Monday, July 25, 2011

More plead guilty in Columbus gun-running case

By Ashley Meeks ameeks@lcsun-news.com

LAS CRUCES A gun store owner and five other defendants including a Deming couple whose identities had not previously been known have pleaded guilty in a case charging the Columbus police chief, mayor, a village trustee, and others with trafficking firearms to Mexican cartels, the El Paso office of the U.S. Attorney's Office announced Friday afternoon.

Ian Garland, 50, the owner of Chaparral Guns in Chaparral, N.M., pleaded guilty Thursday before U.S. Magistrate Judge William P. Lynch in Las Cruces to conspiracy and six counts of making false statements in the acquisition of firearms. He faces up to 35 years in prison.

Between last January and March of this year, the 15 defendants, headquartered in Columbus, allegedly conspired to smuggle about 200 firearms favored by Mexican cartels, at least partially on the orders of Jesus "Mantequilla" Molinas, an inmate at Cereso federal prison in Juárez. Some of the weapons were allegedly found at the scenes of a murder, a kidnapping and a drug bust in Mexican border towns.

The defendants allegedly paid Garland's store, Chaparral Guns, about $70,000 for the AK-47 pistols and American Tactical 9 mm pistols, with the potential to sell the firearms for three times that on the other side of the border.

The other guilty pleas announced Friday are:

• Vicente Carreon, 27, of Columbus, N.M., who pleaded guilty Friday to conspiracy and one count of smuggling firearms out of the country. He faces up to 15 years in prison.

• Miguel Carrillo, 30, of Columbus, N.M., who pleaded guilty Tuesday to conspiracy, two counts of making false statements in the acquisition of firearms and two counts of smuggling firearms out of the country, and faces up to 35 years in prison.

• Brenda and David Christy, 54 and 55, of Deming, N.M., who pleaded guilty Tuesday to making false statements to a federally licensed firearms dealer. They each face five years in prison.

• Manuel "Coruco" Ortega, 25, of Palomas, Mexico, pleaded guilty to firearms smuggling and conspiracy and faces up to 15 years in federal prison.

Guilty pleas that had previously been entered in the case include:

• Former Columbus Mayor Eddie Espinoza, 51, who pleaded guilty to one count of conspiracy, three counts of making false statements in the acquisition of firearms and three counts of smuggling firearms from the United States. He faces up to 50 years in prison at sentencing.

• Alberto Rivera, 40, of Columbus, pleaded guilty to conspiracy and nine counts each of making false statements in the acquisition of firearms and smuggling firearms from the United States and faces up to 140 years in federal prison at sentencing.

• Eva Lucie Gutierrez, 22, of Las Cruces, pleaded guilty to conspiracy and making a false statement in the acquisition of firearms and faces up to 10 years in federal prison.

• Ricardo Gutierrez, 25, of Columbus, pleaded guilty to one count of conspiracy, three counts of making false statements in the acquisition of firearms, and three counts of smuggling firearms from the United States. He is free on a $10,000 unsecured bond pending sentencing, which has not been scheduled, and faces up to 50 years in federal prison.

Sentencing for the 10 guilty parties has not yet been scheduled.

The El Paso U.S. Attorney's Office, which unexpectedly took over the prosecution from the New Mexico U.S. Attorney's Office in June, has been tight-lipped about the court proceedings, telling the Sun-News in a written statement: "We will not be commenting on any aspects of the investigation, our prosecutorial decision-making process or potential outcomes."

Ashley Meeks can be reached at (575) 541-5462.

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