Federal Grand Jury Indicts 34 in Gun and Drug Trafficking Ring

A federal grand jury has indicted 34 people in a massive drug and firearm trafficking ring. The indictment, unsealed this morning, alleges that defendants were helping supply Mexican drug cartels with weapons bought in Arizona.

The indictment alleges that between September 2009 and December 2010, the defendants conspired to buy hundreds of guns, including AK-47s -- the drug cartels' "weapon of choice," according to the U.S. Attorney's Office -- and illegally export them to Mexico, where they were used by drug cartels.

"Our office is committed to stopping the illegal flow of guns into Mexico," Dennis K. Burke, U.S. Attorney for the District of Arizona, says.  "The massive size of this operation sadly exemplifies the magnitude of the problem -- Mexican Drug Lords go shopping for war weapons in Arizona."

According to the U.S. Attorney's Office, 20 of the 34 people named in the 53-count Avila indictment were rounded up this morning. None of those indicted are licensed firearms dealers but acted as "straw purchasers" by claiming the weapons they purchased were for their own use. In reality, though, the defendants allegedly supplied those weapons to drug cartels.

"This investigation is further proof of the relentless efforts by Mexican drug cartels, especially the Sinaloa Cartel, to illegally acquire large quantities of firearms in Arizona and elsewhere in the U.S. for use in the ongoing Mexican drug war," Bill Newell, Special Agent in Charge of the ATF Phoenix Field Division, says in a statement. "This investigation is also further proof that the 'straw purchase' of firearms continues to be a significant problem and that those individuals that knowingly falsify ATF firearms forms in order to supply Mexican drug cartels with firearms have as much blood on their hands as the criminals that use them."

In total, the charges in the Avila indictment include one count of conspiracy, one count of dealing in firearms without a license, one count of conspiracy to distribute marijuana, two counts of possession with intent to distribute marijuana, one count of conspiracy to possess a firearm in furtherance of a drug trafficking offense, 35 counts of making a false statement in connection with the acquisition of firearms, one count of conspiracy to commit money laundering and 11 counts of money laundering.

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