U.S. Department of Justice
United States Attorney
Middle District of Tennessee
110 9th Avenue South
Nashville, Tennessee 37203-3870
Fax (615) 736-5323
For Immediate Release
October 27, 2009
Edward M. Yarbrough, United States Attorney
Contact: Van Vincent, Assistant U.S. Attorney
Federal Authorities Announce The Indictment Of Four Guatemalan Nationals And A Former Metro Nashville Police Officer On Charges Of Smuggling Firearms To Guatemala
Nashville, TN — September 29, 209- Edward M. Yarbrough, United States Attorney for the Middle District of Tennessee; James M. Cavanaugh, Special Agent in Charge of the Bureau of Alcohol, Tobacco, Firearms and Explosives (ATF), Nashville Field Office; Jon Ruttencutter, Resident Agent in Charge of the Department of Homeland Security, Immigration and Customs Enforcement (ICE), Nashville Field Office; and Ronal Serpas, Chief of the Metropolitan Nashville Police Department, announced the indictment of five Guatemalan nationals, including a former Metropolitan Nashville police officer and three naturalized U.S. citizens, by a federal grand jury in Nashville, Tennessee. The investigation was a joint effort by ATF and ICE that began in 2008.
According to the indictment, Julio Cesar Rojas-Lopez, Donald Efren Franco, Denis Franco, Luis Armando Monterroso Pineda and Edwing Ronal Morales were part of a conspiracy, the object of which was to purchase semi-automatic pistols, revolvers, and ammunition for export to the Republic of Guatemala. The defendants intended to conceal from the sellers and law enforcement authorities the true purchaser of the firearms and their ultimate and final use and destination; to export the firearms and ammunition from the United States to members of the Lorenzana and Mendoza Drug Cartels located in the Republic of Guatemala; and to conceal the export of the firearms and ammunition from the authorities.
According to the indictment, Julio Cesar Rojas-Lopez communicated with members of the Lorenzana and Mendoza Drug Cartels in the Republic of Guatemala to discuss when to purchase firearms and ammunition from gun dealers in the middle Tennessee area; how many firearms to purchase from the gun dealers; how much ammunition to purchase from the gun dealers; and when to smuggle the firearms and ammunition out of the United States to the Republic of Guatemala. Members of the Lorenzana and Mendoza Drug Cartels who resided in the Republic of Guatemala wired substantial sums of money to Julio Cesar Rojas-Lopez in middle Tennessee for the purchase and export of firearms and ammunition.
The indictment charges that Julio Cesar Rojas-Lopez recruited Donald Efren Franco, Denis Franco, Luis Armando Monterroso Pineda and Edwing Ronal Morales to go to the gun dealers and purchase firearms and ammunition. Rojas-Lopez instructed them regarding what price to pay and provided them with the money for the purchases. The defendants purchased twenty-three (23) firearms and attempted to purchase five (5) more guns and ammunition and falsely stated who the purchasers and recipients would be. Eighteen (18) of the twenty-three (23) fraudulently purchased firearms were smuggled to the Republic of Guatemala. The remaining five (5) fraudulently purchased firearms were seized by the ATF and ICE at the conclusion of the investigation.
The indictment further charges that Rojas-Lopez concealed the firearms and ammunition in vehicles and in his residence in middle Tennessee. Rojas-Lopez, aided and abetted by others, smuggled the firearms and ammunition out of the United States, including by secreting and concealing them in vehicles that he drove or towed, or had others drive or tow, to the Republic of Guatemala for delivery to members of the Lorenzana and Mendoza Drug Cartels in violation of the export laws.
Julio Cesar Rojas-Lopez, Donald Efren Franco, Denis Franco, Luis Armando Monterroso Pineda and Edwing Ronal Morales are expected to turn themselves in today. Edwing Ronal Morales is a former Metro Police Officer. The Metropolitan Nashville Police Department immediately dis-empowered Edwing Ronal Morales. Further proceedings related to his employment by the Nashville Metropolitan Police Department are pending.
United States Attorney Edward M. Yarbrough said “The investigation and indictment are an excellent example of how the United States Attorney’s Office, their law enforcement partners and local gun dealers are working together to prevent firearms from being diverted to criminal organizations. We recognize the role that firearms play in violent crimes, whether in Central America or middle Tennessee, and our roles in protecting the public. These individuals will no longer be able to divert firearms and ammunition to Guatemala for criminal use by the Lorenzana and Mendoza Drug Cartels, thereby alleviating the violence that could have been committed with those firearms and ammunition.”
“The case was made by the work of Metro Nashville Police, Immigration and Customs Enforcement, ATF and the U.S. Attorney’s office. Critical as well, was honest federal firearms dealers who carefully maintain their records and who refuse to be swept into a straw purchase conspiracy” stated James Cavanaugh, Special Agent in Charge of the ATF Nashville Field Division.
“This case was investigated as part of ‘Armas Cruzadas,’ an ICE-led bi-lateral program designed to identify, disrupt and dismantle trans-border weapons-smuggling networks” said Michael A. Holt, special agent in charge of the ICE Office of Investigations in New Orleans. “The operation aims to stop the illegal export of weapons from the United States into the hands of drug cartel organizations. Armas Cruzadas will help strengthen inter-agency cooperation between U.S. and International Law Enforcement, state and local law enforcement agencies and promote the exchange of intelligence through numerous points of contact.”
The United States is represented by Assistant United States Attorney Thomas M. Kent.
An indictment is merely an accusation, and the defendants are presumed innocent until and unless they are proven guilty.