Two Mexican nationals have pleaded guilty in a conspiracy to trade drugs and cash for military-grade weapons — including anti-aircraft missiles, anti-tank weapons, grenade launchers and M-60 machine guns — for use by the Sinaloa drug cartel, the largest drug-smuggling gang in Mexico.
A third defendant in the case was convicted last week in federal court in Phoenix following his arrest by U.S. drug agents while attempting to deliver nearly 12 pounds of methamphetamines as a partial down payment for military-grade weapons.
"It is a chilling thought that warring Mexican drug cartels are actively seeking military-grade anti-aircraft missiles and explosives in Arizona, so I am extremely proud of the work this office and our law enforcement partners have done to uncover and stop this particular scheme," said U.S. Attorney Dennis K. Burke in Arizona.
"This was a complex investigation — a tremendous team effort — that put a stop to a well-financed criminal conspiracy to acquire massive destructive firepower," he said Tuesday.
Pleading guilty in the case were David Diaz-Sosa, 26, of Sinaloa, Mexico, and Emilia Palomino-Robles, 42, of Sonora, Mexico.
Diaz-Sosa admitted to conspiring to acquire and export an anti-aircraft missile, conspiring to possess unregistered machine guns, transferring firearms for use in a drug-trafficking crime, and conspiring to possess and possession of methamphetamine in a scheme to acquire, transfer and export military-grade weaponry to a Mexican drug-trafficking organization. He will be sentenced Aug. 1 by U.S. District Court Judge James Teilborg.
Palomino-Robles pled guilty in her role as a courier, delivering 2,029 grams of pure methamphetamine and $139,900 to be used as a partial payment for export and transfer to Mexico of military-grade weaponry for use by a Mexican drug-trafficking organization. Her sentencing is set before Judge Teilborg on July 25.
A federal jury in Phoenix last week found Jorge DeJesus-Casteneda, 22, of Sinaloa, Mexico, guilty of possession with intent to distribute 12 pounds of methamphetamine as trade for military-grade weapons. He also is scheduled for sentencing on July 25.
"Drug cartels use violence and intimidation to perpetuate their criminal activities and prey upon the weakness of others," said U.S. Drug Enforcement Administration (DEA) Special Agent in Charge Doug Coleman, who heads the agency's Phoenix office. He called the pleas and convictions "yet another example of how DEA and its law enforcement partners will never relent in using every tool at our disposal to bring these criminals to justice."
The Sinaloa cartel is thought to be responsible for bringing multiton quantities of cocaine and marijuana from Mexico into the United States through distribution cells in this country and Canada, operating primarily out of Mexico's west coast.
According to court documents, Diaz-Sosa, a weapons and narcotics broker, began negotiating the weapons purchase for the cartel and arranged for the delivery of 4.5 pounds methamphetamine to serve as a down payment. Palomino-Robles made the initial delivery on behalf of Diaz-Sosa.
For the next three months, the documents show, Diaz-Sosa and his partners negotiated with undercover federal agents for the purchase of a Dragon Fire anti-tank weapon; two AT4 84-mm unguided, portable, single-shot recoilless smooth-bore anti-tank weapons; a Law Rocket light anti-tank weapon; a portable infrared homing anti-aircraft surface-to-air Stinger missile; two Def Tech grenade launchers; and a dozen 40-mm grenades, one M-60 machine gun, one .30 caliber machine gun and three cases of hand grenades.
As these negotiations continued, the documents show, Diaz-Sosa and his associates agreed to exchange both cash and methamphetamine as a final payment.
According to the records, Diaz-Sosa went to an undercover warehouse maintained by the Bureau of Alcohol, Tobacco, Firearms and Explosives (ATF) on Feb. 17, 2010, to finalize the weapons exchange, at which time Diaz-Sosa and DeJesus-Casteneda were arrested by federal agents. Later that same day, Palomino-Robles was arrested in possession of $139,900, which was determined to be an additional portion of the weapons payment.
"Today, through the well-coordinated effort of all involved agencies, dangerous weapons have been kept out of the hands of those who could turn those weapons against the United States," said ATF Special Agent in Charge Thomas Brandon, who heads the agency's Phoenix office.
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