N.M. Police Chief Arrested in Federal Raid

COLUMBUS, N.M. --

The sheriff for Luna County is requesting that the entire Columbus Police Department step down until the federal investigation involving city leaders in a firearms trafficking ring is over.

Sheriff Raymond Cobos asked the remaining trustees in Columbus to vote on having the police department step down.

City leaders in the southern New Mexico village of Columbus were arrested Thursday in a federal raid investigation that involved smuggling firearms from the United States to Mexico, Luna County sheriff officials confirmed.

"I'm dismayed, I'm disheartened, certainly disillusioned," said Cobos. "I think violation of the public's trust is something that I categorize as a pretty heinous crime."

Mayor Eddie Espinoza, Police Chief Angelo Vega and city Rep. Jose Blas Gutierrez were arrested on allegations of firearm violations, stated the indictment that was released Thursday afternoon by the U.S. attorney's office in New Mexico. Espinoza was charged with one count of conspiracy, three counts of making false statements in connection with acquisition of firearms and three counts of firearms smuggling. Vega was charged with one count of conspiracy. Gutierrez was charged with one count of conspiracy, seventeen counts of making false statements in connection with acquisition of firearms and 19 counts of firearms smuggling.

In all, 10 people were arrested when law enforcement authorities executed a search warrant at their homes, one place of business and the office of the Columbus Police Department. Ian Garland, 50, of Chaparral, N.M.; Alberto Rivera, 40, of Columbus, N.M.; Miguel Carrillo, 30, of Columbus, N.M.; Ricardo Gutierrez, 25, of Columbus, N.M.; Manuel Ortega, 25, of Palomas, Mexico; Vicente Carreon, 26, of Columbus, N.M.; and Eva Lucie Gutierrez, 21, of Las Cruces were arrested.

U.S. attorney's office officials said 24-year-old Ignacio Villalobos was not arrested, which means he is a fugitive.

Elizabeth Martinez, spokeswoman for the U.S. attorney's office, said the defendants purchased about 200 firearms from Chaparral Guns in Chaparral, N.M., which is owned and operated by defendant Ian Garland.

According to the indictment, the defendants purchased guns favored by the Mexican Cartels, including AK-47-type pistols, which are weapons resembling AK-47 rifles but with shorter barrels and without rear stocks, and American Tactical 9 mm pistols.

The defendants obtained firearms from Chaparral Guns by falsely claiming they were the actual purchasers of the firearms, when in fact they were acting as "straw purchaser" who were buying the firearms on behalf of others, the indictment alleges.

Law enforcement officers seized 40 AK-47 type pistols, 1,580 rounds of 7.62 ammunition, and 30 high-capacity magazines from the defendants before they crossed the U.S.-Mexico border. The indictment alleges that 12 firearms previously purchased by the defendants later were found in Mexico and were traced back to these defendants.

Martinez told KFOX14 the Bureau of Alcohol, Tobacco, Firearms and Explosives and Immigration and Customs Enforcement Homeland Security Investigations office in New Mexico and Texas, Drug Enforcement Administration and the U.S.attorney's Las Cruces office were all part of the investigation that led to the arrests.

Cobos told KFOX14 he would have extra patrol throughout the community regardless of whether if the trustees don't get rid of police officers during the investigation. He encourages the public to call 911 if they see any suspicious activity in the area.

On Thursday afternoon, a KFOX14 crew went to the Columbus Police Department station to get a response on the raid, but the one police officer that was there wouldn't comment. No one answered when KFOX14 knocked on the mayor's front door at his home for answers to our questions.

Everyone arrested will make an appearance in a federal courthouse in Las Cruces Friday.

If convicted those charged with conspiracy could face up to five years of imprisonment and a $250,000 fine. Those convicted of making false statements in connection with the acquisition of firearms face up to five-years imprisonment and a $250,000 fine. And those convicted of unlawfully concealing and facilitating the transportation of firearms knowing that the firearms were intended for exportation from the United States could face up to 10 years of imprisonment and a $250,000 fine.

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