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Driver for U.S. consulate in Nogales convicted of gun smuggling

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Driver for U.S. consulate in Nogales convicted of gun smuggling

CBP agents found 10 rifles, and 5 pistols in vehicle that Bray-Vazquez attempted to drive through border crossing

  • A U.S. CBP officer at the Nogales Port of Entry in Jan. 2019.
    Paul Ingram/TucsonSentinel.comA U.S. CBP officer at the Nogales Port of Entry in Jan. 2019.

A driver for the U.S. consulate in Nogales, Sonora, was sentenced Monday to nearly four years in prison for attempting to smuggle more than a dozen firearms into Mexico last year, including a .50-caliber sniper rifle.

Luis Manuel Bray-Vazquez, 35, plead guilty in April, and was sentenced by U.S. District Judge Jennifer G. Zipps to 46 months in prison, followed by 36 months probation, for attempting to smuggle firearms from the United States into Mexico.

On Nov. 4, 2020, Bray-Vasquez attempted to drive through a Nogales border crossing while at the wheel of a tan Chevy Suburban owned by the U.S. consulate. Customs and Border Protection officers attempt to search his vehicle, but Bray-Vasquez fled from the officers at "high rate of speed."

Bray-Vasquez ignored "verbal and visual commands to stop the vehicle," and had to swerve to avoid striking a CBP officer, according to court documents. However, officers were able to close an exit gate, preventing Bray-Vasquez from driving into Mexico.

CBP officers searched his vehicle and found five Kalashnikov AK-47-style 7.62mm rifles, four Kalashnikov 7.62x39mm pistols, three AR-style 5.56-caliber rifles, one Barret .50-caliber rifle, one .45-caliber pistol, and one 9x19mm pistol. 

Most of the weapons were in the rear cargo area, wrapped in plastic and stashed in a cardboard box, but the .50-caliber rifle was stuffed into in a plastic canopy bag sitting in the middle-row seats, according to the complaint.

"The trafficking of weapons from the United States into Mexico – especially of the type and quantity smuggled by Bray-Vazquez – has devastating repercussions in both countries," said Acting U.S. Attorney Glenn B. McCormick. "Bray-Vazquez’s prosecution and the length of sentence imposed should serve as a warning that weapons smugglers, including anyone attempting to hide behind the veil of an official position, will pay a heavy price for their crimes."

Agents with Homeland Security Investigations, a part of U.S. Immigration and Customs Enforcement investigated Bray-Vasquez's smuggling attempt.

"This sentence demonstrates that there are serious consequences for those who lack respect for our nation’s laws or our borders,” said Scott Brown, special agent in charge for HSI Phoenix. “HSI remains committed to combating the illegal smuggling of firearms that fuel violence both domestically and abroad. We will continue to collaborate with our law enforcement partners to get dangerous criminals off the streets and locked up behind bars.”

Mexican gov't sues gun manufacturers

Earlier this month, 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, Mexican officials argued the companies' "deliberate actions and business practices" have armed criminal organizations throughout Mexico.

Mexico said that 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."

"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 read. "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."

In court documents, Bray said that he was approached by someone he knew from middle school while playing basketball, and after repeated calls and texts, the unnamed person nudged him to work for a criminal organization. Bray's defense attorney wrote that his client believed he could make "one or two trips and be left alone."

Prosecutors argued that Bray smuggled the weapons out of greed, but his attorney argued that he did so because he was nervous and an anxious about the people asking him to smuggle weapons.

Bray "committed the type of crime that facilitates to violence in Mexico," his attorney wrote. "Yet, he is a citizen living unprotected in an environment of violence and extortion – this is Mr. Bray’s reference point. By failing to display his reference point, the greed thesis invites the Court to believe that the reference point does not matter, but of course it does."

Bray was "proud of his employment at the U.S. consulate and is co-workers looked upon him fondly. He is quite ashamed of the decision he made," the attorney wrote. Still, he hopes the Court will recognize it was a decision born of nervousness, anxiety, confusion, and imperfect duress."

"He was not overtly threatened, yet he was scared and unsure what to do," he wrote.

HSI conducted the investigation in this case, with the assistance of CBP. Assistant U.S. Attorney Angela W. Woolridge, District of Arizona, Tucson, handled the prosecution.

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