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Department of Justice

Office of Public Affairs

For Immediate Release

Tuesday, March 26, 2024

Five Arrested in South Texas for Allegedly Trafficking Military Grade Firearms to Mexican Drug Cartel

Five individuals were arrested in Laredo, Hebbronville and Falls City, Texas, last week for allegedly trafficking military grade firearms to a drug cartel in Mexico.

According to court documents, Gerardo Rafael Perez Jr., also known as Jerry, 23, of Laredo, allegedly coordinated the acquisition of more than 100 firearms throughout Texas to be smuggled across the international border and delivered to a drug trafficking cartel in Nuevo Laredo, Tamaulipas, Mexico. Perez’s organization allegedly used straw purchasers, including co-defendants Francisco Alejandro Benavides, also known as "Frankie," 23, and Mark Anthony Trevino Jr., 24, to procure the firearms from a variety of sources in the Western, Southern, and Northern Districts of Texas. Court documents allege that the organization would acquire guns from unlicensed dealers of firearms, or from federal firearm licensees, where straw purchasers would make false representations to secure the firearms.

“Stopping the trafficking of high-caliber and military grade firearms to Mexico is a top priority for the Justice Department — and especially the ATF agents and Department prosecutors that lead Operation Southbound,” said Deputy Attorney General Lisa Monaco. “Working with our Mexican partners, we will disrupt and dismantle the drug cartels responsible for so much destruction in both nations, and as demonstrated by these charges, we will bring to justice the alleged firearms traffickers who would arm those cartels.”

“Preventing firearms from getting into the black market is one of ATF’s top priorities,” said Director Steven Dettelbach of ATF. “When guns are diverted to unlawful markets in Mexico, they are often going to arm dangerous drug cartels. ATF will continue to work with all our partners, like those at HSI and the U.S. Attorney’s Office, to bring important cases like this and hold gun traffickers accountable.”

“The successful outcome of these arrests is a direct result of the steadfast efforts of HSI and our federal partner to prevent firearms from falling into the hands of transnational criminal organizations that pose a threat to public safety both here and abroad,” said Executive Associate Director Katrina W. Berger of Homeland Security Investigations (HSI). “Military-grade firearms often contribute to fueling the violence committed by drug cartels, which drastically affects communities both in Mexico and in the United States. These arrests send a strong message to weapons traffickers that law enforcement will work aggressively with our federal law enforcement partners to combat this egregious and dangerous criminal activity.”

Luis Matias Leal also known as "Wicho," "Poncho" and "El Tio," 30, allegedly provided cash and instructions to facilitate the conspiracy, while Antonio Osiel Casarez, 26, would smuggle the firearms into Mexico and return to the U.S. with bulk cash.

The high-powered firearms allegedly acquired by Perez’s organization included FNH SCAR rifles, Barrett .50 caliber rifles, FNH M294S rifles and M1919 rifles.

Perez, Casarez, Leal, Benavides and Trevino were all named in a superseding indictment filed March 6. They were arrested March 20.

The five new defendants are all charged with one count of conspiracy to traffic firearms, which carries a maximum penalty of 15 years in prison, and one count of conspiracy to straw purchase firearms, which carries a maximum penalty of 25 years in prison.

Perez, Casarez, Leal and Benavides are further charged with one count of conspiracy to smuggle goods from the U.S., which carries a maximum penalty of five years in prison, and one count of conspiracy to possess firearms in furtherance of a drug trafficking crime, which carries a maximum penalty of 20 years in prison. Perez faces two additional firearms trafficking charges. Leal, Benavides and Trevino are also charged with falsifying information when buying a firearm, which carries a maximum penalty of 10 years in prison; and an additional count of straw purchasing. All of the charges also carry a fine up to $250,000. A federal district court judge will determine any sentence after considering the U.S. Sentencing Guidelines and other statutory factors.

Co-defendants Jose Emigdio Q. Mendoza, Gerardo Antonio Ibarra Jr. and Gerardo Corona Jr. were initially named in an earlier indictment. Mendoza was allegedly engaged in the business of dealing firearms without a license, selling military-grade weapons to members of the Perez conspiracy. Ibarra and Corona were allegedly straw purchasers for the organization.

Several of the defendants are alleged to have contacted Mendoza to purchase the firearms, including SCAR rifles, Barrett .50 caliber rifles and M249 rifles. Mendoza is alleged to have sold at least 22 such firearms to his co-conspirators from December 2022 to March 2023 and received approximately $169,900.00, at a markup from the retail price of the guns so he could derive a profit for himself.

Mendoza was arrested in San Antonio on March 11, 2023. Ibarra and Corona were arrested in September and October 2023, respectively.

Deputy Attorney General Monaco, ATF Director Dettelbach, HSI Executive Director Berger and U.S. Attorney Jaime Esparza for the Western District of Texas made the announcement.

ATF and HSI are investigating the case.

Assistant U.S. Attorney William Calve for the Western District of Texas is prosecuting the case.

An indictment is merely an allegation. All defendants are presumed innocent until proven guilty beyond a reasonable doubt in a court of law.

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