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Press Release

Houstonians sent to prison for illegal firearms purchases

For Immediate Release
U.S. Attorney's Office, Southern District of Texas

HOUSTON – Four individuals have been sentenced for illegally purchasing weapons for others aka straw purchasing, announced U.S. Attorney Jennifer B. Lowery.

Maribel Santana-Cerano, 45, Ariceli Santana, 47, Carlos Joel Hernandez, 26, and Johnny Talavera, 28, all of Houston, pleaded guilty in 2021.

Today, U.S. District Judge Lynn N. Hughes imposed the statutory maximum 120-month term of imprisonment for Santana-Cerano. Santana and Talavera received sentences of 12 months and a day, while Hernandez was ordered to serve six months. In imposing the sentence for Santana-Cerano, the court noted her role in the scheme, the number of firearms attributed to her and her knowledge of the trafficking scheme among other factors that warranted her maximum sentence. In handing down the prison terms, Judge Hughes noted the impact these firearms would have on American and Mexican lives. 

The investigation began July 31, 2018. At that time, Santana-Cerano was a passenger on a bus headed to Mexico. Authorities conducted an X-ray inspection which revealed 34 pistols and 31 magazines inside black luggage. Santana-Cerano denied the luggage was hers but displayed suspicious behavior.  

Upon further investigation, law enforcement was able to trace firearms purchases from various federally-licensed firearms dealers to Santana-Cerano, Santana, Hernandez and Talavera. Authorities also retrieved falsely represented ATF 4473 forms that each had completed. The documents claimed they were the purchasers of the firearms when, in fact, they were not.  

Upon her to return to the United States and arrest, Santana-Cerano admitted to straw purchasing firearms for an individual residing in Mexico. She would then store and accumulate the firearms at her residence before their transport into Mexico. She also reported that her sister, Santana, purchased more firearms for her. Santana stated each individual was given money and directed to purchase specific firearms.

The group was ultimately held responsible for the illegal purchase of 82 firearms that were destined for Mexico. 

Straw purchasing occurs when someone professes to be purchasing a firearm for themselves, when in actuality, they provide it to someone else, usually not legally able to do it themselves.

Santana-Cerano was taken into custody at the conclusion of her sentencing hearing, while the others were permitted to remain on bond pending dates to surrender in the near future.

The Bureau of Alcohol, Tobacco, Firearms and Explosives conducted the investigation. Assistant U.S. Attorney Steven Schammel prosecuted the case.

Updated March 9, 2022

Firearms Offenses