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.”
For having a machine gun, having a firearm in the possession of a convicted felon, and conspiring to have cocaine on hand with the intent to distribute it, 37-year-old Jaime Jesus Esquivel of Laredo received a sentence of 120 months in prison and three years of supervised release.
On June 6, Esquivel pleaded guilty, admitting to making and illegally shipping fully automatic guns to Mexico for use by drug gangs.
Jose Abraham Nicanor, 34, of Houston, was sentenced to 60 months in jail for illegal gun acquisition and trafficking. Following a three-day trial, a federal jury convicted Nicanor on all 13 counts on May 11. He was also convicted of having a handgun following a previous felony conviction for armed robbery.
Authorities executed four controlled purchases of cocaine and AR-type fully automatic firearms as part of the undercover investigation. The weapons were ghost guns, a phrase used to describe privately built firearms that lack any identification markers. Esquivel put these guns together for distribution.
Esquivel also created the rifles using combat weapon components such as Colt M4 parts and a 3D-printed polymer AR-type drop-in auto-sear or machine gun conversion device (MGCD). An MGCD is any component that is created and intended primarily for use in turning a weapon into a machine gun.
Two search warrants were executed, and 950 rounds of assorted ammunition, a 7.62mm rifle, a 12-gauge shotgun, and a privately-made short-barrel fully automatic rifle with no serial numbers or industry markings were seized. Methamphetamines, cocaine, and a 3D printer were also discovered.
As a convicted criminal, he is no longer permitted to own weapons or ammunition.
Esquivel will be held in jail until he is transferred to a Federal Bureau of Prisons (BOP) prison.
The Laredo Police Department, the ATF, and the Drug Enforcement Administration all looked into the case.
Assistant United States Attorney Brandon Scott Bowling for the Southern District of Texas prosecuted the case.
The court heard evidence indicating Nicanor aggregated the gun shipment to Mexico throughout the hearing. The court emphasized in passing the sentence that Nicanor’s actions amounted to more than mistakes, but to a pattern of choosing to break the law.
The jury heard throughout the trial that Nicanor recruited two straw purchasers to acquire high-caliber firearms that drug trafficking groups frequently desire.
According to testimony and evidence given in court, Nicanor’s straw-purchasing organization was responsible for the purchase of 94 weapons. Mexican police eventually retrieved many of the guns discovered in the possession of drug trafficking organizations.
Nicanor also hired a machine gun from a local shooting range and posted a video of himself with the firearm on social media, according to the verdict. Federal law forbids him from possessing weapons or ammunition as a convicted criminal.
Nicanor was allowed to stay on bail and surrender voluntarily to a BOP facility, to be decided soon.
James Paxton Jefferson, 34, and Alejandro Garcia, 33, all of Houston, already pleaded guilty and were sentenced.
The ATF looked into the matter. The Mexican government also assisted.
Assistant United States Attorneys Lisa Collins and Stuart Tallichet for the Southern District of Texas prosecuted the case.