PHOENIX - The Arizona Department of Justice handed down an indictment for 34 suspects accused of illegally trafficking firearms from the United States to Mexico.
Early Tuesday morning, 20 of the defendants named in the 53-count indictment were taken into custody.
Three outstanding suspects authorities want to locate are Manuel Celis-Acosta, 23, Juan Jose Martinez-Gonzalez, 24, and John William Rowland, 28.
More than 100 officers from many agencies were involved in the operation.
The indictment alleges from September 2009 to December 2010 the defendants conspired to purchase hundreds of firearms to be illegally exported to Mexico.
None of the defendants are licensed firearms dealers. They acted as "straw purchasers" by falsely declaring that they were buying the weapons for themselves.
“These indictments are important steps in the Justice Department’s effort to curb gun trafficking along the Southwest border,” said Assistant Attorney General Lanny A. Breuer of the Criminal Division. “The Criminal Division is working hard with its partners in the U.S. Attorneys’ Offices and colleagues in Mexico to find and prosecute those who seek to transport weapons illegally across our borders.”
The indictment alleges one count of conspiracy, one count of dealing in firearms without a license, one count of conspiracy to distribute marijuana, two counts of possession with intent to distribute marijuana, one count of conspiracy to possess a firearm in furtherance of a drug trafficking offense, 35 counts of making a false statement in connection with the acquisition of firearms, one count of conspiracy to commit money laundering and 11 counts of money laundering.
In all 560 of the 700 guns allegedly purchased by the ring have been recovered both here in Arizona and in Mexico.
In a parallel case, another 14 people have been charged with gun-trafficking crimes in Arizona. Defendants in those cases are pending trial.