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Texas Weapons Charges: ATF Stings Result in All Kinds of Firearms Convictions – Straw Buys, Gun Dealers, Conspiracies to Move Weapons Across State Lines and National Borders

Weapons charges face a lot of defendants here in Texas; sometimes they are tied to other charges (drug arrests, for example) but many federal cases are filed based solely on alleged violations of federal gun laws.  Recent reports from the Texas’ offices of the Federal Bureau of Alcohol, Tobacco, Firearms and Explosives (ATF) and the Justice Department include the following:

1.  ATF Sting Results in Two Mexican Nationals Sentenced to Federal Prison for Moving 652 Assault Rifle Magazines Across Texas-Mexico Border, Driving  Truck Over Laredo Bridge

On February 25, 2013, two men from Mexico (Julio Cesar Flores-Martinez, 47, and Francisco Padilla–Perez, 41) were sentenced to federal prison on federal weapon charge violations based upon their participation in moving (smuggling) 652 assault rifle magazines into Mexico. (See the public domain image to the left for an example of an assault rifle magazine.)

While the two men live with their families in Nuevo Laredo and were sentenced in an American court, they may still face Mexico allegations once they have completed the sentence that Judge Keith Ellison ordered last week: Flores–Martinez sentenced to serve 46 months federal incarceration with Padilla–Perez, 50 months.

Weapons charges were filed against these two defendants back in April 2012 as the result of a joint undercover sting run by the Department of Homeland Security and the ATF. The federal agents pretended to be gun dealers interested in selling assault rifle magazines. Padilla-Perez ordered 650 high–capacity AK–47 magazines explaining he would move them into Mexico with Flores-Martinez as the Mexican truck driver who would be responsible for taking the merchandise over the Texas border into Mexico.

2.  Straw Man Buys Three Guns for Someone Else – ATF Charges Result in Three Concurrent 51 Month Prison Terms

Last week, another ATF investigation resulted in the sentencing of significant time in a federal prison based on weapons charges. Down in Laredo, Silverio Venegas Jr., 37, was sentenced to serve three concurrent 51 month sentences in a federal prison after ATF agents showed that Venegas had bought three weapons — an AK–47 rifle, an AR–15 rifle and an AR-15 pistol — from a Laredo gun store using an old physical address, not his current home address, which alone is a violation of federal law (making false statements on federal firearms form 4473). Venegas told ATF agents that he was acting as a straw man for a man from Mexico who had paid Mr. Venegas to go to the gun store and buy the three weapons in three separate trips.

Mexican authorities later confirmed that these same guns were found at Mexican crime scenes where Mexican soldiers were involved in shoot outs with gunmen using these firearms. One soldier died; many on both sides were injured.

3.  Mastermind of Straw Buys of Guns in Texas Found Guilty of Weapons Charges After Guns Pop Up From New Jersey to Virgin Islands in ATF Investigation

On February 19, 2013, a federal jury in Houston came back with a guilty verdict against Tyrone Reid, 22, finding the defendant guilty of a conspiracy that had lots of co–defendants in the conspiracy who worked together to buy firearms from federal firearms dealers with false information, as straw men.  Mr. Reid was found guilty of talking other people into participating in straw buys where they would go to the firearms dealer and claim to be the actual buyer of the firearms.  Reid gave them the money to buy the weapons; after they left the dealer’s shop, Reid took the guns.  Evidence showed that Reid spent over $60,000 in straw buys of over 30 guns here in Texas.

Federal authorities testified that these weapons were later found at crime scenes in New Jersey and the U.S. Virgin Islands.  Sentencing has been set for a May 14, 2013, hearing before U.S. District Judge David Hittner.

4.  Dallas ATF Investigation Results in 68 Year Old Gun Dealer Facing Federal Prison Time for Selling Guns Without Asking for Enough Information

Earlier last month, here in Dallas, another federal jury came back with a guilty verdict in a weapons case.  Jackie Don Burke, 68, was found guilty of engaging in the business of firearms without a license after an ATF investigation showed Mr. Burke ran a print screening business over in Garland and had bought and sold used firearms at his shop.  Burke did display a sign at the shop that stated he was also in the business of selling guns.

The ATF agents testified that Burke then sold over 135 firearms from his print shop in around a year’s time (14 months).  One ATF agent bought a pistol from Burke at his print shop and took the stand to tell the jury that Burke did not ask questions to confirm that the agent could legally buy a gun. After showing a Texas Driver’s License to Burke, the agent was able to purchase the firearm.

At the age of 68, Mr. Burke will be sentenced on May 24, 2013, in a hearing before U.S. District Judge Barbara M.G. Lynn and he faces being fined up to $250,000 and incarceration of up to 5 years.  He may also have to forfeit over 40 weapons still in his possession.

Federal agencies are investing significant time and money investigating weapons here in Texas.  If you or a loved one is involved in the purchase or sale of guns or gun products (bullets, magazines, etc.) then be aware of this federal focus and federal regulations that apply to guns and firearms.  All these examples are of people facing prison time after an undercover federal agent entered their lives.

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