For Immediate Release
Two Guilty for Straw Purchasing a Firearm
LOS ANGELES – A Hemet man recently pleaded guilty to aiding and abetting a Highland woman in making false statements in acquisition of a firearm, a charge to which she pleaded guilty.
Efrain Pena, Jr., 38, and Michelle Velasquez, 35, are scheduled to be sentenced in March 2020. The offenses are punishable by up to 10 years in prison.
In early September 2018, Mexican authorities recovered two pistols and an unserialized, homemade, short-barrel AR-type rifle in a vehicle in Tijuana, Mexico from a vehicle occupied by three individuals. The Mexican authorities worked with their counterparts at the Bureau of Alcohol, Tobacco, Firearms and Explosives (ATF) and traced some of the firearms to the first purchasers. One of firearms traced back to an individual who bought the gun at a federal firearms licensee in Riverside, California.
The trace report documented the firearm had been purchased 189 days prior to it showing up in a crime scene. The national average from the time an individual purchases a firearm to when it shows up in a crime (also known as time-to-crime) is 8 years.
ATF Los Angeles Field Division investigated the purchase and it was determined Velasquez agreed to purchase the firearm for Pena. According to the federal indictment Velasquez placed the order online, gave Pena’s address and credit card instead of her own on the federal forms and picked up the gun from the store. While at the gun store, she falsely stated on federal forms she was the buyer (opposed to Pena), and signed off on the form that she understood if this was a false statement it was a crime punishable as a felony.
On Oct. 4, 2018, ATF special agents attempted to contact Velasquez to discuss the purchase of the firearm that was found in Tijuana. According to the federal indictment, two days later, Velasquez filed a report to the San Bernardino Police Department falsely stating that the firearm found in Tijuana had been stolen from her previous residence.
ATF determined Pena possessed the firearm Velasquez purchased even though he is a convicted felon for a previous offense and is prohibited from possessing firearms and ammunition.
Firearms trafficking refers to the diversion of guns from lawful commerce to the illegal market. Firearm traffickers oftentimes have individuals legally purchase firearms for individuals who are prohibited from possessing firearms. The act of purchasing a firearm unlawfully for another is often referred to as straw purchasing.
ATF recognizes the role firearms play in violent crimes and focuses on armed violent offenders and career criminals, firearms traffickers, violent gang activity, and domestic and international arms traffickers.
ATF targets, investigates and recommends prosecution of these offenders to reduce the level of violent crime and to enhance public safety. ATF also strives to increase state and local awareness of available federal prosecution under federal statutes.
The prosecutors who handled this case were Assistant United States Attorneys Eli A. Alcaraz and Julius J. Nam.
For more information, follow ATF LA Field Division on Twitter @LosAngelesATF.