapons online for a profit.

Federal officials said the case was  prosecuted as part of the joint federal, state, and local Project Safe Neighborhoods Program, the "centerpiece" of the Justice Department's violent crime reduction efforts.

"PSN is an evidence-based program proven to be effective at reducing violent crime," wrote Yvette Cantu, a Justice Department spokeswoman. "Through PSN, a broad spectrum of stakeholders work together to identify the most pressing violent crime problems in the community and develop comprehensive solutions to address them."

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