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Department of Justice

Office of Public Affairs
For Immediate Release
Tuesday, April 2, 2024

Gun Trafficker Sentenced for Attempting to Send Firearms to Drug Cartel Members in Mexico

Yuendry Rodriguez Hilario, 29, of Cleveland, was sentenced to 13 years and four months in prison for conspiring to traffic firearms, possessing firearms in furtherance of drug trafficking, and money laundering. A co-conspirator, Saleh Yusuf Saleh, 24, also of Cleveland, was sentenced on Nov. 30, 2023, to five years and eight months in prison. Rodriguez Hilario and Saleh were arrested in Cleveland on March 2, 2023, and Rodriguez Hilario was ordered detained. Rodriguez Hilario entered a guilty plea on Nov. 13, 2023.

“Combating firearms trafficking networks that arm the Mexican cartels is a top Department of Justice priority,” said Deputy Attorney General Lisa Monaco. “The 13-year sentence imposed in this case reflects the severity of the crime — and years of difficult and dangerous work by ATF agents and their law enforcement partners. Because of their efforts, the Department kept scores of high-powered firearms out of the hands of the Mexican cartels and secured the conviction and lengthy sentences of the traffickers responsible.” 

“Firearms trafficking is not a victimless crime,” said Director Steven Dettelbach of the Bureau of Alcohol, Tobacco, Firearms and Explosives (ATF). “Those who seek to divert firearms to unlawful markets in Mexico are often arming dangerous drug cartels, who use these high-powered weapons to fuel their criminal activities. ATF will continue to work with our partners at CBP, OCDETF, and the U.S. Attorney’s Office to bring important cases like this and hold gun traffickers accountable.”

“This case highlights the joint commitment of the U.S. Attorney’s Office and the OCDETF Panama Express Strike Force to prevent firearms from falling into the hands of transnational criminal organizations,” said U.S. Attorney Roger B. Handberg for the Middle District of Florida. “We are dedicated to disrupting and dismantling transnational criminal organizations and holding gun traffickers accountable for their actions.”

According to court records, since 2021, undercover agents from the ATF, posing as Mexican cartel members, were introduced to Rodriguez Hilario because he was a trafficker of firearms that could be smuggled to Mexico. During the investigation, Rodriguez Hilario and others discussed the purchase of AR-15s and rocket-propelled grenade launchers. One of the co-conspirators described that he sold AR-15s and AK-47s to El Salvadorans, and also had cocaine available for distribution. Rodriguez Hilario further offered fentanyl to one of the undercover agents to make pills.

Beginning in late-2021, members of the conspiracy sold or arranged the sale of at least 90 rifles and one Mac-10-type machine gun with a silencer to undercover agents in the Middle District of Florida and Cleveland. In November 2022, an undercover agent told Rodriguez Hilario that his associates in Mexico were “battling and losing” and needed to purchase more firearms. On March 2, 2023, Rodriguez Hilario arranged to deliver 40 AM-15 multi-caliber firearms to the undercover agents. Saleh, who acquired and assembled the parts to make the firearms, arrived at the meeting with Rodriguez Hilario and the agents. After an undercover agent inspected one of the boxes of firearms, both Rodriguez Hilario and Saleh were arrested.

Multiple guns laying on a bed

Firearms from the Oct. 21, 2021, sale.

Closeup of multiple guns laying on a table

Firearms from March 10, 2022, sale.

Multiple guns laying on a table and an automatic weapon with a silencer on it

Firearms from May 26, 2022, sale.

The ATF Tampa and Columbus Field Divisions investigated the case.

Assistant U.S. Attorney Dan Baeza for the Middle District of Florida prosecuted the case.

This case is part of an Organized Crime Drug Enforcement Task Forces (OCDETF) Strike Force Initiative, which provides for the establishment of permanent multi-agency task force teams that work side-by-side in the same location. This co-located model enables agents from different agencies to collaborate on intelligence-driven, multi-jurisdictional operations to disrupt and dismantle the most significant drug traffickers, money launderers, gangs, and transnational criminal organizations.

The specific mission of the OCDETF Panama Express Strike Force is to disrupt and dismantle transnational criminal organizations involved in large scale drug trafficking, money laundering, and related activities. The OCDETF Panama Express Strike Force is comprised of agents and officers from the Coast Guard Investigative Service, Drug Enforcement Administration, FBI, and Homeland Security Investigations. The Cleveland Police Department, Ohio State Highway Patrol, Ohio Adult Parole Authority, and Great Lakes Air and Marine Branch of U.S. Customs and Border Protection also provided assistance.

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