Five arrested in South Texas, accused of trafficking military grade firearms to Mexican drug cartel

SAN ANTONIO (KTSA News) — Five men accused of smuggling military grade weapons into Mexico could spend decades in prison if convicted on numerous charges related to trafficking military grade firearms into Mexico.

The suspects were  arrested in Laredo, Hebbronville and Falls City Wednesday.

According to court documents, Gerardo Rafael Perez Jr. aka “Jerry,” 23, of Laredo, allegedly coordinated the acquisition of more than 100 firearms throughout Texas to be smuggled across the international border and delivered to a drug trafficking cartel in Nuevo Laredo, Tamaulipas, Mexico. Perez’s organization allegedly used straw purchasers, including co-defendants Francisco Alejandro Benavides aka “Frankie,” 23, and Mark Anthony Trevino Jr., 24, to procure the firearms from a variety of sources in the Western, Southern, and Northern Districts of Texas. Court documents allege that the organization would acquire guns from unlicensed dealers of firearms, or from federal firearm licensees, where straw purchasers would make false representations to secure the firearms.

Luis Matias Leal aka “Wicho” aka “Poncho” aka “El Tio,” 30, is alleged to have provided cash and instructions to facilitate the conspiracy, while Antonio Osiel Casarez, 26, would smuggle the firearms into Mexico and return to the United States with bulk cash.

The high-powered firearms allegedly acquired by Perez’s organization included FNH SCAR rifles, Barrett .50 caliber rifles, FNH M294S rifles, and M1919 rifles.

Perez, Casarez, Leal, Benavides, and Trevino were all named in a superseding indictment filed March 6. They were arrested March 20.

The five new defendants are all charged with one count of conspiracy to traffic firearms, which carries a penalty of up to 15 years in prison, and one count of conspiracy to straw purchase firearms with a maximum penalty of 25 years imprisonment.

Perez, Casarez, Leal, and Benavides are further charged with one count of conspiracy to smuggle goods from the United States for up to five years in prison, and one count of conspiracy to possess firearms in furtherance of a drug trafficking crime for up to 20 years imprisonment. Perez faces two additional firearms trafficking charges. Leal, Benavides, and Trevino are also charged with falsifying information when buying a firearm, which carries a maximum penalty of 10 years imprisonment; and an additional count of straw purchasing. All of the charges also carry a fine up to $250,000.

Co-defendants Jose Emigdio Q. Mendoza, Gerardo Antonio Ibarra Jr. and Gerardo Corona, Jr. were initially named in an earlier indictment. Mendoza was allegedly engaged in the business of dealing firearms without a license, selling military-grade weapons to members of the Perez conspiracy. Ibarra and Corona were allegedly straw purchasers for the organization.

Several of the defendants are alleged to have contacted Mendoza to purchase the firearms, including SCAR rifles, Barrett .50 caliber rifles, and M249 rifles. Mendoza is alleged to have sold at least 22 such firearms to his co-conspirators from December 2022 to March 2023 and received approximately $169,900.00, at a markup from the retail price of the guns so he could derive a profit for himself.

Mendoza was arrested in San Antonio on March 11, 2023. Ibarra and Corona were arrested in September and October 2023.

A federal district court judge will determine any sentence after considering the U.S. Sentencing Guidelines and other statutory factors.

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