Monday, May 21, 2018

Fast and Furious gun buyer sentenced to prison

PHOENIX — A man who purchased two rifles found at the scene of the fatal shooting of a Border Patrol agent north of the U.S.-Mexico border was sentenced Wednesday to nearly five years in federal prison.

Jaime Avila Jr., 25, received a sentence of 57 months, a penalty on the lower end of federal guidelines, for his acknowledged role in a gun smuggling ring targeted in a botched federal investigation known as Operation Fast and Furious.

Two assault weapons Avila acquired from a suburban Phoenix gun store were found in the aftermath of a 2010 shootout that killed Border Patrol Agent Brian Terry near the Arizona border city of Nogales. The firefight was between border agents and five men who had sneaked into the country from Mexico for the purpose of robbing marijuana smugglers.

Avila isn't charged in Terry's death. Prosecutors have said straw buyers can't be held criminally liable for violence committed by others with such illegally purchased guns.

Authorities have a separate case pending in federal court in Tucson against five men charged with murder in Terry's death.

Federal authorities conducting the Fast and Furious investigation have faced tough criticism for allowing suspected straw gun buyers for the ring to walk away from gun shops in Arizona with weapons, rather than arrest them and seize the guns there.

The investigation was launched in 2009 to catch trafficking kingpins, but agents lost track of about 1,400 of the more than 2,000 weapons, some of which were later found at crime scenes in Mexico and the United States.

Mexico's drug cartels often seek out guns in the United States because gun laws in Mexico are more restrictive.

So far, 15 of the 20 people charged in the gun case have pleaded guilty.

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