Monday, May 21, 2018

First convictions handed down in Fast and Furious weapons operation

PHOENIX — Two men pleaded guilty to buying guns that were destined to be smuggled into Mexico, the first convictions in the federal government's botched Operation Fast and Furious.

The men were so-called straw buyers who acknowledged purchasing guns that they knew were headed to Mexican drug gangs.

The goal of the federal government's investigation was to catch weapons-trafficking kingpins, but firearms agents lost track of many weapons they were trying to trace to smuggling ringleaders, and some guns ended up at crime scenes in Mexico and the United States.

Jacob Wayne Chambers and Jacob Anthony Montelongo each pleaded guilty in federal court Monday to a conspiracy charge. Montelongo also pleaded guilty to dealing guns without a license.

The pair admitted being part of a 20-person smuggling ring that is accused of running guns into Mexico for use by the Sinaloa drug cartel. Two rifles bought by the ring were found at the scene of a December 2010 shootout near the Arizona-Mexico border that mortally wounded Border Patrol Agent Brian Terry. The two guns weren't purchased by Chambers and Montelongo and instead were bought by another alleged ring member.

Several agents of the Bureau of Alcohol, Tobacco, Firearms and Explosives have said they were ordered by superiors to let suspected straw buyers walk away from Phoenix-area gun shops with AK-47s and other weapons believed headed for Mexican drug cartels, rather than arrest the buyers and seize the guns there. Chambers bought 79 guns from three licensed dealers in Arizona from September 2009 to December 2009 and got paid $50 for each AK-47 and $100 for a .50-caliber rifle.

Montelongo purchased 109 guns from eight dealers in Arizona from January 2010 to July 2010. He was paid $50 for pistols, $100 for rifles and $150 each for six .50-caliber rifles.

Each faces up to five years in prison and a maximum $250,000 fine. Their sentencing is set for May 21.

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