EL PASO, Texas (Border Report) – A federal grand jury in El Paso has indicted three men for allegedly trying to smuggle guns to Mexico.
The indictment charges Herbert Serrano, 37, Israel Ruiz Esparza, 22, and Raul Mendoza, 21, with two counts of smuggling or attempting to smuggle goods from the United States and two counts of making false statements while buying firearms. Ruiz and Mendoza face additional counts of being unlawful users in possession of a firearm.
Ruiz Esparza and Mendoza, both residents of El Paso, were arrested on Tuesday. Serrano, who is from Mexico, had been taken into custody on Oct. 23.
The investigation is part of a Department of Justice initiative called Operation Guardian. It’s meant to make a dent on gun violence and reduce the flow of firearms to the Mexican drug cartels and other criminals.
“We are absolutely committed to stemming the illegal flow of firearms into Mexico,” said Gregg N. Sofer, U.S. Attorney for the Western District of Texas. “If you are engaged in illegal gun trafficking, you can expect to be investigated and prosecuted. If you straw-purchase a weapon, that is, lie about the true purchaser of a firearm, you face substantial time in federal prison.”
According to the indictment, the defendants conspired in February to obtain firearms in the U.S. and export them to Mexico without a license. The indictment alleges Mendoza provided false written information to buy a 9mm pistol for Serrano on March 2. The indictment also alleges that Ruiz provided false written information while purchasing three 9mm pistols for Serrano on March 26.
At the time of purchase, Ruiz and Mendoza were aware of being unlawful users/addicted to a controlled substance, which prohibits them from possessing firearms under federal law, the indictment alleges.
Each count calls for up to ten years in federal prison upon conviction. The defendants remain in federal custody pending detention hearings. Serrano appeared on Thursday before U.S. Magistrate Judge Leon Schydlower. Ruiz and Mendoza are expected to have their detention hearing sometime next week in U.S. Magistrate Court in El Paso.
The Western District of Texas has an additional 350-plus pending firearms cases.