Americas & Beyond
|Convicted Houston Gun Trafficker for Zeta Cartel Sentenced to 3 Years|
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January 06, 2011
U.S. agents are armed with the secrets of a convicted Houston gunrunner, information that could lead them to top Mexican drug-cartel bosses and the Texas firearms dealers supplying high-powered weapons.
Christian Garza was sentenced to three years in federal prison as a result of a plea agreement that offered leniency in exchange for telling U.S. officials about his criminal contacts, according to court papers.
"Mr. Garza has also provided assistance and information related to the sale of the firearms in question to highly sought fugitives who are believed to lead one of the most violent Mexican drug cartels, the Zetas," states a paper submitted to a federal judge by his lawyer, Connie Williams.
The Zetas cartel, a crime syndicate launched by former members of the Mexican military, thrives across the border from Texas and is battling rival traffickers as well as the Mexican government.
They are known for being gruesome, aggressive and efficient. Top leaders are dodging capture, despite multimillion-dollar rewards for their arrests by the U.S. and Mexican governments.
Garza was a member of an arms-trafficking group that sent more than 300 military-style weapons to Mexico.
As part of his agreement with the government, he described the inner-workings of his cell and provided grand-jury testimony that "may prove to be critical" in seeking criminal charges against firearms retailers where weapons were purchased, according to the paper filed by Williams.
The U.S. Bureau of Alcohol, Tobacco, Firearms and Explosives contends Houston is the No. 1 spot of origin for weapons that have been traced from Mexican organized crime scenes back to the United States.
The case began in January, 2007 during a routine inspection of files at Carter's County, a firearms dealer in Houston, according to court papers. ATF agents noticed numerous large cash purchases for what the agency considers cartel weapons of choice.
Numerous individuals had purchased large quantities of military-style firearms in a relatively short period of time. ATF later determined that 23 buyers had purchased 339 firearms mostly AR-15 semi-automatic rifles, FN Herstal 5.7mm rifles and pistols, and Beretta pistols worth $366,450 in a 15-month period at Carters County gun store.
Mexican authorities also had recovered 88 of these firearms in Mexico; four of the firearms were found in Guatemala. One or more of these firearms had been found at various crime scenes in Mexico where police had been murdered, judicial personnel had been executed, the military had received gun fire, or a businessman had been kidnapped and murdered. Many, if not all, of the assailants were members of Los Zetas.
Mexican authorities also found several more of these U.S.-origin firearms during narcotics related searches and at various vehicle inspection points. In total, 18 Mexican law enforcement officers and civilians died using firearms purchased from this U.S. gun store.