The man who bought two semi-automatic assault rifles found at the scene of the fatal 2010 shooting of a U.S. Border Patrol agent in Arizona was sentenced Wednesday in federal court in Phoenix to 57 months in prison over his role in the botched Fast and Furious gun-running investigation.
Jaime Avila Jr., who was among 20 people targeted as “straw buyers” in the Bureau of Alcohol, Tobacco, Firearms and Explosives (ATF) investigation, pleaded guilty in April to two felony charges of purchasing hundreds of weapons at Phoenix-area gun shops that then were smuggled, or “walked,” to drug cartels in Mexico.
He pleaded guilty to dealing guns without a federal license, conspiracy to deal guns without a license, making false statements in a gun purchase and smuggling goods out of the U.S.
Prosecutors have said Avila spent nearly $60,000 in buying 52 weapons as a straw buyer, including semi-automatic and sniper rifles.
Following the shooting death of Border Patrol Agent Brian A. Terry on Dec. 15, 2010, the ATF confirmed that two WASR-10/63 assault rifles — a Romanian AK-47 variant — found at the site of the killing had been traced to Avila. He had bought the weapons at the Lone Wolf Trading Co. in Glendale, Ariz.
“I’m sorry about the Terry family — what happened — and that if I had the power to change everything, I would,” Avila told U.S. District Judge James Teilborg during his sentencing hearing. “I am just trying to change my life — just trying — to be a good father to my son, that that’s it, your honor.”
Avila’s attorney, Candice Shoemaker, said her client’s “significant substance abuse problem” led to his involvement in the smuggling operation and added that Avila was “shocked and dismayed and hurt in a way that he had no idea his behavior … would lead to such great lengths.” She said he was recruited to participate in the smuggling scheme and added that he was “not a gentleman who grew up in gangs.”
Terry’s cousin, Robert Heyer, who runs the Brian Terry Foundation, had asked the judge to impose the maximum 10-year sentence. In delivering the victim impact statement, he said Terry had been planning to visit his hometown in Michigan for the Christmas holidays just before his death.
“Brian did ultimately come home that Christmas,” Mr. Heyer said. “We buried him not far from the house that he was raised in.”
In asking for the maximum sentence, Mr. Heyer told the judge: “You have the ability to hold Mr. Avila fully accountable. You have the ability to send a message to every law-abiding citizen of this country that this crime will not be tolerated. You also have the ability to send a message to Brian’s family and friends that justice has been served.”
By the time of the Terry shooting, Avila had been under surveillance for more than two months. It took ATF less than 24 hours to confirm that he had purchased the weapons found at the site of the Terry killing. The operation was then shut down, and Avila was arrested along with the 19 others named in a federal grand-jury indictment.
Straw buyers in the Fast and Furious operation purchased hundreds of high-powered weapons and spent hundreds of thousands of dollars. Although many of the purchased weapons were not top-of-the-line, they weren’t cheap.
According to government records, the straw buyers spent an average of $648 for each AK-47-type assault rifle they bought. Some Barrett sniper rifles went for more than $6,000 each, and FN 5.7mm pistols cost an average of $1,130 each.
Uriel Patino, a food-stamps recipient, proved to be the most prolific straw buyer, an indictment in the case said, buying 316 weapons, although congressional investigators said the number might be twice as high. Included were 246 AK-47 assault rifles purchased during 24 visits to two Phoenix-area gun shops over nine months. He and Avila, the indictment said, shopped together at the Lone Wolf Trading Co.