For Immediate Release
Man Sentenced to Almost Six Years in Prison for Smuggling Assault Weapons to Cartel Members in Mexico; Gun Prosecutions Up 111 Percent in San Diego and Imperial Counties
NEWS RELEASE SUMMARY – December 18, 2014
SAN DIEGO – Sergio Garcia-Rico, a disabled Chula Vista man who illegally purchased assault weapons in the U.S. and then smuggled them across the border to the Knights Templar drug cartel in Mexico, was sentenced in federal court today to 70 months in prison.
Garcia-Rico pleaded guilty in August to drug- and weapons-related charges. At sentencing, and in court records, he admitted that he purchased firearms at gun shops and shows in California and delivered them to the Knights Templar cartel, an exceedingly violent offshoot of the La Familia Michoacana drug cartel based in the Mexican state of Michoacán.
During the hearing, Assistant U.S. Attorney Andrew Haden argued for a significant sentence, noting that Garcia-Rico was a “bold and brazen gun trafficker” who exploited his physical limitations to avoid suspicion of border agents and to conceal the weapons in the back of his van.
According to a complaint, Garcia-Rico hid thousands of rounds of ammunition in the bottom of an electric wheelchair that was stored in his vehicle as he crossed into Mexico.
“It is not difficult to perceive - when you are personally delivering assault weapons and thousands of rounds of ammunition - what is going to happen to those weapons, what that ammunition is for, and the amount of blood that is now on Mr. Garcia’s hands,” Haden told the court today.
During the sentencing hearing before U.S. District Judge Dana M. Sabraw, Garcia-Rico was also ordered to forfeit his house - which he owned free and clear - along with the weapons and ammunition found in his van at the time of his arrest and approximately $11,000.
In handing down the sentence, Judge Sabraw took note of the types of weapons being moved by the defendant from the U.S. to Mexico and told Garcia-Rico that his trafficking activity had dangerous consequences. “It is obvious that these weapons are being used to kill people. I think that is plain as the day is long. That is what these weapons and munitions are used for.”
This case highlights a renewed emphasis on the federal prosecution of cases involving firearms in the Southern District of California and the Project Safe Neighborhoods Program. The number of gun cases charged by the United States Attorney’s Office in San Diego increased approximately 111 percent in the last two years, from FY 2012 to 2014. During the same period, the number of individual defendants being prosecuted for federal firearms offenses has increased 143 percent.
According to a complaint, Garcia-Rico was arrested on January 21, 2014, when he attempted to cross the border into Mexico at the Otay Mesa port of entry. A Customs and Border Protection officer searched his vehicle and found thousands of rounds of ammunition as well as firearms and firearms parts.
Garcia-Rico admitted that he purchased firearms at gun shops and gun shows in several cities throughout California and that he lied on forms, declaring that he was purchasing the guns for his own use, court records indicate. It is illegal to purchase weapons for another person.
Garcia-Rico is quadriplegic, with limited use of his hands, court records said. However, he was able to drive in a specially designed vehicle.
Garcia-Rico told authorities he needed help hiding the firearms in his van because his disability restricts movement so he enlisted the help of a friend. That friend would wrap and hide the firearms in preparation for Garcia-Rico’s trips to Mexico. Garcia said he made up to $500 per weapon sale.
Two other defendants were prosecuted in connection with this trafficking investigation.
Garcia-Rico’s friend, Luis Antonio Sanchez-Andrade, pleaded guilty and was sentenced today to 10 months in prison for being an alien in possession of a firearm. According to his plea agreement, he admitted to assisting Garcia-Rico with his gun trafficking scheme by loading the various firearms and ammunition into the secret compartments contained inside Garcia-Rico’s van. Sanchez-Andrade is a Mexican citizen who was in possession of a visa that allowed him to cross the border. Please see 14-CR-1541-DMS.
Garcia-Rico’s daughter, Julie Garcia-Garcia, pleaded guilty and was sentenced in October to three years of felony probation for acting as a “straw purchaser” of at least one firearm for her father. Please see 14-CR-731-DMS.
“The defendant knew he was delivering deadly weapons to a violent Mexican drug cartel, yet he continued to do so, over and over,” said U.S. Attorney Laura Duffy. “We are pursuing arms traffickers and prosecuting gun-related crimes at an unprecedented level in this district, because lives are at stake.”
“This case is an example of the Border Enforcement Security Task Force's work to combat criminal activity in border hotspots along the U.S.-Mexico border,” said Joe Garcia, interim special agent in charge for HSI in San Diego. “I commend the collaborative effort by law enforcement on both sides of the border that made this a successful investigation.”
“Intentionally purchasing firearms destined for criminals undermines public trust and safety,” said ATF Los Angeles Field Division Special Agent in Charge Carlos A. Canino. “This is precisely how agencies can work together to keep guns out of the hands of prohibited people.”
Sergio Garcia-Rico Age 53 Chula Vista, California
SUMMARY OF CHARGES 14CR353DMS
Count One – Possession of Methamphetamine with Intent to Distribute, 21 USC 841(a)(1)
Count Three – Attempted Smuggling of Goods from the United States 18 USC 554
Count Four – Knowingly Making a False Statement in the Acquisition of a Firearm from a
Licensed Firearm Dealer 18 USC 922(a)(6)
Immigration and Customs Enforcement, Homeland Security Investigations
Bureau of Alcohol, Tobacco, Firearms and Explosives