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March 30, 2010

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(BROWNSVILLE, Texas) – The last of three defendants charged for their role in a scheme to purchase firearms and sell them at inflated prices knowing the firearms were to be smuggled into Mexico has been sentenced to prison, United States Attorney José Angel Moreno, Immigration and Customs Enforcement (ICE) Special Agent in Charge Jerry Robinette and Bureau of Alcohol, Tobacco, Firearms and Explosives (ATF) Special Agent in Charge Dewey Webb announced today.

Sotero Sotelo, 37, of Brownsville, pleaded guilty to conspiring to export firearms and unlawfully exporting firearms in October 2009. Yesterday, United States District Judge Hilda Tagle sentenced him to 87 months in federal prison without parole, fined him $6500 and ordered him to serve a three-year-term of supervised release. In addition to the 87-month term, the court ordered Sotelo to serve an additional 10 months incarceration after revoking a term of supervised release imposed following his 2003 conviction for dealing firearms without a license. 

“We are extremely gratified with the sentence on the Sotero Sotelo case,” said Robinette. “We need to do all we can through our partnerships here and abroad to prevent weapon smuggling and to make sure those who ignore us have the time behind bars to reflect on their actions. ICE continues to work closely with its law enforcement partners to investigate this type of activity to ensure that our borders are not jeopardized by weapons being exchanged into the wrong hands.”

“This investigation is an example of successful law enforcement partnerships,” said Webb. “We will continue to work toward stopping firearms trafficking to Mexico.”

Sotelo, along with Oscar Pena, 28, of Brownsville, and Mark Machado, 53, of Los Fresnos, were indicted together in January 2009 and charged for their roles in an unlawful firearms exporting scheme. Both Pena and Machado have pleaded guilty to federal firearms charges and are presently serving 31-month and 16-month prison terms.

The investigation leading to the charges conducted by ICE and ATF special agents and the Cameron County Sheriff’s Departmentfound that between January 2007 and February 2008, Sotelo and Pena, who were business partners operating the La Cueva drive-through convenience store in Brownsville, conspired to acquire firearms from others including Machado who purchased firearms via the Internet. Machado was not a licensed firearms dealer nor are Sotelo nor Pena. The firearms were delivered to Pena in Brownsville often at the convenience store. Sotelo and Pena then sold the firearms at inflated rates to individuals they knew would unlawfully export them into Mexico. Sotelo and Pena split the profits of their illegal enterprise with one another. Sotelo and Pena acquired more than 100 firearms during the course of the one-year conspiracy - the majority of which were .223 caliber semi-automatic rifles.

Sotelo was previously convicted in 2003 of dealing firearms without a license and sentenced to a 27-month prison term to be followed by a three-year supervised release term (SRT). One of the standard conditions of SRT is that the defendant must not commit a federal or state crime and this present offense was committed while Sotelo was still serving his SRT. Yesterday, Judge Tagle revoked the SRT term based upon the violation of the standard condition and ordered Sotelo to serve 10 months in federal prison for this violation. The 10-month-term will be served consecutive to the 87 months imposed for this present conviction for a total of 97 months incarceration.

Assistant U.S. Attorney William Hagen prosecuted the case.


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