PHOENIX — A Mexican man pleaded guilty Tuesday in the killing of a U.S. Border Patrol agent whose death revealed the botched "Fast and Furious" gun-smuggling operation, marking the biggest conviction to date in a case that embarrassed the federal government and prompted a series of congressional investigations.
In his guilty plea, Manuel Osorio-Arellanes admitted that he was part of a rip-off crew that sneaked into the United States from Mexico about a week before the death of Agent Brian Terry. They stashed guns and food supplies on the U.S. side of the border and killed Terry as they searched for marijuana smugglers to rob.
Authorities haven't said which member of the rip-off crew was believed to have fired the fatal shot at Terry on Dec. 14, 2010. Of the five men charged in Terry's murder, only two are in custody.
Terry's death lifted the veil on the bungled federal government's gun-smuggling investigation that was later the subject of congressional investigations.
Federal authorities have faced heavy criticism for allowing suspected straw gun buyers to walk away from shops with weapons, rather than arrest the suspects and seize the guns there.
Two rifles bought by a gun-smuggling ring that was being monitored through Fast and Furious were found at the scene of the agent's shooting. But authorities have declined to say whether the murder weapon in Terry's death was linked to a purchase from the operation.
Terry and three other agents came under attack in a canyon north of the Arizona border city of Nogales by Osorio-Arellanes and four other men, investigators have said.
Osorio-Arellanes, of El Fuerte in the Mexican state of Sinaloa, was shot during the gunfight and has been in custody since the night of the shooting.
Sentencing is set for Jan. 11 before U.S. District Judge David Bury. Osorio-Arellanes' attorney, Clay Hernandez, declined to comment Tuesday on the plea.
Operation Fast and Furious was launched in 2009 to catch trafficking kingpins, but federal agents lost track of about 1,400 of the more than 2,000 weapons — including AK-47s and other high-powered assault rifles.