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Justice News

Department of Justice
U.S. Attorney’s Office
Southern District of Texas

Friday, January 31, 2014

Zapata Firearms Trafficking Ring Sentenced For Purchasing Firearms For Los Zetas

LAREDO, Texas - Six members of a firearms trafficking organization operating out of the Zapata, Texas, area from approximately 2009 through mid-2011 have been ordered to federal prison, announced United States Attorney Kenneth Magidson. Claudia Medrano, 29, Maria Micaela Berrones, 26, Marlene Riojas, 32, Anna Salinas-Alaniz, 53, all of Zapata; Maria Elena Ramos, 31, of Rio Grande City; and Maria Del Carmen Carbajal, 31, of Sullivan City, all previously pleaded guilty to their roles in the firearms offenses.

Today, Senior U.S. District Judge George P. Kazen sentenced Ramos to a 60-month-term of imprisonment. Berrones will serve term of 35 months in prison, while Riojas, Salinas-Alaniz and Carbajal received respective terms of 16, 24 and 28 months. Medrano was ordered to federal prison for 42 months. All were further ordered to be on supervised release for three years following completion of their prison terms. Adriana Garza, 32, of Mission, who also pleaded guilty, will be sentenced Monday, Feb. 3, 2014.

The convictions and sentences were a result of crimes that were discovered during a three‑plus year investigation into a drug trafficking and money laundering organization based out of Zapata. That investigation led to the conviction and lengthy sentences of 16 defendants for various drug trafficking and money laundering activities in August 2013.

As part of the investigation, the defendants sentenced today had been purchasing firearms on behalf of other persons at Gladiator Guns and Ammo in Roma, Texas, and that these weapons and ammunition were ultimately being illegally smuggled to members of Los Zetas drug cartel in Mexico.

Collectively, during the course of the offenses, the defendants illegally obtained a total of 51 firearms from Gladiator Guns and Ammo, the vast majority of which were AR-15-type assault rifles. These weapons were ultimately illegally exported to Mexico.  In addition, on June 8, 2010, officers caught Ramos in Zapata attempting to illegally export 3,500 rounds of ammunition and other items to Mexico. She had just obtained this ammunition from Gladiator Guns and Ammo, which included approximately 320 .50 caliber rounds, 1,260 7.62 x 39 millimeter caliber rounds, 2,000 .223 caliber rounds, one night vision spotting scope and two sets of night vision goggles.

Of the firearms the defendants illegally obtained, the Mexican military subsequently recovered approximately seven of the assault rifles at various locations in northern Mexico after military engagements between the Mexican military and members of Los Zetas.

This case is the result of an investigation conducted by agents from the Bureau of Alcohol, Tobacco, Firearms and Explosives with assistance from the Drug Enforcement Administration, Internal Revenue Service - Criminal Investigation, Border Patrol, Homeland Security Investigations, Texas Department of Public Safety and the Zapata and Webb County Sheriff’s Offices. Assistant United States Attorney Arthur R. Jones is prosecuting the case.

Updated April 30, 2015