This investigation is actually being lead by ATF but criminal investigators from the Department of Commerce Bureau of Industry and Security, State Diplomatic Security Service and ICE participated the case. The Department of Commerce is actively involved in many ongoing investigations of gun running to Mexico from Texas. BIS special agents are located in Dallas.
Two San Antonio-area men went on trial Monday in a federal case that will give a rare glimpse of the gun trafficking world blamed for the rising violence in Mexico.
Uriel Hernandez and his brother Hermenio Hernandez are charged in a gunrunning conspiracy that smuggled 210 weapons into Mexico — all bought in the San Antonio area.
The number of guns is the most linked to a specific group in San Antonio since the federal government launched Operation Gunrunner to catch smugglers and those who bought guns for them.
The conspiracy, prosecutor Bettina Richardson told jurors in her opening statement, lasted from 2004 until about 2006, when agents with the U.S. Bureau of Alcohol, Tobacco, Firearms and Explosives saw that a number of shotguns were being traced back to the men's brother Benito Hernandez.
Eventually Benito Hernandez began acquiring more lucrative guns, including assault rifles, Richardson said. The guns were taken to the Mexican state of Guanajuato, Richardson told jurors.
Investigators say that in Mexico, where guns are for the most part illegal, firearms can be sold for at least two times what they cost in the U.S. Many end up in cartel hands.
“In fact, he was purchasing so many shotguns that one astute, very honest (federal firearms-licensed) dealer told him, ‘We won't sell to you any longer,'” Richardson told jurors.
As part of a plea agreement, Benito Hernandez pleaded guilty in April 2008 to providing a false statement while buying a gun from a licensed dealer. U.S. District Judge Xavier Rodriguez will sentence him April 10. He may testify at the trial.
Richardson said Benito Hernandez was undeterred by the resilient dealer. He changed dealers or got other people — straw purchasers — to buy guns for him. He started with his girlfriend and moved on to the pair's acquaintances, Richardson said. Eventually, Benito Hernandez brought two of his three brothers on board.
By the time of Benito Hernandez's plea last April, he admitted hiring several straw purchasers and paying most $40 to crisscross San Antonio, Boerne and other suburbs and buy guns from pawn shops. As of last April, ATF agents had traced 166 illegally purchased firearms back to him, his plea documents said.
Another 70 guns were traced to Uriel Hernandez between June 2006 and October 2006, Richardson said, but 26 of them never made it to Mexico. The prosecutor displayed the guns — among them an AK-47, an SKS assault rifle and two handguns seized by agents. “Clearly, this conspiracy was all about the money,” Richardson said.
Lawyers for the Hernandezes argued that the more savvy Benito took advantage of his brothers. They said the two erroneously relied on information that what they were doing was legal, the attorneys argued. Neither had willful intent to commit wrongdoing, the lawyers argued.