Mayor Eddie Espinoza, Police Chief Angelo Vega and city Rep. Jose Blas Gutierrez were arrested on allegations of firearm violations, stated the indictment that was released Thursday afternoon by the U.S. attorney's office in New Mexico.Federal agents executed a search on the offices of the Columbus Police Department, Mayor Epspinoza's home, 7 other residences in Luna and Doña Ana counties as well as a business establishment. The raid has effectively shut down Columbus 4-man police department, with deputies from the Luna County Sheriff's department in charge of patrolling the area for the time being.
Espinoza was charged with one count of conspiracy, three counts of making false statements in connection with acquisition of firearms and three counts of firearms smuggling.Vega was charged with one count of conspiracy. Gutierrez was charged with one count of conspiracy, seventeen counts of making false statements in connection with acquisition of firearms and 19 counts of firearms smuggling.
Besides being targeteed by a raid from Pancho Villa in 1916, Columbus has had a fairly tumultuous history with its police department in the recent past. According to a 2009 Los Angeles Times article, the dilapidated building that housed the police station was shut down because of a faulty lock on the door to the evidence room and two off-duty officers were suspended and another injured after a barroom brawl that left the small town's police force down to one man.
Last week, federal prosecutors charged that chief of police Vega was paid $20,000 in protection money and used police vehicles for smuggling firearms while using his police credentials to buy body armour and tactical equipment to re-sell to the cartels.
ARIZONA: An unnamed Border Patrol agent was arrested after colleagues discovered bundles of marijuana inside his marked patrol vehicle while on duty in the Yuma sector Tuesday.
The two agents reported the incident to a duty supervisor, and the agent and marijuana were subsequently turned over to the U.S. Drug Enforcement Administration.A Washington Post report from 2010 detailed allegations of corruption against one Customs agent in El Paso, TX and her attempt to recruit other federal officers to participate in allowing drugs and illegal aliens to cross the border in exchange for bribes.
Border Patrol spokesman Kenneth Quillin said charges were pending in the case.Corruption cases involving border police have increased in recent years as the U.S. government has ramped up recruitment in a drive to secure the southwest border with Mexico
ELSEWHERE IN ARIZONA: Three Mexican nationals who identified themselves as members of the Sinaloa Cartel were charged on multiple weapons and narcotics conspiracy charges after attempting to purchase heavy weaponry. The three had indicated to informants that they were interested in Stinger missiles, a pair of AT-4 Anti Tank weapons.
The indictment alleges that David Diaz-Sosa, Jorge de Jesus-Castaneda and Emilia Palomina-Robles arranged to procure a military style arsenal for roughly $400,000 and made a down payment for the weapons using nearly 15 lbs of crystal methamphetamine and another $143,000 in cash in separate transactions. Court documents identify Diaz-Sosa and De Jesus-Casteneda as being in the country illegally while Palomina-Robles is a non-citizen resident.
The indictment also alleges that the men were going to divide up the weapons among themselves and smuggle them across the border into Mexico
CALIFORNIA: I mentioned this in passing earlier, but a Border Patrol agent in Southern California nabbed a van full of illegal aliens that were in United States Marine Corps uniforms. The white van itself featured a defaced US Government liscense plate, and the agent- a Marine veteran- became suspicious of the van's occupants when the driver didn't know the Marine Corps birthday and the occupants of the van were unfamiliar with the USMC 'Oo-RAH!' salutation. The arrest took place in the mountains along Interstate 8 at a checkpoint some 45 miles east of San Diego.
TEXAS: As it turns out, the Marines and their vehicles aren't the only ones who are being 'cloned' by smugglers- 28 year old Felipe Esperaza Cruz- a Mexican national- was arrested in Del Rio, TX after driving a fake Border Patrol truck loaded with 1500 lbs of marijuana across the border from Ciudad Acuña, Coahuila.
The government case contends that Esparza-Cruz entered the “United States without inspection through the City of Del Rio southbound tollbooth lanes.”In 2006, Border Patrol agents southwest of Tuscon, AZ came across a van in the desert that was painted to look like one of their vehicles. The drivers abandoned the vehicle after a short pursuit and fled back into Mexico, leaving behind some 30 immigrants locked in a cage the smugglers installed in the back of the vehicle. Over the past few years, smugglers and drug traffickers have also taken to applying realistic graphics to vehicles and trailers marked for Wal Mart, FedEx, DirecTV and others while moving contraband.
Once the truck entered the country ICE Agents ordered “mobile surveillance in order to verify the authenticity of the vehicle.”
Esparza-Cruz allegedly imitated a process used by Border Patrol when they deport illegal aliens back to Mexico using Border Patrol trucks. Luckily ICE agents observed the BP truck and were able to make the arrest.
“They’d just drive through without presenting themselves for inspection because no one questioned a Border Patrol vehicle,” officials explained.
WASHINGTON D.C.- The Assistant special agent in charge of the ATF's Phoenix, AZ office is now cooperating with Congressional investigators in an inquiry stemming from the Bureau's 'Operation Fast & Furious'.
Special Agent George Gillett Jr was the one in charge or overseeing the day-to-day operations of Fast & Furious from the Phoenix office.
Gillett, who supervised the group running the Arizona component of Project Gunrunner, known as "Fast and Furious," initially dismissed those concerns and previously ordered ATF agents to avoid all communications with whistle-blowers who were cooperating with the congressional inquiries, several agents said in interviews.Early on, Agent John Dodson came forward as a whistleblower after two weapons from the 'Fast & Furious' operation were found at the scene of a December 2010 Arizona shoot-out that killed Border Patrol agent Brian Terry.
Now, though, Gillett is talking. In a letter Friday to ATF management, Sen. Charles E. Grassley (R-Iowa), ranking member of the Senate Judiciary Committee, disclosed that Gillett was cooperating with a congressional inquiry and had participated in two preliminary meetings with investigators.
Gillett, who was named to the Phoenix field office's No. 2 post in June 2008, previously served as an ATF field supervisor in Los Angeles.
After repeated refusals by the ATF and the Justice Department to provide detailed information about the conduct of the Gunrunner investigation and how the guns found at the scene of Terry's death got into criminal hands, Gillett's decision to come forward is crucial, agency sources said.