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Department of Justice

Office of Public Affairs
For Immediate Release
Thursday, November 16, 2023

Two Texas Men Sentenced to Prison for Firearms Trafficking to Mexico

Two Texas men were sentenced to prison for their roles in firearms trafficking to Mexico.

“Traffickers in fully automatic firearms from the United States to Mexico aid in the cartels’ efforts to manufacture dangerous drugs and smuggle them into our country,” said Attorney General Merrick B. Garland. “The Justice Department will do everything in its power to find and hold accountable the gun traffickers who are arming the cartels. I am grateful to the U.S. Attorney’s Office for the Southern District of Texas and ATF for their outstanding work in both of these cases.”

“ATF cannot and will not stand by while ghost guns flow to Mexican cartels to support their violent and deadly crimes,” said Director Steven Dettelbach of the Bureau of Alcohol, Tobacco, Firearms and Explosives. “With our partners, ATF is working every day to catch the firearms traffickers, drug dealers and straw purchasers who arm those criminals with increasingly lethal weaponry, which includes machine guns. We will use every tool provided, including the new laws in the Bipartisan Safer Communities Act, to try to stop those arming the cartels.”

Jaime Jesus Esquivel, 37, of Laredo, was sentenced to 120 months in prison followed by 3 years of supervised release for possession of a machine gun, possession of a firearm by a convicted felon and conspiracy to possess intent to distribute cocaine. Esquivel pleaded guilty on June 6, admitting, in part, to producing and illegally exporting fully automatic firearms to Mexico for the use of drug cartels.

Jose Abraham Nicanor, 34, of Houston, was sentenced to 60 months in prison for the illegal purchase and trafficking of firearms. A federal jury convicted Nicanor on May 11 on all 13 counts as charged following a 3-day trial. He was also convicted for possessing a firearm after a previous felony for armed robbery.

United States v. Esquivel

As part of the undercover investigation, authorities conducted four controlled purchases of cocaine and AR-type fully automatic rifles. The weapons were ghost guns, a common term for privately made firearms absent any manufacture marks of identification. Esquivel assembled these weapons for distribution.

Esquivel also made the firearms from various components of combat weapons including Colt M4 parts and a 3D-printed polymer AR-type drop in auto sear or machine gun conversion device (MGCD). An MGCD is any part designed and intended solely and exclusively for use in converting a weapon into a machine gun.

Law enforcement executed two search warrants and seized privately-made manufactured AR-type lower receivers, firearm parts, firearm manufacturing tools, 950 rounds of assorted ammunition, a 7.62mm rifle, a 12-gauge shotgun and a privately-made short-barrel fully automatic rifle without serial numbers or industry markings. They also found methamphetamines, cocaine and a 3D printer.

As a convicted felon, he is now prohibited from possessing firearms or ammunition.

Esquivel will remain in custody pending transfer to a Federal Bureau of Prisons (BOP) facility.

The Drug Enforcement Administration, ATF and Laredo Police Department investigated the case.

Assistant U.S. Attorney Brandon Scott Bowling for the Southern District of Texas prosecuted the case.

United States v. Nicanor

At the hearing, the court heard evidence that showed Nicanor aggregated the firearms shipment to Mexico. In handing down the sentence, the court noted Nicanor’s conduct amounted to more than mistakes, but to a pattern of choices to violate the law.

At trial, the jury heard that Nicanor recruited two straw purchasers to buy high-caliber rifles that drug trafficking organizations regularly seek.

Testimony and evidence presented at court showed that a total of 94 firearms were attributable to Nicanor’s straw purchasing group. Mexican authorities later recovered many of the firearms in the possession of drug trafficking organizations.

The jury also heard that Nicanor rented a machine gun at a local gun range and posted a video of himself with the firearm to his social media. As a convicted felon, he is prohibited from possessing firearms or ammunition per federal law.

Nicanor was permitted to remain on bond and voluntarily surrender to a BOP facility to be determined in the near future.

The straw purchasers, James Paxton Jefferson, 34, and Alejandro Garcia, 33, both of Houston, previously pleaded guilty and have been sentenced.

ATF investigated the case. Mexican authorities also provided assistance.

Assistant U.S. Attorneys Lisa Collins and Stuart Tallichet for the Southern District of Texas prosecuted the case.


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