US-Mexico border village chiefs held for gun running
LOS ANGELES – The mayor, police chief and a community trustee of a US border village were charged Thursday with gun trafficking to supply firearms to violent drug cartels in Mexico, officials said.
In all 10 people were arrested in morning raids in Columbus, a small village just across the border from the Mexican city of Puerto Palomas, said US Attorney Kenneth Gonzales of the southern US state of New Mexico.
Facing an 84-count indictment, those detained included mayor Eddie Espinoza, police chief Angelo Vega and Blas Gutierrez, a Columbus village trustee. An 11th person remains on the run.
“Gutierrez, Espinoza and Vega were duty sworn to protect and safeguard the people of Columbus,” said Gonzales.
“Instead, they increased the risk of harm that the people of Columbus face every day by allegedly using their official positions to facilitate and safeguard the operations of a smuggling ring… exporting firearms to Mexico.”
Over a 14-month period, they are accused of buying some 200 guns “favored by the Mexican cartels,” including AK-47 rifles, as well as nearly 1,600 rounds of ammunition and 30 high-capacity magazines to be sold across the border.
Those detained — arrested at eight locations, including the village police station — will appear in federal court in Las Cruces, New Mexico on Friday, the US attorney’s office said.
Nearly 35,000 people have been killed in rising drug-related violence in Mexico since December 2006, when President Felipe Calderon deployed soldiers and federal police to take on organized crime.