Border war: Major gun supplier arrested

May 6, 2008 9:54:19 AM PDT
Just hours after receiving a shipment of weapons allegedly intended for Mexican drug bosses, a Phoenix gun dealer and at least two alleged arms traffickers were arrested this morning in a series of raids by federal and local authorities. Authorities say the gun dealer sold more than 650 AK-47-type assault weapons to Mexican drug gangs responsible for recent shootouts that have claimed dozens of lives. Sources in Phoenix, Ariz., told ABC News the raids are part of a continued effort to curb the supply of high-quality weapons from the U.S. to Mexico. Those weapons -- including high-powered assault rifles and "cop killer" handguns -- are often bought through "straw purchasers" from legal gun dealers in California, Texas and Arizona. They are responsible for 95 percent of the gun violence in Mexico, U.S. and Mexican authorities have told ABC News' Brian Ross.

According to Alcohol, Tobacco and Firearms officials on the scene, two traffickers were arrested at their homes shortly after taking a delivery of a shipment of semi-automatic weapons, and a gun dealer was arrested and the entire inventory of his store, Excalibur Guns, was seized.

According to federal and local officials, the investigation began after an ATF review of Excalibur's records showed "an obvious pattern of firearms purchases consistent with firearms trafficking." Two individuals were identified who authorities said were acquiring firearms for the purpose of sending those firearms to individuals in Mexico.

During the investigation, authorities say they established that the store "was knowingly and willingly selling these firearms" with knowledge that the firearms were being trafficked to points south of the border. Authorities said at least 650 weapons were trafficked and that number could grow to 1,000 by the time the investigation is complete.

During undercover purchases over the past several weeks, AK-47 variant firearms were purchased, and conversations were recorded, which, authorities said, "clearly show [the gun store] aided in the illegal purchase of firearms by firearms traffickers by allowing firearms to be added to previously filled out [federal forms] 4473s, by allowing individuals to pay for firearms."

According to authorities in Arizona, the case will be presented to an Arizona grand jury during the week. The subjects face charges of conspiracy, fraud schemes and artifices, conducting an illegal enterprise, money laundering and misconduct involving weapons (firearms).