(Reuters) - A gun store owner who conspired with leaders of a small New Mexico border town to run nearly 200 firearms to a violent Mexican drug cartel was sentenced on Thursday to five years in prison, authorities said.
Ian Garland, 52, the owner of Chaparral Guns, received the sentence from U.S. District Judge Robert Brack in federal court in Las Cruces, New Mexico, U.S. Attorney Robert Pitman said.
Brack also ordered three years of supervised release for Garland, whose shop was in Chaparral, New Mexico. He pleaded guilty in July 2011 to conspiracy and six counts of making false statements in the acquisition of firearms.
Garland is among 12 defendants who pleaded guilty to charges in the gun-running conspiracy.
From July 2010 until February 2011, Garland sold 193 Kalashnikov-type assault weapons and 9 mm pistols to six co-defendants, including Eddie Espinoza, former mayor of Columbus, New Mexico, and former village trustee Blas “Woody” Gutierrez.
Garland allowed those “straw purchasers” to falsely state on federal forms that they were purchasing the firearms for themselves, even though he had reason to know the weapons were headed to people in Mexico.
Prosecutors last year said Garland, in facilitating the purchases, “was furthering murder and violence at epic levels in Mexico, all for a quick buck.”
They said that between January 2010 and March 2011, the conspirators used their positions to facilitate and safeguard the trafficking of around 200 guns worth about $70,000, to Mexico.
Some of those weapons were later recovered at drug busts and implicated in murders in Mexico, where some 55,000 people have been killed in cartel-related mayhem since 2006.
Prosecutors said tactical gear and body armor were also smuggled to the Ciudad Juarez-based La Linea criminal organization, sometimes using village vehicles.
Members of La Linea, formed by renegade police officers in the northern Mexico state of Chihuahua, act as enforcers for the Juarez cartel, a group also based in Ciudad Juarez that controls some of the main drug trafficking routes into the United States.
Garland is the third defendant to be sentenced in the case. Vicente “Tito” Carreon was sent to prison in March for 46 months, and Brenda Christy received two years’ probation in April for making a false statement in the acquisition of a firearm.
Gutierrez, the former village trustee, was the conspiracy ringleader and he remains in federal custody awaiting sentencing. He faces up to 280 years in prison, while Espinoza could be sentenced to 50 years and former Columbus police chief Angelo Vega to 35 years. All have pleaded guilty
Gutierrez’s wife, who has not pleaded guilty, was set to start trial in April in Las Cruces, but Pitman’s office said on Thursday that case is “pending litigation.” A final defendant, Ignacio “Nacho” Villalobos, remains a fugitive.
Vega, who was not charged in the gun purchases, bought thousands of dollars in body armor, boots, helmets and clothing, including a bulletproof vest for a La Linea enforcer, who has not been named in public documents.
No other sentencing dates have been scheduled.
Editing by Tim Gaynor and Mohammad Zargham