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Department of Justice

U.S. Attorney's Office
Middle District of Florida
For Immediate Release
Roger B. Handberg, United States Attorney
www.justice.gov/usao-mdfl
Tuesday, April 2, 2024

Gun Trafficker Who Tried To Send Firearms to Drug Cartel Members in Mexico Sentenced to Over Thirteen Years in Prison

Tampa, FL – U.S. District Judge William F. Jung has sentenced Yuendry Rodriguez Hilario (29, Cleveland, OH) to 13 years and 4 months in federal prison for conspiring to traffic firearms, possessing firearms in furtherance of drug trafficking, and money laundering. A co-conspirator, Saleh Yusuf Saleh (24, Cleveland, OH), was sentenced on November 30, 2023, before U.S. District Judge Kathryn Kimball Mizelle to 5 years and 8 months’ imprisonment. Rodriguez Hilario and Saleh were arrested in Cleveland, Ohio on March 2, 2023, and Rodriguez Hilario was ordered detained. Rodriguez Hilario entered a guilty plea on November 13, 2023.

According to court records, since 2021, undercover agents from the Bureau of Alcohol, Tobacco, Firearms and Explosives (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.

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Firearms from the October 21, 2021 sale

Firearms from the October 21, 2021 sale

Image 1: Firearms from the October 21, 2021 sale

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Firearms from March 10, 2022 sale

Firearms from March 10, 2022 sale

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Firearms from March 10, 2022 sale 2

Firearms from March 10, 2022 sale 2

Images 2-3: Firearms from March 10, 2022 sale

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Firearms from May 26, 2022 sale

Firearms from May 26, 2022 sale

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Firearms from May 26, 2022 sale 2

Firearms from May 26, 2022 sale 2

Images 3-4: Firearms from May 26, 2022 sale

“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.”

“Disrupting firearms trafficking schemes like this is a priority for us,” said ATF Tampa Field Division Special Agent in Charge Kirk Howard. “It took a joint team more than two years to investigate this complex case and bring these suspects to justice.”

This case was investigated by the Bureau of Alcohol, Tobacco, Firearms and Explosives in Tampa and Columbus, Ohio and 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, Federal Bureau of Investigation, and Homeland Security Investigations. The Cleveland Police Department, Ohio State Highway Patrol, Ohio Adult Parole Authority, and the Great Lakes Air and Marine Branch of U.S. Customs and Border Protection also provided assistance. It was prosecuted by Dan Baeza.

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