U.S. Department of Justice
United States Attorney
Western District of Texas
Western District of Texas
For Immediate Release
August 25, 2011
John E. Murphy, United States Attorney
Contact: Daryl Fields, Public Information Officer
Former Village of Columbus (NM) Chief of Police Enters Guilty Plea in New Mexico Federal Firearms Trafficking Case
United States Attorney John E. Murphy announced that 40-year-old Angelo Vega, former Chief of Police for the Village of Columbus, New Mexico, pleaded guilty to a federal charges in connection with a firearms trafficking investigation.
Appearing this afternoon before United States Magistrate Judge William P. Lynch in Las Cruces, NM, Vega pleaded guilty to a three-count Information charging him with one count of conspiracy to smuggle firearms, one count of smuggling goods from the United States and one count of extortion.
At the hearing this afternoon, Vega admitted that beginning in October 2010 and continuing until March 2011, he agreed to conspire with co-defendants Blaz Gutierrez, a former Village of Columbus Trustee, and former Village of Columbus Mayor Eddie Espinoza in smuggling firearms and tactical body gear, including body armor, to codefendant Ignacio Villalobos and his La Linea organization in Mexico. Vega further admitted to using his official position as Police Chief to further the criminal organization’s operation. On October 8, 2010, Vega admittedly stopped a vehicle that was occupied by ATF agents at the request of the organization. He subsequently contacted ATF in an attempt to have firearms they seized from Gutierrez returned to Gutierrez knowing that the firearms would ultimately be smuggled to Villalobos and his organization in Mexico. Finally, Vega admitted that on February 10, 2011, he purchased thousands of dollars worth of tactical combat gear to be smuggled to the organization, including one level seven bullet-proof vest which he understood was earmarked for Villalobos. For his role in the overall scheme, Vega received well over $10,000 from the organization.
As a result of his guilty plea, Vega faces statutory maximum sentences of up to five years in federal prison for the conspiracy charge; up to ten years in federal prison for the smuggling charge; and, up to 20 years in federal prison for the extortion charge. He remains in federal custody.
To date, 12 individuals have entered guilty pleas in connection with this investigation including 10 of the 11 defendants charged by indictment back in March. The lone fugitive, Ignacio Villalobos of Columbus, NM, is charged with conspiracy to smuggle firearms and two substantive counts of firearms smuggling. No sentencing dates have been scheduled.
The investigation was conducted by the Bureau of Alcohol, Tobacco, Firearms and Explosives (ATF), ICE Homeland Security Investigations (HSI) and the Drug Enforcement Administration (DEA) with assistance from the Comandante Chihuahua State Police in Palomas, Mexico and the Secretariat of Public Security in Juarez, Mexico. The U.S. Marshal’s Service, U.S. Border Patrol, U.S. Customs and Border Protection, New Mexico State Police, Las Cruces Police Department, El Paso Police Department as well as other federal, state and local law enforcement agencies also provided assistance during the investigation. The case is being prosecuted by Assistant United States Attorneys Greg McDonald and Steven Spitzer.